Classroom Activities

  1. What were Steinem’s goals in her commencement speech to Vassar? How do her goals differ from the typical commencement speech? Do you think her speech is more persuasive (deliberative) or ceremonial (epideictic)? How do you know? Provide specific examples.
  2. How does Steinem’s ethos help or hurt the speech?
  3. Steinem says that the “first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn but to un-learn.” What does she mean by that? Provide an example from the speech.
  4. What does Steinem mean when she refers to “Popular Wisdom?” Provide an example.
  5. Steinem argues that we need more women’s studies classes at universities. Do you agree or disagree? Why or why not? Have you ever taken a women’s studies class? If so, was it a useful experience?
  6. Steinem complains that students do not learn enough about women’s history. Reflect on your own experience in history classes (either at the high school or college level). Did you learn much about women’s history? Provide three examples from your own experience.
  7. Steinem compares sexism to racism. Is this a fair comparison? Why or why not?
  8. Are women being treated equally in society now or is there still work to be done in the women’s movement? What changes do you think still need to be made, if any?
  9. Do you think Equal Pay for Equal Work has been achieved? Why or why not?
  10. What does Steinem mean by “Internalized Aggression”? Provide an example from the speech.
  11. Steinem advocates equal parenting between mothers and fathers. Do agree with her? Why or why not? Reflect on your upbringing. Was parenting equal in your household?
  12. What does Steinem mean by the “Masculine Mystique”? Provide an example from the speech.
  13. Steinem complains that women do not have role models. Reflect on the role models in your life. Is there one person who influenced your life in a significant way (e.g., influenced your choice to attend college, your major, career aspirations, etc?). Are role models still important? Why or why not?

Student Research

  1. Read Ursula Le Guin’s “A Left Handed Commencement Address,” available at: How is the speech similar to Steinem’s? How is it different? How does Le Guin violate the expectations of commencement speaking?
  2. Go to the National Public Radio’s website ( and conduct a search using the word “feminism.” What feminist issues are being discussed today? What are the controversies and concerns that people are talking about? Is it similar in any way to what Steinem was saying in 1970?
  3. Read President Nixon’s “Silent Majority Speech” (available at Who is the Silent Majority? How does Nixon depict the students who are protesting the Vietnam War?
  4. Research the battle to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. When was it first proposed? When was it defeated? What were the arguments for and against the amendment? Who supported the amendment? Who opposed it?
  5. In the 1970s and 1980s, Phyllis Schlafly emerged a formidable opponent to the ERA. Research Schlafly and her Eagle Forum ( What issues do they support and oppose today? What changes have occurred since the 1970s? Read Phyllis Schlafly’s biography from the website. How many books has she written and what topics does she discuss? When was her latest book published? How was her background different or similar to Steinem’s? To Friedan’s?
  6. Research Sigmund Freud. What does he say about women? Why would Steinem talk about him in her speech?
  7. Who was Virginia Woolf? What is her contribution to feminism?
  8. Access a copy of Steinem’s article, “If Men Could Menstruate,” either on-line or from her book, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (1983). How is humor used in this essay? How would you describe Steinem’s tone? What do you think about this essay?
  9. Find five speeches or articles that Gloria Steinem has written in the past five years. How have her ideas changed? How have they remained the same?

Citizenship Resources

  1. Research the National Organization for Women by looking at their website: ( What issues do they support? How have the issues evolved since the 1970s? What issues remain the same? How many chapters are there in your state? Which is the closest chapter to where you live?
  2. Research the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. How did this legislation help women? Research median salaries for men and women. Do women generally make the same amount of money as men? Why or why not?
  3. Visit Project Vote Smart: Enter your nine digit zip code to locate your local and state representatives. Review their positions on abortion issues and affirmative action by using the “Issue Positions” link beneath the picture. Search all of your representatives and senators. Which candidate’s position most resembles yours?
  4. What local women’s rights organizations exist in your community or campus? Research two local groups and report on what they are doing to improve the lives of women. Some examples could include rape crisis centers, women’s resources centers or domestic violence shelters.

Last updated May 17, 2016