For those uneducated in all things women’s lib, Gloria Steinem (in addition to being one of my personal heroes) was and still is a prominent political figure, writer and voice for the feminist movement, human rights and women’s liberation. Her work as a journalist in the early 60’s was one of the first female voices given a national audience when she wrote an article on contraception, which resulted in her 1962 article on how women are forced to choose between marriage and career. Her strong and opinionated voice on issues like sexual harassment, abortion, equal rights and women’s liberation has echoed for decades and is still relevant today.
For a period in 1963, she worked as a Bunny at the Playboy Club in New York City to research the treatment of women in such clubs. The expose put Gloria on the map as a writer, but in the mid-sixties, an era when issues like Sexism and Sexual Harassment were commonplace, if undefined issues in the workplace, were , the sort of publicity she garnered was generally negative, and she found herself black listed and unable to find work. As an intelligent, capable young woman in a world that had promised her everything, Steinem’s frustration began to mount as she encountered again and again the misogyny and outright hostility of the men and boys she considered colleagues. In spite of the progress women had made after World War II, it seemed that men still felt women belonged in the home, or–at the very least–beneath men in whatever employment they should take up.
When Steinem finally found work it was for the newly founded New York Magazine, and it was while on an assignment for them that Steinem stumbled upon the movement that she would eventually become the figurehead for.
In New York City, in a church basement in the Village, Steinem was covering an Abortion Speak-Out–where women related their own stories of abortion–when she experienced the first stirrings of what would later be known as Feminism. Steinem herself had undergone an abortion when she was 22, in London, and as she listened to these women–who had been forced into back allies and unsafe procedures–recounted their stories of struggle and pain, she began to understand something of the nature of the world in which she lived and the inherent injustice of being a woman in what was clearly a mans world.
From there, she found swift acceptance into the inner circles of the feminist movement, and found herself something of a figurehead. Classically good looking, a trained performer, and an articulate and passionate speaker she became a near-constant figure at countless marches for abortion rights, she testified at the Senate on behalf of the Equal Rights Amendment, and her articles, such as After Black Power, Women’s Liberation, were essential in helping a generation of women redefine their place in society and claim their rights and identies. She helped to co-found both the National Women’s Political Caucus as well as the worlds first female owned, operated and written periodical, Ms. Magazine. She was and is a highly polarizing figure, and her outspoken commentary on the roles, treatment and subjection of women and minorities in our society incites both adoring fans (me) and vicious detractors (anyone Republican). But one cannot deny the role she has played in liberating women from the confines of an age-old social hierarchy that had limited women to the roles of wife and mother, virgin or whore, possession or problem.
“The idea that women are supposed to be the means of reproduction. If they – I mean ‘they’ in the larger sense: patriarchy, nationalism, whatever you want to call the mega-structure – didn’t want to control reproduction, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in. Remember my age. I didn’t know that I had a choice for a long time. I didn’t want to get married and have children, but I thought it was inevitable, and so, I kept saying: not right now. I kept putting it off. After feminism, I suddenly realised: not everyone has to live the same way. Imagine that!”
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