By Bridget Berry, Wagner College 2017
“Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.” – Gloria Steinem
Starting in the 1960s, Gloria Steinem took charge of the Women’s Rights Movement and changed the way society looked at feminist issues. Her work is still relevant today, as she has become a public figure, best known for founding the first feminist magazine, as well as being honored in the National Women’s Hall of Fame. Gloria Steinem is one of the most influential leaders of the past 50 years.
Gloria Steinem was born on March 25, 1934 in Toledo, Ohio. Living with her single mother, Steinem’s views on women in society began to form at an early age. She saw her mother’s strife as a result of general hostility towards working women. She went on to attend Smith College and work for the CIA. In 1971 she co-founded Ms. Magazine, the first strictly-feminist periodical of the time. Her feminist activism in the 1960s and 70s lead the Women’s Liberation Movement, and she became a household name at the time. She continues to work for the amplification of women’s voices in society through advocacy, media, and leadership training.
“So whatever you want to do, just do it…Making a damn fool of yourself is absolutely essential.” – Gloria Steinem
1. Worked for legalized abortion: After having an abortion illegally at age 22, Steinem began to realize the injustice against women that was preventing them from having control over their own bodies. She soon coined the term “reproductive freedom” and began advocating for women’s health rights. In the documentary film My Feminism, she characterized having an abortion as a “pivotal and constructive experience.” Through leading and speaking at rallies throughout America, and meeting with leaders and Congress to make her case. As with all of her causes, she was able to use Ms. Magazine and other media to promote her ideas.
2. Equal Pay for Equal Work: Steinem was an outspoken advocate for the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act. This act was meant to earn women the same wages as men, as long as they were doing the same job at the same standards. Although the act was ultimately defeated, it showed America and Congress the changes that needed to be made for women in the workplace.
3. Equal Rights Amendment: This amendment to the Constitution was first proposed in Congress in 1923. It proposed that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be abridged by the U.S. or by any state on account of sex.” Steinem addressed the legislature and provided argument after argument in support of the ERA.
She was also inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993.
“A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.” – Gloria Steinem
Scholars, Witches, and Other Freedom Fighters
In a 1993 speech made at Salem State College, Steinem reflected on many issues throughout American History. These topics were focused mostly on the treatment of minorities throughout history, not just on the concept of feminism. She stressed the importance of humanism, stating that all forms of hierarchy are based of patriarchy, which is why everyone should always treat others as their equals. Within this idea, she discussed paternity and the ownership of women. Women were traditionally saw as being lesser than men due to the fax that they were looked at as only being useful when they were “ripe”- or, when they were able to have children. The concept of paternity was foreign, and due to lack of biological knowledge, people assumed that women were responsible themselves for becoming pregnant, bearing children, and catering to their husbands. This is why women around age 18-20 are usually seen as more powerful. The older women get, the more radical they become. She commented on how this rings true in that older women are more likely to go back to school than older men would be. The older men get, the more powerful they become, and therefore the more conservative they become. She stated that what America needs is more revolutionary scholars, and women are just the ones to do that. She reflected on the history of people- from Native Americans to the roots of democracy in ancient Greece. She also reflected on American government. She stressed the importance of critical reflection in leaders- specifically Ronal Raegan and Bill Clinton- to be able to look back on past decisions and revise them according to new circumstances, discoveries, and ideas. She spoke about some of the obscure women’s issues in America. For example, most people regard Sally Ride as the first female astronaut. However, there were 12 previous women in the space program who were just as capable and eligible as any man to be sent into space. They all passed their tests and underwent the same training as John Glenn, but were overpassed simply because they were women. She continued to stress the importance of reflecting on history to learn more about the future.
“I think it’s endlessly, endlessly interesting to look at history whole instead of half…But I think if we look at the events of our own childhoods, of our history, of the world in which we will live now whole, we can learn a lot of lessons about our current life and our current dilemmas. There is a reason why justice for all women, feminist movements, etc…make common cause with justice for gay men and lesbian women. Most obviously because all women can be stopped from bonding and rebelling by the word lesbian as long as that word is a bad word. So we all have common cause in making it honorable, because we will all be stopped by it, all non-conforming women will be stopped by it until it becomes as honorable a word as any other.”
1. Critical Reflection: Steinem has shown throughout her life her ability to reflect back on her views and change them as she learns new things. For example, in the 1968 election, it is known that she was initially drawn to Senator Eugene McCarthy; however, she changed her mind because of his lack of spontaneity in interviews. This shows that she has an open mind and continues to reflect on issues even after she’s concluded on her standpoint. Her mindfulness allows her to notice new things and live in the present.
2. Emotional Intelligence: Steinem’s ability to relate her own personal experiences to her teachings adds to her self-awareness. She is motivated and aware of herself, while at the same time being able to self-regulate. She adds to her own appeal by incorporating humor into what she teaches. For instance, she has been known for popularizing the quote “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”
“Once we give up searching for approval, we often find it easier to earn respect.”- Gloria Steinem
Gloria Steinem has been widely criticized for comments she has made about the concepts of transsexualism. She has been known to make comments that seem to be trans-phobic. She has written that, while she supported the individuals to identify as they choose, transsexuals “surgically mutilate their own bodies” in order to conform to a gender role that is inevitably tied to physical body parts. She concluded these comments saying that “feminists are right to feel uncomfortable about the need for and uses of transsexualism.” Many people were offended by these comments, as they felt she implied that being transsexual was wrong or unnecessary. Her ideas were controversial, and many opponents thought that her views on transsexualism “have caused deleterious real world effects in the lives of trans women”
“Feminism has never been about getting a job for one woman. It’s about making life more fair for women everywhere. It’s not about a piece of that existing pie; there are too many of us for that. It’s about baking a new pie.”– Gloria Steinem
Gloria Steinem is an activist in fighting for equality for all. From immigrants, to animals, to the LGBTQ Community, she is a champion of social justice. She has changed American history by being a leader of the Women’s Liberation Movement, which has led to different views throughout society on the equality of men and women. Her views on feminist issues such as abortion, genital mutilation, pornography, same-sex marriage, and transsexualism have contributed to the views held by society as a whole. Her prominence in the 1960s ties perfectly with the civil rights movement, as well as the onset of immigration issues.
Gladstone, Leslie W. (2001). The Long Road to Equality: What Won From the ERA Ratification Effort. American Women: A Library of Congress Guide for the Study of Women’s History and Culture in the U.S. (Library of Congress).
Heilbrun, Carolyn G. (1995). Education of a Woman: The Life of Gloria Steinem. Random House, Inc. (New York, NY).
Izzo, A. (2002). Outrageous and Everyday: The Papers of Gloria Steinem. Project MUSE. (New York, NY).
Jarrett, Valerie. (2013). Equal Pay for Equal Work. Council on Women and Girls. (Washington, D.C.).
Marcello, Patricia. (2004). Gloria Steinem: A Biography. Greenwood Press. (Westport, CT).
Steinem, Gloria. (1993). Scholars, Witches, and Other Freedom Fighters. Speech at Salem State College. (Salem, MA).
Stern, Sydney Ladensohn. (1997). Gloria Steinem: Her Passions, Politics, and Mystique. Carol Publishing Group. (Secaucus, NJ)
About the Author
Bridget M. Berry was born on April 16, 1995 in Brooklyn, NY. She grew up on Long Island and is currently a residential freshman at Wagner College on Staten Island. A theatre major and Student Ambassador, she has been interested in feminism for several years now, and has found inspiration in Gloria Steinem’s work. She enjoys performing and spending time with her family and friends.