Gloria Marie Steinem (born March 25, 1934) is an American feminist, journalist, and social and political activist who became nationally recognized as a leader of, and spokeswoman for, the feminist movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
She was a columnist for New York magazine and a founder of Ms. magazine. In 1969, she published an article, "After Black Power, Women's Liberation", which brought her to national fame as a feminist leader.
Steinem was born in Toledo, Ohio, on March 25, 1934. Her mother, Ruth (née Nuneviller), was a Presbyterian of Scottish and German descent, and her father, Leo Steinem, was the son of Jewish immigrants from Germany and Poland. Her paternal grandmother, Pauline Perlmutter Steinem, was chairwoman of the educational committee of the National Woman Suffrage Association, a delegate to the 1908 International Council of Women, and the first woman to be elected to the Toledo Board of Education, as well as a leader in the movement for vocational education. Pauline also rescued many members of her family from the Holocaust.
The Steinems lived and traveled about in the trailer from which Leo carried out his trade as a traveling antiques dealer. Before Steinem was born, her mother Ruth, then aged 34, had a "nervous breakdown" that left her an invalid, trapped in delusional fantasies that occasionally turned violent. She changed "from an energetic, fun-loving, book-loving" woman into "someone who was afraid to be alone, who could not hang on to reality long enough to hold a job, and who could rarely concentrate enough to read a book." Ruth spent long periods in and out of sanatoriums for the mentally ill. Steinem was ten years old when her parents finally separated in 1944. Her father went to California to find work, while she and her mother continued to live together in Toledo.
While her parents divorced as a result of her mother's illness, it was not a result of chauvinism on the father's part, and Steinem claims to have "understood and never blamed him for the breakup." Nevertheless, the impact of these events had a formative effect on her personality: while her father, a traveling salesman, had never provided much financial stability to the family, his exit aggravated their situation. Steinem interpreted her mother's inability to hold on to a job as evidence of general hostility towards working women. She also interpreted the general apathy of doctors towards her mother as emerging from a similar anti-woman animus. Years later, Steinem described her mother's experiences as having been pivotal to her understanding of social injustices.:129–138 These perspectives convinced Steinem that women lacked social and political equality.
Steinem attended Waite High School in Toledo and Western High School in Washington, D.C., the latter of which she graduated from. She then attended Smith College, an institution with which she continues to remain engaged, and from which she graduated Phi Beta Kappa. In the late 1950s, Steinem spent two years in India as a Chester Bowles Asian Fellow. After returning to the U.S., she served as director of the Independent Research Service, an organization funded in secret by a donor that turned out to be the CIA. She worked to send non-Communist American students to the 1959 World Youth Festival. In 1960, she was hired by Warren Publishing as the first employee of Help! magazine.
Esquire magazine features editor Clay Felker gave freelance writer Steinem what she later called her first "serious assignment", regarding contraception; he didn't like her first draft and had her re-write the article. Her resulting 1962 article about the way in which women are forced to choose between a career and marriage preceded Betty Friedan's book The Feminine Mystique by one year.
In 1963, while working on an article for Huntington Hartford's Show magazine, Steinem was employed as a Playboy Bunny at the New York Playboy Club. The article, published in 1963 as "A Bunny's Tale", featured a photo of Steinem in Bunny uniform and detailed how women were treated at those clubs. Steinem has maintained that she is proud of the work she did publicizing the exploitative working conditions of the bunnies and especially the sexual demands made of them, which skirted the edge of the law. However, for a brief period after the article was published, Steinem was unable to land other assignments; in her words, this was "because I had now become a Bunny – and it didn't matter why." Steinem eventually landed a job at Felker's newly founded New York magazine in 1968.
In the interim, she conducted a 1964 interview with John Lennon for Cosmopolitan magazine. In 1965, she wrote for NBC-TV's weekly satirical revue, That Was The Week That Was (TW3), contributing a regular segment entitled "Surrealism in Everyday Life".
