(March 25, 1934- )
“Like art, revolutions come from combining what exists into what has never existed before.” – Gloria Steinem
A staunch advocate of reproductive freedom and women’s equality, Gloria Steinem is a writer and activist who has embraced feminist and social justice movements for over forty years. She is widely considered one of the original founders of the modern American women’s movement and travels within the U.S.A. and worldwide as an organizer and lecturer on issues of equality. Her books include Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, Moving Beyond Words, and Marilyn: Norma Jean, on the life of Marilyn Monroe. The latter reminds readers of the dangers of the ‘beauty myth’ even for those women who represent its fullest cultural embodiment. Probably Steinem’s greatest fame as a writer, however, came from the article “A Bunny’s Tale” (1963), which demolished claims that the ‘playboy’ politics of Hugh Heffner and others liberated women: they were in fact exploited labour (Watts 238; Attebury).
Although she also publishes in academic journals, Steinem has repeatedly voiced her disapproval of obscurantism and abstractions of much feminist theorizing today. In one interview with Mother Jones, she stated, “If I read the word ‘problematize’ one more time, I’m going to vomit…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” (1995: 1). In 1968, she helped found New York magazine, where she became a political columnist. In 1972, she co-founded the feminist Ms. Magazine with Letty Cottin Pogrebin, and for fifteen years remained one of its editors. The magazine made history in 1972 by published the names of women admitting to having had abortions while the procedure remained illegal in most of the U.S.A. A year later, the judicial decision Roe v. Wade legalized abortion throughout the country, although it could not guarantee access. Steinem also helped to found the Women’s Action Alliance, the Women’s Media Center, and was president and co-founder of Voters for Choice—a pro-choice political action committee which eventually merged with the Planned Parenthood Action Fund for the 2004 U.S.A. presidential election. She currently lives in New York City where she is working on an autobiography, Road to the Heart: America as if Everyone Mattered.
Gloria Steinem has herself become rather an icon of modern American feminism. Like Emmeline Pankhurst of the British Women’s Social and Political Union and Governor-General Michaelle Jean of Canada, she reminded observers that beauty need not be a barrier to feminist self-consciousness and a desire to liberate women and further democracy.
Attebury, Nancy Garham. 2006. Gloria Steinem. Champion of Women’s Rights. Minneapolis, MN: Compass Point Books.
Heilbrun, Carolyn. 1995. The Education of A Woman: The Life and Times of Gloria Steinem. New York: Ballantine Books.
Steinem, Gloria. 1995. Moving Beyond Words: Age, Rage, Sex, Money, Power, Money, Muscles: Breaking the Boundaries of Gender.
Stern, Sydney Ladenshon. 1997. Gloria Steinem: Her Passions, Politics, and Mystique. New York: Birch Lane Press.
Watts, Steven. 2008. Mr. Playboy: Hugh Heffner and the American Dream. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons.