Gloria Steinem just celebrated her 84th birthday. Steve Jobs observed. "There are few people in history who have made a dent in the universe during their lifetime, and Steinem is one of them." She certainly changed the possibilities available to me and my peers as women aspiring to equal opportunity in the business world. She says, "I never guessed that embracing the right to my own identity, power, and freedom would resonate with others the way it did."
Born on March 25, 1934 in Toledo, Ohio, Gloria describes her childhood as turbulent. She attributes it to her mother's lifelong struggle with mental illness and to a messy divorce by her parents when she was ten. In spite of that she was an eager student and in 1956 she graduated from Smith College with Phi Beta Kappa honors. Her friends and teachers say Gloria was funny, curious, irreverent, questioning, and always thoughtful.
After college she completed a two-year Fellowship in India and worked briefly in two other jobs before moving to Manhattan intent on pursuing a career in journalism. She found her niche in the world of free-lance writing, churning out articles for magazines like Esquire and Cosmopolitan. One memorable early piece was "A Bunny's Tale," a 1963 article about the exploitation of female employees. She did research by working undercover as a Bunny at the New York Playboy Club.
By then Gloria Steinem described herself as a political liberal with feminist leanings. She didn't become an active feminist until 1969, when she covered an abortion-rights rally for New York Magazine. The event brought back her own painful memories and served as a major catalyst that transformed her life — and ultimately the lives of countless other women around the world.
In 1969 her article "After Black Power, Women's Liberation" was published. Now 35, she was thrust into the national spotlight and hailed as a leading new voice in the rapidly growing women's movement. Along with Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm, Betty Friedan, and others, she helped found the National Women's Political Caucus, and in 1972, she made publishing history when she co-founded Ms. Magazine.
“Ms. was the first U.S. magazine to make feminist voices audible, feminist journalism tenable, and a feminist worldview available to the public. Ms. was:
- The first to feature prominent American women demanding the repeal of laws that criminalized abortion.
- The first to explain and advocate for the ERA.
- The first to rate presidential candidates on women’s issues.
- The first to put domestic violence and sexual harassment on the cover of a women’s magazine.
- The first to feature feminist protest of pornography.
- The first to commission and feature a national study on date rape.
- And the first to blow the whistle on the undue influence of advertising on magazine journalism.” — Ms. HerStory
As a feminist and social activist, Gloria Steinem unified women across cultural, political, ethnic, color, and generational boundaries in demanding respect, dignity, and equity in all aspects of our lives.
We can hear her wit and wisdom in these often quoted aphorisms:
"Empathy is the most revolutionary emotion."
"A pedestal is as much a prison as any small, confined space."
"I have yet to hear a man ask for advice on how to combine marriage and a career."
"The need to treat ourselves as well as we treat others Is a woman's version of the Golden Rule."
"God may be in the details, but the goddess is in the questions. Once we begin to ask them, there's no turning back."
We're all enriched and inspired by Gloria Steinem's passion and leadership. She rewrote our idea of ourselves and our potential. She inspired global dedication to the well being of humanity beyond the boundaries of gender.
There's more work to be done. Change does not happen all at once.
Sources: Gloriasteinem.com, newyorktimes.com, Msmagazine.com.
Photographs: Theguardian.com, Thedailybeast.com
Notes: In addition to co-founding New York Magazine and Ms. Magazine, Gloria Steinem was also an editor of The Reader's Companion to U.S. Women's History. She also wrote these bestselling books: Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem; Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions; Moving Beyond Words; and Marilyn: Norma Jean.