In 1969, she covered an abortion speak-out for New York Magazine, which was held in a church basement in Greenwich, New York. Steinem had had an abortion herself in London at the age of 22. She felt what she called a "big click" at the speak-out, and later said she didn't "begin my life as an active feminist" until that day. As she recalled, "It [abortion] is supposed to make us a bad person. But I must say, I never felt that. I used to sit and try and figure out how old the child would be, trying to make myself feel guilty. But I never could! I think the person who said: 'Honey, if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament' was right. Speaking for myself, I knew it was the first time I had taken responsibility for my own life. I wasn't going to let things happen to me. I was going to direct my life, and therefore it felt positive. But still, I didn't tell anyone. Because I knew that out there it wasn't [positive]." She also said, "In later years, if I'm remembered at all it will be for inventing a phrase like 'reproductive freedom' ... as a phrase it includes the freedom to have children or not to. So it makes it possible for us to make a coalition."
In 1972, she co-founded the feminist-themed magazine Ms.; it began as a special edition of New York, and Felker funded the first issue. Its 300,000 test copies sold out nationwide in eight days. Within weeks, Ms. had received 26,000 subscription orders and over 20,000 reader letters. The magazine was sold to the Feminist Majority Foundation in 2001; Steinem remains on the masthead as one of six founding editors and serves on the advisory board.
This is no simple reform. It really is a revolution. Sex and race because they are easy and visible differences have been the primary ways of organizing human beings into superior and inferior groups and into the cheap labor on which this system still depends. We are talking about a society in which there will be no roles other than those chosen or those earned. We are really talking about humanism.
In March 1973, she addressed the first national conference of Stewardesses for Women's Rights, which she continued to support throughout its existence. Stewardesses for Women's Rights folded in the spring of 1976.
Steinem, who grew up reading Wonder Woman comics, was also a key player in the restoration of Wonder Woman's powers and traditional costume, which were restored in issue #204 (January–February 1973). Steinem, offended that the most famous female superhero had been depowered, had placed Wonder Woman (in costume) on the cover of the first issue of Ms. (1972) – Warner Communications, DC Comics' owner, was an investor – which also contained an appreciative essay about the character.
In 1984 Steinem was arrested along with a number of members of Congress and civil rights activists for disorderly conduct outside the South African embassy while protesting against the South African apartheid system.
At the outset of the Gulf War in 1991, Steinem, along with prominent feminists Robin Morgan and Kate Millett, publicly opposed an incursion into the Middle East and asserted that ostensible goal of "defending democracy" was a pretense.
In 1992, Steinem co-founded Choice USA, a non-profit organization that mobilizes and provides ongoing support to a younger generation that lobbies for reproductive choice.
In 1993 Steinem co-produced and narrated an Emmy Award winning TV documentary for HBO about child abuse, called, "Multiple Personalities: The Search for Deadly Memories." Also in 1993, she and Rosilyn Heller co-produced an original TV movie for Lifetime, "Better Off Dead," which examined the parallel forces that both oppose abortion and support the death penalty.
On June 1, 2013 Steinem performed on stage at the "Chime For Change: The Sound Of Change Live" Concert at Twickenham Stadium in London, England. Chime For Change is a global campaign for girls' and women's empowerment founded by Gucci.
Steinem has stated, "I think the fact that I've become a symbol for the women's movement is somewhat accidental. A woman member of Congress, for example, might be identified as a member of Congress; it doesn't mean she's any less of a feminist but she's identified by her nearest male analog. Well, I don't have a male analog so the press has to identify me with the movement. I suppose I could be referred to as a journalist, but because Ms. is part of a movement and not just a typical magazine, I'm more likely to be identified with the movement. There's no other slot to put me in."
Contrary to popular belief, Steinem did not coin the feminist slogan "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle." Although she helped popularize it, the phrase is actually attributable to Irina Dunn. When Time magazine published an article attributing the saying to Steinem, Steinem wrote a letter saying the phrase had been coined by Dunn.
Another phrase sometimes wrongly attributed to Steinem is, "If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament." Steinem herself attributed it to "an old Irish woman taxi driver in Boston," who she said she and Florynce Kennedy met.
