Gloria Steinem at news conference, Women's Action Alliance, January 12, 1972
|Born||March 25 1934
Toledo, Ohio, USA
|Occupation||Feminist activist, Journalist, Writer, Political leader|
|Spouse(s)||David Bale (2000─2003)|
Gloria Marie Steinem (born March 25, 1934) is an American feminist, journalist, social critic, and political activist. Rising to national prominence in the 1970s, she became one of the decade's most influential voices and a major leader of the second-wave of the women's rights movement.
She is the founder and original publisher of Ms. magazine, the founder of the pro-choice organization Choice USA, co-founder of the Women's Media Center, the Women's Action Alliance and was an influential co-convener of the National Women's Political Caucus.
Despite having many critics, Steinem is credited even by her opponents for her for her efforts to bring to light the cruelty of female genital cutting and her defense of abused children. Although describing herself as a "radical feminist," late in life she surprised many supporters when she chose to marry and stood by her husband during his illness which caused his death, three years later.
Born in Toledo, Ohio, Steinem's mother, Ruth (née Nuneviller), was part German and her father, Leo Steinem was the son of Jewish immigrants from Germany and Poland. His mother was the noted suffragette, Pauline Steinem. Gloria's family traveled in a trailer across the country so that her father could buy and sell antiques. As a result, the young Gloria did not attend school but received her early education from her mother. The family split in 1944, when Leo left for California to find work. At the age of 15, Gloria went to live with her older sister in Washington, D.C..
At 34, Ruth Steinem had a nervous breakdown that left her an invalid, trapped in delusional fantasies that occasionally turned violent. Before her illness, Ruth had graduated with honors from Oberlin College, worked her way up to newspaper editor, and even taught a year of calculus at the college level. Steinem's father, however, demanded that her mother relinquish her career, and divorced her after she became sick. The subsequent apathy of doctors, along with the social punishments for career-driven women, convinced Steinem that women badly need social and political equality.
Gloria graduated from Western High School in Washington, D.C. and then attended Smith College, where she graduated in 1956 (Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude). She won a fellowship to study in India for two years, helping to develop her social conscience.
In 1960 Steinem was employed by Warren Publishing as the first employee of Help! (magazine). Esquire magazine features editor, Clay Felker, her what she later called her first "serious assignment," regarding contraception. Her resulting 1962 article about women being forced to choose between a career and marriage preceded Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique by one year.
In 1963, working on an article for Show magazine, Steinem took a job as a Playboy Bunny at the New York Playboy Club. The article, featuring a photo of Steinem in Bunny uniform and exposing how women were treated at the clubs, was a sensation, making Steinem an in-demand writer.
In contrast to many prominent leaders of the feminist second-wave like Germaine Greer, Kate Millett, and Shulamith Firestone, Steinem was an influential player in the legislative and political arenas. Her involvement in presidential campaigns stretches back to her support of Adlai Stevenson in 1952 (Lazo, 1998, 28). A proponent of civil rights and fierce critic of the war in Vietnam, Steinem was initially drawn to Senator Eugene McCarthy because of his "admirable record" on those issues. But in meeting and hearing him speak, she found him "cautious, uninspired, and dry." She switched her alliance and declared on a late night radio show, "George McGovern is the real Eugene McCarthy." She found him unpretentious and genuine listened to her opinions. Five years later in 1968, Steinem was chosen to pitch the arguments to McGovern as to why he should enter the presidential race that year. He agreed, and Steinem "served as pamphlet writer, advance "man," fund raiser, lobbyist of delegates, errand runner, and press secretary" (Steinem 1984, 95).
After conducting a series of celebrity interviews, Steinem eventually got a political assignment covering George McGovern's presidential campaign. She became politically active in the feminist movement and brought other notable feminists to the fore and toured the country with lawyer Florynce Rae "Flo" Kennedy. In 1971, she co-founded the National Women's Political Caucus as well as the Women's Action Alliance. Steinem was also a member of Democratic Socialists of America.
The Women’s Action Alliance (WAA), created in 1971 to coordinate resources and organizations at the grass-roots level, was founded by Steinem, Brenda Feigan, and Catherine Samuals. The Alliance’s initial mission was, "to stimulate and assist women at the local level to organize around specific action projects aimed at eliminating concrete manifestations of economic and social discrimination."
In 1972, Steinem co-founded the feminist-themed Ms. magazine. When the first regular issue hit the news stands in July 1972, its 300,000 test copies sold out nationwide in eight days. It generated an astonishing 26,000 subscription orders and over 20,000 reader letters within weeks. (Steinem would continue to write for the magazine until it was sold in 1987. Steinem remains on the masthead as one of six founding editors and serves on the advisory board.)
By the 1972 election, the women's movement was rapidly expanding its political power. Steinem, along with Congresswomen Shirley Chisholm and Bella Abzug, had founded the National Women's Political Caucus in July 1971. However, although she had brought in McGovern's single largest campaign contributor in 1968, she felt disrespected by McGovern's campaign staff. In April 1972, Steinem remarked that he "still doesn't understand the women's movement." McGovern ultimately excised the abortion issue from the party's platform, much to Steinem's disappointment.
