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Gloria Steinem

Princess of Asturias Award for Communication and Humanities 2021

Thank you for the greatest adventure of my very long life. It is a great pleasure and adventure to be here with you in Spain. I am honored and amazed by the company of this award in the past, from Susan Sontag to Nelson Mandela, from Margaret Atwood to Doris Lessing. All writers and revolutionaries.

First I have to thank Socorro Suarez Lafuente for nominating me. And for the jury for accepting that nomination and of course to the Royal Family and the Princess of Asturias Foundation for the generous honor. First time I have received an award in a woman’s honor.

When asked to describe myself, I say writer and organizer. I suppose what those two occupations have in common is the lack of an employer, a job, and also a lack of economic security. On the other hand, it's also true that no one can fire you. I have to say that this is a reward for insecurity.

For the past year and more of this global pandemic, you and I in our distant parts of the world have felt very connected, if only for fearful reasons. No national border or difference in culture could completely contain a health danger that truly was global. It threatened us all, despite the economic and healthcare resources that created crucial differences in how we were and could be treated.

No such thing as immigrants, we are all passengers on this spaceship earth, hoping to save our futures and our forests, which are our future.

Altogether, national boundaries began to seem way more artificial, and the ability to stay at home came to seem way more precious and life-saving than the ability to travel.

We also treasured hospital and healthcare workers as never before, and even some prisons were emptied -- without the once promised increase in crime. We have learned from this past year, and I hope we think about treasure the lessons.

In my country, more men at home came to know their own children, which was a good thing, and also how full time childcare may be. They also often came to see how daily and organic the process of education could be. This often freed people from the prisons of gender roles that are actually rather new in the history of humankind. Our origins as a migratory species often meant everyone carrying and caring for children. Patriarchy grew with becoming stationary.

On the other hand, domestic violence against women sometimes increased in this locked-up year, and this was a lesson in tragedy. And both the national and popular definitions of who were and were not essential workers changed. First responders and grocery store clerks tended to beat out bankers and captains of industry -- how amazing is that!

So I hope in both our countries, we take some time to examine these massive and deep lessons, and think about what changed, what we want to keep and what we want to abandon.

For instance, in my own country, the changes underneath the pandemic became more visible. The racism that has been with us in North America ever since European invaders imposed themselves on Native populations, killing through disease and wars ninety percent of the people who lived there and then also imported enslaved people, has reached a tilting point on both negative and positive ways. The third of the country that values whiteness, and that elected Donald Trump -- perhaps the least qualified and most divisive President in U.S. history -- made political what had long been personal. It even caused a group of white men to try to take over the Capitol, as you probably saw on television.

Yet because this time, contrary to rock lyrics, this revolution was indeed televised, the racial and gender views that restricted this so-called revolution to a minority also caused the biggest outcry in history. It came from many men and most women, and helped to make Black Lives Matter a peaceful and majority movement.

I hope that we will each bring our lessons with us, and have more and deeper Talking Circles about what we all have learned in this time of pandemic and emergency, what do we treasure and do we want to keep, and what we wish to change.

What I thought about most often in this past year was the prophecy of Native people of the Cherokee Nation. They who were of course the residents of the North American land before Europeans arrived to occupy by force, and also to kill ninety percent of the occupants with diseases to which they had no immunity. The prophecy was this:

The earth, which is a living being, will sense that its oxygen-producing forests are being destroyed, its oceans and atmosphere are becoming too warm and deprived of oxygen by burning fossil fuels, and its people too divided by the accident of being born with more or less melanin in our skin.

And so this living earth, as it is through space, will simply shug us off -- and start over.

I have to say this was something of a comfort.

Yet now that I have seen my own city of New York come back out on the streets, and thousands of mostly -- but not only -- young women marching again, and timing such marches to others in most of the major cities of the world, I feel hope again. And hope is a very unruly emotion.

I also notice more laughter, and laughter is the one free emotion -- the only one that cannot be compelled.

You certainly can make someone afraid. You can even make someone believe they are in love, if they are kept separate and dependent for long enough. Even in kidnappings, the so-called Stockholm Syndrome has become the name for the phenomenon of captives beginning to identify with a captor on whom they are totally dependent.

But you cannot force someone to laugh, really and sincerely laugh. That's why it is a proof of freedom.

In my home country, Native Americans recognized this by creating a God of Laughter -- neither male nor female, sometimes portrayed as a coyote, sometimes as the god of spontaneity, but always unpredictable.

And what I have learned from this, and noticed to be true in practice, is laughter as a proof of freedom. I have learned to think twice about religious meetings, or any gatherings, in which we are not allowed to laugh.

I have learned to from authoritarian figures like Hitler and Stalin, who seemed most afraid of -- and punishing of -- being laughed at. Indeed, among Hitler's first official acts after being elected -- and he was elected -- were to padlock the family planning clinics and also the comedy clubs where people laughed in freedom. What he feared most was being laughed at. And incidentally so did Donald Trump.

By treasuring such freedoms as laughter in the moment, we preserve freedom forever more. And I am so grateful to the symbol of freedom that this country provides, that each of you provides and I am so honored to be a part of.

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