A proponent of civil rights and fierce critic of the Vietnam War, Steinem was initially drawn to Senator Eugene McCarthy because of his "admirable record" on those issues, but in meeting him and hearing him speak, she found him "cautious, uninspired, and dry.":87 As the campaign progressed, Steinem became baffled at "personally vicious" attacks that McCarthy leveled against his primary opponent Robert Kennedy, even as "his real opponent, Hubert Humphrey, went free.":88
On a late-night radio show, Steinem garnered attention for declaring, "George McGovern is the real Eugene McCarthy." In 1968, Steinem was chosen to pitch the arguments to McGovern as to why he should enter the presidential race that year; he agreed, and Steinem "consecutively or simultaneously served as pamphlet writer, advance "man", fund raiser, lobbyist of delegates, errand runner, and press secretary.":95
Steinem was reluctant to re-join the McGovern campaign, as although she had brought in McGovern's single largest campaign contributor in 1968, she "still had been treated like a frivolous pariah by much of McGovern's campaign staff." In April 1972, Steinem remarked that he "still doesn't understand the Women's Movement.":114
McGovern ultimately excised the abortion issue from the party's platform, and recent publications show McGovern was deeply conflicted on the issue. Steinem later wrote this description of the events:
The consensus of the meeting of women delegates held by the caucus had been to fight for the minority plank on reproductive freedom; indeed our vote had supported the plank nine to one. So fight we did, with three women delegates speaking eloquently in its favor as a constitutional right. One male Right-to-Life zealot spoke against, and Shirley MacLaine also was an opposition speaker, on the grounds that this was a fundamental right but didn't belong in the platform. We made a good showing. Clearly we would have won if McGovern's forces had left their delegates uninstructed and thus able to vote their consciences.:100–110
However, Germaine Greer flatly contradicted Steinem's account, reporting, "Jacqui Ceballos called from the crowd to demand abortion rights on the Democratic platform, but Bella [Abzug] and Gloria stared glassily out into the room," thus killing the abortion rights platform," and asking "Why had Bella and Gloria not helped Jacqui to nail him on abortion? What reticence, what loserism had afflicted them?" Steinem later recalled that the 1972 Convention was the only time Greer and Steinem ever met.
The cover of Harper's that month read, "Womanlike, they did not want to get tough with their man, and so, womanlike, they got screwed."
In the run-up to the 2004 election, Steinem voiced fierce criticism of the Bush administration, asserting, "There has never been an administration that has been more hostile to women's equality, to reproductive freedom as a fundamental human right, and has acted on that hostility," adding, "If he is elected in 2004, abortion will be criminalized in this country." At a Planned Parenthood event in Boston, Steinem declared Bush "a danger to health and safety," citing his antagonism to the Clean Water Act, reproductive freedom, sex education, and AIDS relief.
Steinem at Brighton High School, Brighton, Colorado, in November 2008
Nevertheless, Steinem endorsed Senator Hillary Clinton, citing her broader experience, and saying that the nation was in such bad shape it might require two terms of Clinton and two of Obama to fix it.
She also made headlines for a New York Times op-ed in which she cited gender and not race as "probably the most restricting force in American life". She elaborated, "Black men were given the vote a half-century before women of any race were allowed to mark a ballot, and generally have ascended to positions of power, from the military to the boardroom, before any women." This was attacked, however, from critics saying that white women were given the vote unabridged in 1920, whereas many blacks, female or male, could not vote until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and some were lynched for trying, and that many white women advanced in the business and political worlds before black women and men.
Steinem again drew attention for, according to the New York Observer, seeming "to denigrate the importance of John McCain's time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam"; Steinem's broader argument "was that the media and the political world are too admiring of militarism in all its guises."
Following McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate, Steinem penned an op-ed in which she labeled Palin an "unqualified woman" who "opposes everything most other women want and need," described her nomination speech as "divisive and deceptive", called for a more inclusive Republican Party, and concluded that Palin resembled "Phyllis Schlafly, only younger."
