Part 17 of the women's series
I do not have many heroes that I look up to, I have never been a hero-worshipping kind of person but if I had to choose my very first role model or hero per se, it would be Gloria Steinem. I was an impressionable young girl and Gloria planted an impression on me that would last me the rest of my life. My views on womanhood and our rightful place in society I owe to her. Adding additional learning and understanding of womanhood I owe to Ada, my university professor at McGill University. So now in this issue of the series we will focus on Gloria Steinem.
I was actually surprised that many women of my age group have expressed that they never heard of Betty Freidan, however I do believe that more people have heard of Gloria Steinem.
Gloria Steinem: The Woman, the Legend
On March 25, 1934 the world was blessed with one of the most intelligent minds that shaped the lives of women not just in her generation for she shaped the future of women in Canada as well as the United States. Gloria Marie Steinem was to become one of Americaâ€™s biggest female icons through her work as journalist, social and political activist, publisher, and one of the greatest female leaders in 20th century.
Personal Note: Okay, so you donâ€™t agree with me, you know what I donâ€™t care. She is my hero.
The early years
Steinem was born in Toledo, Ohio to a mother who was half -German, and a Jewish father. Gloria dad was a traveling antique dealer who took his family traveling with him. However in 1944, when Gloria was only 10 years old he left his family behind in pursuit of work in California.
Gloria lived alone with her mother after that time and therefore saw life differently than the suburban housewife world of Betty Freidan. Later in life Gloria would state that growing up the way she did and seeing how her mother had struggled was pivotal in forming her views on social injustice.
The mother and family life
Ruth Steinem was once a vibrant woman who graduated with honors from the famous Oberlin College. She worked in the newspaper industry until she became the editor in chief. She also taught calculus for one year at the local high school. All this changed with she had a nervous breakdown in 1934. Her illness would see her placed in many sanitariums throughout the years. Gloria recounts, she became â€œan 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 long enough to read a book."
Gloriaâ€™s parents did divorced because of the illness however, Gloria didnâ€™t blame her father she did how ever blame the system of social injustice, the apathy of the doctors and the culture that would not support but punished career oriented women. It was from there that Gloria set out to advocate for social and political change.
Becoming a journalist
Gloria attended Smith College and started her journalism career in 1960. Her first job was with Warren Publishing and she became the first employee of Help Magazine. Gloria found the celebrities who graced the cover and she occasionally modeled for the comic strip. The magazine lasted all but 5 years, and was similar in content to Monty Python and Mad but less sexually explicit. It introduced a lot of unknown celebrities at the time.
According to Gloria it was Clay Felker of Esquire Magazine that gave her first serious job in journalism as a freelance writer in 1962. For her first assignment she wrote about contraception and how women had to make the choice of having a career or having children, both worlds were not available to them in that era. This piece was published in 1963 and had been written a year before Betty Freidan wrote her book the Feminine Mystique where she of course talked about the very same female issue.
In 1963, Gloria was working for Huntington Hartfordâ€™s Show Magazine, and took an assignment, that required her to work as a playboy bunny in order to get her scoop on the life of a bunny. She wrote an expose about the exploitation of women in this industry and regretted having written it at the time. She found her offers to write assignments had dried up at the magazine because of it. (Gloria even posed as a Bunny for her research).
Gloria was very concerned with female exploitation, she saw men using women for their own sexual pleasures and beyond that it seemed to be a cultural norm. â€“ Clearly it was evident that sex sold!
Personal Note: How often have you seen women posing against a car ad? This is to lure the man into purchasing the car, the idea being if he has a sporty looking car he will get the beautiful and sexy girl.
Gloria felt that women were being objectified, not treated like women but like sex objects. Some feminists of the era went as far as saying the Miss America and other beauty pageants were objectifying women, having them parade around in swim suits while very little focus was put on the womanâ€™s brain, her looks being the most weighted factor.
Gloria had strong views and later after she reflected upon the bunny experience and her job at Huntington Hartfordâ€™s Show Magazine she was glad that she had worked there.
In 1968, she took a job at Felkerâ€™s New York Magazine and by 1972, she had co founded MS Magazine. Steinem did not like the idea that a womanâ€™s marital status was declared in the title Mrs. or Miss, men had one designation, Mr. No one knew if they were married or not, and so she coined the term MS that way no one would know if the woman was married or not. There was a social stigma at the time and still lingers today, where older spinsters, the term used at the time, as well as the more derogatory â€œold maidâ€ was attached to a woman who had never married. No such derogatory term was attached to a man; a bachelor was good, a spinster or old maid was not.
Ms Magazine became a regular feature of New York Magazine and Felker put up the funding for its first issue. Ms Magazineâ€™s first issue was a huge success and within three weeks it was sold out.
Personal note: That just goes to show you how woman were craving for this new womenâ€™s liberation movement and its teachings.
