6 Titles to Build a Feminist Leader: An Interview with a Steinem Sisters Feminist

Posted on March 15, 2024

by Melissa L

On Monday, March 25 at 6:00 pm, the Library is celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Steinem Sisters Collection (and Gloria Steinem’s 90th birthday) at Main Library with A Steinem Celebration: 90 Years of Gloria.

Leading up to this event, we’ll be interviewing local feminists and members of the Steinem Sisters Collective. Our next interview is with Nina Corder, founder and managing director of Women of Toledo.

Do you remember your feminist “aha” moment?

Nina: I was born and spent half of my lifetime in a Southeast Asia country known as Malaysia. Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy and an Islamic country. It has a parliamentary system of government headed by a prime minister and the king is the head of state, while the kingship rotates among the sultans of the nine states with hereditary Malay rulers. State-level Islamic religious enforcement officers have the authority to enforce some criminal aspects of sharia. The law prohibits sedition and public comment on topics defined as sensitive, including racial and religious matters or criticism of the king or ruling sultans. Feminism is not a thing or a well-versed vocabulary in Malaysia. Malaysia is a patriarchal society; hence I am exposed from an early age that men and women have specific roles in society. Reflecting on this now, the work and who I am now if I am in Malaysia, I will probably be arrested or imprisoned.

Fortunately, what I observe in society is not what is happening in the house where I grew up. I grew up in a house of majority women. And if I may add, strong women. My mother, two sisters, two aunties who are also caregivers to us – the children, and a liberal father. Then, come my brother when I was already in college. My mother does portray a traditional housewife, however, maintains a very active social life. She was always in her workout clothes, and I’ve learned that she goes to an Aerobic class every day after our school drop-off. A couple of times a week, she also scheduled lunch or high tea with friends in the afternoon before she picked us up from school. She loves to cook, and we always have home-cooked meals almost every day for dinner. I remember sometimes in the evening or the weekend, I would follow my mother to visit her friend’s house for brunch or tea, and mostly I remember meeting lots of other Aunties (it is a form of politeness and respect for your elders and is a term often used to address female, family friends). And my mother would come home from the visit with a shopping bag or orders for Tupperware, Avon, Amway products, and more. At an early age, I learned about microfinance from all these Aunties. How you can make monthly payments for a piece of gold jewelry, invest in small businesses, or be part of a social enterprise that helps with orphanage centers. I am not sure if this is the feminist ‘aha moment’, however, at 11 I knew as humans we are free and equal.

Education is the most important aspect of growing up. My parents reminded me of Nelson Mandela’s quote, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. Getting a Western education is a normal expectation in our family. I asked my dad why, and he shared that, there’s a need for a more comprehensive global outlook to navigate future issues and humanity challenges. From that moment, I knew I was meant to be in the service of others and make a difference around the world. I was able to spend time with my eldest sister in the summer while she pursued her education in the United Kingdom, and when it was my turn to go to college, I chose the American Degree program. Hence, the United States of America is my destination. Little that I know, this country, a city in the Midwest, Toledo, Ohio, is now home. During my undergraduate, I took a Writing Across Curriculum (WAC) with the Women Gender Studies program. Dr. Eliott Adam – what a remarkable professor. Because of her class, I learned about women’s issues across the globe and learned many customs, and traditions that I observed in Malaysia not only violated women’s rights but also human rights. Then I discovered the issues also happening in this country. I also discovered, there are limits to the sky, and there are limits to freedom of choice. I believe that is my second feminist big ‘aha moment’ – I could not quite understand why we sometimes do have the ability to act according to our own decisions, rather than according to others’ decisions.

Without sharing too many details, my third feminist ‘ah-ha moment’ occurred when I was trying to navigate the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) even though I am married to a citizen and pregnant with our daughter at 23. The feminist movements in the United States roughly break down into four different periods. And I believe so do my feminist ‘aha moments’. The feminist movement has changed drastically. Now if you ask me about my feminist ‘ah-ha moment’ will also reflect my work now – uplifting the voices of people which includes women of color, as well as gender diverse people, who have typically been left out of past mainstream feminist movements.

How have public libraries influenced your development as a feminist?

Nina: It is the people. Working in collaboration and relationship with many people and various departments at the Library such as Mely Arribas-Douglas with Welcome TLC, Erin Baker with DI, and Linda Faye Lucas with small business support has been a remarkable experience and influence in many aspects of my personal and professional development as feminist. In a way, it also impacted and influenced my work at Women of Toledo. We are in the business of serving people and empowering others. Working with people at the Library makes me feel valued, trusted, and encouraged. Therefore, reflecting on my work at Women of Toledo – my goal is always to surround myself and businesses that add value to humanity. I come from a service-oriented background that believes in people’s sense of control over the trajectory of their lives and being valued in the community, especially their sense of belonging. Working in collaboration with the Library also adds value, and trust, and encourages us to continue to grapple with the concept of intersectionality, and how we can continue the movement to aim for inclusivity regardless of sexuality, race, class, and gender.

What do you hope for the future of the Steinem Sisters Collection?

Nina: It becomes inherent that caring for others is what makes humanity unique, something deeply precious about our unique nature-nurture. We’re seeing more women leaders, we’re seeing more women scholars, we’re seeing more activists, we’re just seeing women really go out in their authenticity in their own identities and live more truly and authentically. In a way, this is how impactful a variety of feminist resources such as the Steinem Sisters Collection. It needs to continue so we can also continue the feminist thought within our community, add values, and culture that continue learning, spreading knowledge, and strengthening the local feminist community. My hope is also for the collection to continue collaborating with community members and local women’s organizations to broaden its reach.

Can you share some of the books that have impacted you the most throughout your life?


Book Jacket: My Life on the Road

my life on the road by Gloria Steinem

To understand the work and journey of a feminist, you must learn from one. Hence, iconic women's rights activist Steinem underscores this powerfully personal yet universally appealing memoir.

Book Jacket: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

i know why the caged bird sings by Maya Angelou

Well, do I have to say more - it is Maya Angelou. Like Angelou, the book is full of courage and fearless. “And Still I Rise” is one of my favs that I am working to try to memorize.

Book Jacket: A World of Three Zeros

a world of three zeros by Muhammad Yunus

A perfect book to learn the social business whose purpose is to solve a social problem while operating as a business.

Book Jacket: Daring Greatly

daring greatly by Brené Brown

Anything written by Brene Brown or Simon Sinek - all worth reading and very inspiring for leadership! Dare to lead, right?

Book Jacket: Start With Why

start with why by Simon Sinek

Anything written by Brene Brown or Simon Sinek - all worth reading and very inspiring for leadership! Dare to lead, right?

Citizen of the World: Soon-Young and the UN by Soon-Young Yoon

She is a mentor of mine! Hence a must-book to read. From North Korean refugee to the United Nations. A courageous and compassionate memoir. Because of this book, I have spent the last 3 years diving deeper into human rights. And we know, women’s rights are human rights.

Find your next great read in the Steinem Sisters Collection, located in the Fact and Fiction department of Main Library.

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