Steinem co-founded the Coalition of Labor Union Women in 1974, and participated in the National Conference of Women in Houston, Texas in 1977.
Steinem played a variety of roles within the Women’s Action Alliance, including chairing the board from 1971-1978 as well as being involved in fundraisers to assist the Alliance. By the 1980s, the Alliance had three main arms: the Non-Sexist Childhood Development Project, the Women's Centers Project, and its information services. From the late 80s and throughout the 90s, the WAA began placing more emphasis on women’s health issues as well as launching projects such as the Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Project, the Women’s Alcohol and Drug Education Project, the Resource Mothers Program and the Women’s Centers and AIDS Project. By the 1990s a large part of the Women's Action Alliance was funded by New York City and state budgets. In 1995, 65 percent of its funding was cut, and in June 1997, a vote of the board of directors dissolved the organization altogether.
In the 1980s and 1990s Steinem had to deal with a number of personal setbacks, including the the diagnosis of breast cancer in 1986 and trigeminal neuralgia in 1994.
Steinem became Ms. magazine's consulting editor when it was revived in 1991. In 1992, she co-founded Choice USA, a non-profit organization that mobilizes and provides ongoing support to a younger generation that lobbies for reproductive choice. She was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1993.
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 the ostensible goal of "defending democracy" was a pretense.
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." In a March 22, 1998 Op/Ed piece in the New York Times, she effectively gave support to the notion that a man may: (1) uninvited, open-mouth kiss a woman; (2) uninvited, fondle a woman's breast; and (3) uninvited, take a woman's hand and place it on the man's genitals; and as long as the man retreats once the woman says "no" that this does not constitute sexual harassment. This has become known in the popular culture as the "One Free Grope" Theory. The Op/Ed piece was written in an attempt to defend then President Clinton against allegations of sexual impropriety that had been made by White House volunteer Kathleen Willey.
On September 3, 2000, she surprised many people because at age 66, she married David Bale, a South African businessman, and father of four, one is actor Christian Bale. The wedding was performed by her friend Wilma Mankiller, formerly the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation. The bride wore jeans, and the couple subsequently referred to each other not as husband and wife but as "the friend I married." Steinem and Bale were married for only three years before he died of brain lymphoma on December 30, 2003, at age 62. When criticized for getting married, she replied that marriage had evolved considerably allowing women much more freedom.
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 women’s equality, to reproductive freedom as a fundamental human right, and she has acted on that hostility."
Steinem was an active political participant in the 2008 election. She praised both the Democratic front-runners, commenting. Nevertheless, Steinem later endorsed Hillary Clinton.
She made headlines for a New York Times op-ed in which she called gender, rather than race, "probably the most restricting force in an American life." She elaborated, "Black men were given the vote a half-century before women of any race were allowed to mark a ballot, and generally have ascended to positions of power, from the military to the boardroom, before any women."
Since 2002, Steinem has actively supported young women through the Gloria Steinem Leadership Institute. She published her most recent book, Doing Sixty & Seventy, in 2006.
Steinem's social and political views overlap into multiple schools of feminism. Although most frequently considered a liberal feminist, Steinem has repeatedly characterized herself as a radical feminist. On occasion, however, 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."
Steinem is a staunch advocate of reproductive freedom, a term she herself coined and helped popularize. She credits an abortion hearing she covered for New York Magazine as the event that turned her into an activist. At the time, abortions were widely illegal and risky. In 2005, Steinem appeared in the documentary film, I Had an Abortion, by Jennifer Baumgardner and Gillian Aldrich. In the film, Steinem described the abortion she had as a young woman in London, where she lived briefly before studying in India. In the documentary My Feminism, Steinem characterized her abortion as a "pivotal and constructive experience."
Along with Susan Brownmiller, Andrea Dworkin, and Catherine MacKinnon, Steinem has been a vehement critic of pornography, which she distinguishes from erotica: "Erotica is as different from pornography as love is from rape, as dignity is from humiliation, as partnership is from slavery, as pleasure is from pain." Steinem's argument hinges on the distinction between reciprocity versus domination. She writes, "Blatant or subtle, pornography involves no equal power or mutuality. In fact, much of the tension and drama comes from the clear idea that one person is dominating the other." On the issue of same-sex pornography, Steinem asserts, "Whatever the gender of the participants, all pornography is an imitation of the male-female, conqueror-victim paradigm, and almost all of it actually portrays or implies enslaved women and master." Steinem also cites "snuff films" as a serious threat to women.
Steinem wrote the definitive article on female genital cutting that brought the practice into the American public's consciousness. In it she reports on the staggering "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 rudimentary arguments that would be developed by philosopher Martha Nussbaum (Nussbaum 1999, 118-129).
Steinem has questioned the practice of transsexualism. She expressed disapproval that the heavily-publicized sex-role change of tennis player Renée Richards had been characterized as "a frightening instance of what feminism could lead to" or as "living proof that feminism isn't necessary." Steinem wrote, "At a minimum, it was a diversion from the widespread problems of sexual inequality."
She concludes that "feminists are right to feel uncomfortable about the need for transsexualism."
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