Gloria continued to write for MS Magazine until it was sold in 1987, after which she remained on the advisory board. In 2001, the magazine was sold yet again and is now called the Feminist Majority Foundation and Gloria continued to serve as an advisor.
The media proclaimed Gloria Steinem to be the leader of the feminist movement and Gloria become a political activist as well as a journalist. In 1971, she had co founded both the National Womenâ€™s Political Caucus and the Womenâ€™s Action Alliance. Gloria was also a member of the Democratic Socialists of America.
In 1974 Steinem co founded the Coalition of Labor Union Women.
In 1993 Gloria Steinem was inducted in the National Womenâ€™s Hall of Fame.
Despite battling breast cancer and trigeminal neuralgia in the 1980â€™s and 1990â€™s Gloria still remained active. She co founded Choice USA that provides support for young women who are grappling with abortion issues. Her stance has always been that women should have the right to choose if they want to carry the pregnancy to term or not.
Personal note: I know lots of women are against abortion and that is fine. However, the point is that women should always have the choice to decide for themselves on this issue. Women should have the right to decide what happens to their own bodies. Some external force that knows very little about each womanâ€™s unique situation should not decide such a personal and life changing issue. Blanket laws in personal situations do not apply very well.
Steinem was against the election of Bush in 2004, 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 womenâ€™s equality, to reproductive freedom as a fundamental human right, and has acted on that hostility." She went on to claim, "If he is elected in 2004, abortion will be criminalized in this country." â€œIn Boston at a Planned Parenthood activity, Steinem accused Bush as being "a danger to health and safety," citing his antagonism to the Clean Water Act, reproductive freedom, sex education, and Aids relief.â€
Steinem and other women and other feminists actively voiced their opposition to the Gulf war claiming the fight for democracy was just a pretense and there were other motives behind the US involvement. Steinem had also been a critic of the Vietnam War.
Gloria supported Anita Hillâ€™s position in the Clarence Thomas sexual harassment scandal. Steinem was reported as saying that Anita Hill would one day make Supreme Court justice herself.
Activism since 1995
In 1995, Steinem became an advocate for sexually abused children especially those whom she believed were sexually abused in the day care centers such as the McCarty preschool case.
Personal Note: Gloria Steinem is a woman with heart, her scope definitely ranges far beyond womenâ€™s issues alone, and they are humanitarian issues involving the underdog and the downtrodden. She was a strong supporter of the civil rights movement and civil rights for everyone today as well.
In the 1998 press interview regarding the Clintonâ€™s impeachment hearings Steinem was asked if she felt the president should be impeached her answer was, â€œ"Clinton should be censured for lying under oath about Lewinsky in the Paula Jones deposition, perhaps also for stupidity in answering at all,â€ She latter defended Clinton again for sexual inappropriateness involving Kathleen Wiley.
In 2000, when Steinem was 66, she married David Bale, the father of the Christian Bale, the actor. Sadly to say the marriage ended three years later when her husband died of a brain tumor.
Steinem spoke out against the language of academics and how pretentious it really is, she said that women academics had to speak this way just to fit in yet, nobody really cared about feminist academic writings. She also said, â€œAcademics 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 was a supporter for both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama stating that both of them were champions of civil rights and womenâ€™s rights issues. In the end she gave her support to Clinton.
Gloria later made headlines again in the New York Times when she stated that gender discrimination was a bigger issue than even race. She defended her views by saying that black men were given the vote a half a century before any women could. This statement was attacked with reason, white women did get the vote in 1920, but some black men and black women did not get the vote until the Voting Act Rights of 1965 and even then some were lynched for trying.
Steinem was against Sarah Palin for vice president, she said, Palin was not qualified, and â€œopposes everything most other women want and need."
Steinem is also against the practice of female sexual mutilation and has strived to bring the issue to the forefront. Personal note: For a full description of female sexual mutilation you can refer to my article entitled Will We Ever See the End of Female Genital Mutilation? http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/1582019/will_we_ever_see_the_end_of_female.html?cat=9
Steinem is in favor of same sex marriages but she has a different view about transsexual relationships. Steinem voiced her concerns after the tennis player Renee Richardâ€™s transsexual history was announced to the press. In reaction to the Renee Richard incident, she stated that this is "a frightening instance of what feminism could lead to" or as "living proof that feminism isn't necessary." This view that transsexual behavior was also in line with her view that female body mutilation is wrong and unhealthy. Steinem said that one transsexual should not have bearing on the whole women cause. Here also she made one of her most famous quotes, "If the shoe doesn't fit, must we change the foot?" However, Steinem has criticized wikipedia for insinuating that she condemned transsexual and is adamant that she never did.
All in all Steinem is a remarkably woman and my hero. She truly is the face of women worldwide and though some people consider her a radical feminist, she was radical in that it was needed to evoke change in the era of the 1970â€™s but she is also one of the most versatile feminists I have ever known. She is my role model then and now.