Gloria Steinem – WOMAN of ACTION™

 

A Celebration of Women™

has been inspired to Celebrate the Life of one of our world’s leading voices for all women.

This powerhouse has walked the walk in many areas of the development and growth of the woman’s movement.

 
 

WOMAN of ACTION™

 

 

Gloria Steinem

“Don’t worry about your background, whether it’s odd or ordinary, use it, build on it.”
-Gloria Steinem

 

 

 

Gloria Marie 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. The Steinems lived and traveled about in the trailer from which Leo carried out his trade as a traveling antiques dealer.

When Steinem was three years old, her mother Ruth, then aged 34, had a “nervous breakdown” that left her an invalid, trapped in delusional fantasies that occasionally turned violent.

EXCERPT: One On 1: Gloria Steinem Writes Off Personal Conflict
Budd Mishkin: Did your experience with your mom affect your decision not to have children?

Gloria Steinem: I think, intellectually, it did, because I do understand that I had the experience, very young, of being a caretaker, and being a small person taking care of a big person of course is very different from the other way around, but I think some part of me said, ‘I don’t wanna do this again.'”

Steinem left the turmoil of Toledo for Smith College in Massachusetts and then a two year fellowship in India. It was during this time that Steinem discovered she was pregnant and had an abortion.

“I was just desperate and there was no movement, there was no companionship, I didn’t tell anyone ever,” recalls Steinem. “It was only years later. It was only covering that abortion hearing for New York Magazine and hearing other women testify about their experiences that I knew I wasn’t alone.”

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 disabled.

Steinem was only 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. She was tutored by her mother instead of having a formal education because her family was on the road a lot.

In 1944, Gloria’s parents divorce caused Gloria to move back to Toledo with her mother. There, at only ten years old, she had to take care of her sick mother, cook, clean, attend school, and shop for food.

At that time, Shirley Temple orphan movies were her favorite movies because Shirley always got a good pair of parents in the end.

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. 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., from which she graduated. She then attended Smith College, an institution with which she continues to remain engaged. 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 secretly funded CIA-backed Independent Research Service, and 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. During her senior year at high school, Gloria moved to Washington D.C. on an invitation from her sister. There, she got accepted to Smith College, which she attended in 1952. She majored in government, studied abroad in Switzerland, and wrote for Smith College’s newspaper. She first became a feminist when she realized that her sick mother wasn’t being treated as well as the male patients. It was feminism and women’s rights that she spoke of when she traveled to India. When she returned to the United States, she couldn’t get a job because she was female.

I Was A Playboy Bunny

Want to see Gloria’s original article on the Playboy Club, the truth of which is particularly salient given the upcoming fictional version on NBC that pretends Playboy was “liberating” for women? Click here to download and read “A Bunny’s Tale,” 1963 (with a Postscript).

Finally, Gloria was hired by Help! magazine as an editorial assistant. During this period, she also became a contributor to Esquire and other magazines. In addition, she decided to go undercover as a Playboy bunny waitress to write an article on discrimination and sexual harassment of women. This article was published in June 1963, but it was not taken seriously.

Soon after, Gloria began writing for the TV show That Was the Week That Was. She also wrote a story on the presidential campaign of Senator George McGovern. It was this article that helped her land a job at New York magazine. There, she used the job to write on feminism, tracing the start of the movement to Sarah and Angelina Grimke and the start of the women’s liberation movement to Betty Friedan.

She is an American feminist, journalist, and social and political activist who became nationally recognized as a leader of, and media spokeswoman for, the women’s liberation movement in the late 1960s and 1970s. A prominent writer and political figure, Steinem has founded many organizations and projects and has been the recipient of many awards and honors. She was a columnist for New York magazine and co-founded Ms. magazine.

In 1969, she published an article, “After Black Power, Women’s Liberation” which, along with her early support of abortion rights, catapulted her to national fame as a feminist leader. In 2005, Steinem worked alongside Jane Fonda and Robin Morgan to co-found the Women’s Media Center, an organization that works to amplify the voices of women in the media through advocacy, media and leadership training, and the creation of original content. Steinem currently serves on the board of the organization. She continues to involve herself in politics and media affairs as a commentator, writer, lecturer, and organizer, campaigning for candidates and reforms and publishing books and articles.

Gloria participated in the New York City Women’s Strike for Equality and teamed up with Dorothy Pitman Hughes. Together, they founded an organization to start women’s education programs, the organization called the Women’s Action Alliance.

Also, in 1972, they published their own magazine on feminism called Ms. In 1972, McCall’s magazine named Gloria “Woman of the Year.”

In the 1980s and 1990s, Steinem had to deal with a number of personal setbacks, including the diagnosis of breast cancer in 1986 and trigeminal neuralgia in 1994.

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. Her book Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem published that year was criticized for misrepresenting statistics regarding the incidence and lethality of anorexia nervosa.

At the outset of the Gulf War, 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.

During the Clarence Thomas sexual harassment scandal, Steinem voiced strong support for Anita Hill and suggested that one day Hill herself would sit on the Supreme Court. According to two Frontline features (aired in 1995) and Ms. magazine, Steinem became an advocate for children she believed had been sexually abused by caretakers in day care centers (such as the McMartin preschool case).

In a 1998 press interview, Steinem weighed in on the Clinton impeachment hearings; when asked whether President Bill Clinton should be impeached for lying under oath, she was quoted as saying, “Clinton should be censured for lying under oath about Lewinsky in the Paula Jones deposition, perhaps also for stupidity in answering at all.” The same year, Steinem defended Clinton against allegations of sexual impropriety that had been made by White House volunteer Kathleen Willey.

On September 3, 2000, at age 66, Steinem married David Bale, father of actor Christian Bale.

The wedding was performed at the home of her friend Wilma Mankiller, the first female Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. Steinem and Bale were married for only three years before he died of brain lymphoma on December 30, 2003, at age 62.


 
Steinem was named the American Humanist Association’s 2012 Humanist of the Year for her activism in feminism and LGBT rights.

2012 Humanist of the Year Gloria Steinem sat down with the Humanist magazine at the 71st Annual Conference of the American Humanist Association, held June 7-10, 2012, in New Orleans.

The following is an adapted version of that interview recorded on Friday, June 7. Previously solicited questions from leading secular women writers are noted herein.

Steinem’s speech in acceptance of the Humanist of the Year award will be published in the November/December issue.

 

Feminist theory

Steinem has repeatedly voiced her disapproval of the obscurantism and abstractions 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: “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 aerialized.”
 
Feminist positions

Steinem’s social and political views overlap into ‘multiple schools of feminism’.

This problem is compounded by the evolution of her views over five decades of activism. 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”: “I’ve turned up in every category. So it makes it harder for me to take the divisions with great seriousness.”
 
Genital mutilation

Steinem wrote the definitive article on female genital mutilation that brought the practice into the American public’s consciousness. The article reports on the “75 million women suffering with the results of genital mutilation.”

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.”

Steinem’s article contains the basic arguments that would 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.”

Nevertheless, on concrete issues, Steinem has staked firm positions.

Other miscellaneous things that Gloria did are: argued for legal abortion (which was given in Supreme Court case Roe vs. Wade in 1973), founded Ms. Foundation of Women, the Coalition of Labor Union Women and the National Women’s Political Caucus, and published Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, Marilyn: Norma Jean, Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem, and Moving Beyond Words in 1983, 1986, 1992, and 1994, respectively.Gloria Steinem at home in New York City. Photograph: Mike McGregor for the Observer

 
 
 

A Celebration of Women™

welcomes this woman into our Alumni with open arms.

 

 

Brava Gloria! 

 

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