In May 1975, Redstockings, a radical feminist group, raised the question of whether Steinem had continuing ties with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and whether she had been "meteorically installed" as the leader of the movement. Though she admitted to having worked for a CIA-financed foundation in the late 1950s and early 1960s (Independent Research Service), and acknowledged these ties in interviews given to the New York Times and Washington Post in 1967 in the wake of the Ramparts magazine CIA exposures (nearly two years before Steinem attended her first Redstockings or feminist meeting), Steinem in 1975 denied any continuing involvement.
Although most frequently considered a liberal feminist, Steinem has repeatedly characterized herself as a radical feminist. More importantly, she has repudiated categorization within feminism as "nonconstructive to specific problems", saying: "I've turned up in every category. So it makes it harder for me to take the divisions with great seriousness." Nevertheless, on concrete issues, Steinem has staked firm positions, as shown below:
Steinem is pro-choice. She had an abortion herself in London at the age of 22. In 1969 she covered an abortion speak-out for New York Magazine, which was held in a church basement in Greenwich, New York. She felt what she called a "big click" at the speak-out, and later said she didn't "begin my life as an active feminist" until that day. As she recalled,
It [abortion] is supposed to make us a bad person. But I must say, I never felt that. I used to sit and try and figure out how old the child would be, trying to make myself feel guilty. But I never could! I think the person who said: 'Honey, if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament' was right. Speaking for myself, I knew it was the first time I had taken responsibility for my own life. I wasn't going to let things happen to me. I was going to direct my life, and therefore it felt positive. But still, I didn't tell anyone. Because I knew that out there it wasn't [positive].
Female genital mutilation and male circumcision
In 1979, Steinem wrote the article on female genital mutilation that brought it into the American public's consciousness; the article was called "The International Crime of Female Genital Mutilation," and was published in the March 1979 issue of Ms. magazine.:292 The article reported on the "75 million women suffering with the results of genital mutilation.":292 According to Steinem, "The real reasons for genital mutilation can only be understood in the context of the patriarchy: men must control women's bodies as the means of production, and thus repress the independent power of women's sexuality.":292 Steinem's article contains the basic arguments that would later be developed by philosopher Martha Nussbaum.
On male circumcision, she commented, "These patriarchal controls limit men's sexuality too ... That's why men are asked symbolically to submit the sexual part of themselves and their sons to patriarchal authority, which seems to be the origin of male circumcision, a practice that, even as advocates admit, is medically unnecessary 90% of the time. Speaking for myself, I stand with many brothers in eliminating that practice too."
Steinem has repeatedly voiced her disapproval of the obscurantism and abstractions some claim to be prevalent in feminist academic theorizing. She said, "Nobody cares about feminist academic writing. That's careerism. These poor women in academia have to talk this silly language that nobody can understand in order to be accepted ... But I recognize the fact that we have this ridiculous system of tenure, that the whole thrust of academia is one that values education, in my opinion, in inverse ratio to its usefulness—and what you write in inverse relationship to its understandability." Steinem later singled out deconstructionists like Judith Butler for criticism, saying, "I always wanted to put a sign up on the road to Yale saying, 'Beware: Deconstruction Ahead'. Academics are forced to write in language no one can understand so that they get tenure. They have to say 'discourse', not 'talk'. Knowledge that is not accessible is not helpful. It becomes aerialised."
Steinem has criticized pornography, which she distinguishes from erotica, writing: "Erotica is as different from pornography as love is from rape, as dignity is from humiliation, as partnership is from slavery, as pleasure is from pain.":219 Steinem's argument hinges on the distinction between reciprocity versus domination, as she writes, "Blatant or subtle, pornography involves no equal power or mutuality. In fact, much of the tension and drama comes from the clear idea that one person is dominating the other.":219 On the issue of same-sex pornography, Steinem asserts, "Whatever the gender of the participants, all pornography including male-male gay pornography is an imitation of the male-female, conqueror-victim paradigm, and almost all of it actually portrays or implies enslaved women and master.":219 Steinem has also cited "snuff films" as a serious threat to women.:219
In a 2,200-word essay published in Time magazine on August 31, 1970, "What Would It Be Like If Women Win", Steinem wrote about same-sex marriage in the context of the "Utopian" future she envisioned, writing:
What will exist is a variety of alternative life-styles. Since the population explosion dictates that childbearing be kept to a minimum, parents-and-children will be only one of many "families": couples, age groups, working groups, mixed communes, blood-related clans, class groups, creative groups. Single women will have the right to stay single without ridicule, without the attitudes now betrayed by "spinster" and "bachelor." Lesbians or homosexuals will no longer be denied legally binding marriages, complete with mutual-support agreements and inheritance rights. Paradoxically, the number of homosexuals may get smaller. With fewer over-possessive mothers and fewer fathers who hold up an impossibly cruel or perfectionist idea of manhood, boys will be less likely to be denied or reject their identity as males.
Although Steinem did not mention or advocate same-sex marriage in any published works or interviews for more than three decades, she again expressed support for same-sex marriage in the early 2000s, stating in 2004 that "[t]he idea that sexuality is only okay if it ends in reproduction oppresses women—whose health depends on separating sexuality from reproduction—as well as gay men and lesbians." Steinem is also a signatory of the 2008 manifesto, "Beyond Same-Sex Marriage: A New Strategic Vision For All Our Families and Relationships", which advocates extending legal rights and privileges to a wide range of relationships, households, and families.
In 1977, Steinem expressed disapproval that the heavily publicized sex reassignment surgery of tennis player Renée Richards had been characterized as "a frightening instance of what feminism could lead to" or as "living proof that feminism isn't necessary.":206–210 Steinem wrote, "At a minimum, it was a diversion from the widespread problems of sexual inequality.":206–210 She also wrote that, while she supported the right of individuals to identify as they choose, she claimed that, in many cases, transsexuals "surgically mutilate their own bodies" in order to conform to a gender role that is inexorably tied to physical body parts.:206–210 She concluded that "feminists are right to feel uncomfortable about the need for and uses of transsexualism.":206–210 The article concluded with what became one of Steinem's most famous quotes: "If the shoe doesn't fit, must we change the foot?":206–210 Although clearly meant in the context of transsexuality, the quote is frequently mistaken as a general statement about feminism.:206–210
On October 2, 2013, Steinem clarified her remarks on transsexualism in an op-ed for The Advocate, writing that critics failed to consider that her 1977 essay was "written in the context of global protests against routine surgical assaults, called female genital mutilation by some survivors." Steinem later in the piece expressed unequivocal support for transgender people, saying that transgender people "including those who have transitioned, are living out real, authentic lives. Those lives should be celebrated, not questioned." She also apologized for any pain her words might have caused.
Rutgers University announced the Gloria Steinem Endowed Chair in September 2014. The Chair will fund teaching and research for someone (not necessarily a woman) who exemplifies Steinem's values of equal representation in the media. This person will teach at least one undergraduate course per semester.
^ abMcAvennie, Michael; Dolan, Hannah, ed. (2010). "1970s". DC Comics Year By Year A Visual Chronicle. Dorling Kindersley. p. 154. ISBN978-0-7566-6742-9. After nearly five years of Diana Prince's non-powered super-heroics, writer-editor Robert Kanigher and artist Don Heck restored Wonder Woman's ... well, wonder.
^Greenberger, Robert (2010). Wonder Woman: Amazon. Hero. Icon. Rizzoli Universe Promotional Books. p. 175. ISBN0-7893-2416-4. Journalist and feminist Gloria Steinem ... was tapped in 1970 to write the introduction to Wonder Woman, a hardcover collection of older stories. Steinem later went on to edit Ms. Magazine, with the first issue published in 1972, featuring the Amazon Princess on its cover. In both publications, the heroine's powerless condition during the 1970s was pilloried. A feminist backlash began to grow, demanding that Wonder Woman regain the powers and costume that put her on a par with the Man of Steel.