Gloria Marie Steinem
(born March 25, 1934) is an
, and social and political activist
Rising to national prominence as a feminist leader in 1969, Steinem
was a columnist at New
magazine in the 1960s and broke ground in 1963 with
how the women of Playboy
treated, which was made into a 1985 movie, A Bunny's Tale
. In the 1970s she became
a leading political leader and one of the most important heads of
, the women's rights
movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
In 1971, Steinem, along with other feminist leaders (including
, Fannie Lou Hamer
, Myrlie Evers
, and U.S. Representatives
and Bella Abzug
) founded the National Women's Political
. An influential co-convener of the Caucus, she delivered
her memorable "Address
to the Women of America
." The next year Steinem became the
founding editor and publisher of Ms.
magazine, which brought feminist
issues to the forefront and became the movement's most influential
Steinem actively campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment
, in addition
to other laws and social reforms that promoted equality including
. She also
founded or co-founded many groups, including the Women's Action Alliance
Coalition of Labor Union
, the Women's Media Center, and Choice USA
, and she is also a prominent member of
Socialists of America
Today, Steinem is considered, along with Betty Friedan
, the most important feminist
reformer of the Second-Wave of the Women's Movement in the United
Gloria Marie Steinem
was born in Toledo,
Ohio, on March 25, 1934.
Her mother, Ruth, was of
part German descent. Her Jewish
Steinem, was a traveling antiques dealer (with trailer and family
in tow) and the son of immigrants from Germany and Poland.
split in 1944, when he went to California to find work while Gloria lived with her mother in
Years later, Steinem described her relationship to her mother as
pivotal to understanding of social injustices. At 34, Ruth Steinem
had a "nervous breakdown" that left her an 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." Ruth spent months in and out of sanatoriums for
the mentally disabled. 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.
While her parents did divorce as a result of her mother's illness,
it was not a result of chauvinism on the father's part and Gloria
"understood and never blamed him for the breakup." The subsequent
apathy of doctors, along with the social punishments for
career-driven women, convinced Steinem women badly needed social
and political equality
Steinem attended Waite
High School in Toledo, then graduated from Western High School
D.C. She attended Smith College, where she remains active.
In 1960 she was
employed by Warren Publishing
the first employee of Help!
features editor Clay Felker
writer Steinem what she later
called her first "serious assignment," regarding contraception
; he didn't like her first draft
and had her re-write the article. Her resulting 1962 article about
the way in which women are forced to choose between a career and
marriage preceded Betty Friedan
The Feminine Mystique
by one year.
In 1963, working on an article for Huntington Hartford
magazine, she was employed as a Playboy
at the New York Playboy Club
The article featured a photo of Steinem in Bunny uniform and
exposed how women were treated at the clubs. For awhile, she was
sorry she wrote the article, because in the immediate aftermath,
other assignments dried up, but eventually was glad. Steinem took a
job at Felker's new New York
In 1972, she co-founded the feminist-themed Ms. magazine
. It began as a special
edition of New York Magazine
, and Felker funded the first
issue. When the first regular issue hit the news stands in July
1972, its 300,000 "one-shot" test copies sold out nationwide in
three days. She even labeled it Spring Issue 1972 for that sole
reason. 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. The magazine
changed hands again in 2001, to the Feminist Majority Foundation
Steinem remains on the masthead as one of six founding editors and
serves on the advisory board.
Political awakening and activism
After conducting a series of celebrity interviews, Steinem
eventually got a political assignment covering George McGovern
's presidential campaign.
Steinem became politically active in the Feminist movement, as the
media seemed to appoint Steinem as a leader of feminism. Steinem
brought other notable feminists to the fore and toured the country
with lawyer Florynce Rae "Flo"
. In 1971, she co-founded the National Women's Political
as well as the Women's Action Alliance
In May 1975, Redstockings
, a radical
feminist group, raised the question of whether Steinem had
continuing ties with the Central Intelligence Agency
(CIA). Though she admitted work for a CIA-financed foundation in
the late 1950s and early 1960s, Steinem denied any further
involvement. Steinem was also a member of Democratic Socialists of
Contrary to popular belief, Steinem did not coin the feminist
slogan "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle." The
phrase is actually attributable to Irina
co-founded the Coalition
of Labor Union Women in 1974, and participated in the National
Conference of Women in Houston, Texas in 1977.
She became Ms.
consulting editor when it was revived in 1991, and she was inducted
into the National Women's
Hall of Fame
The Women’s Action Alliance was created in order to coordinate
resources and organizations at the grass-roots level. 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." Steinem played a variety of roles within the
organization 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 aims: the Non-Sexist Childhood
Development Project, the Women's Centers Project, and Information
Services. From the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, the Women’s
Action Alliance began placing more emphasis on women’s health
issues as well as launching projects such as the 1987-88 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% of its funding was cut. In June 1997, a vote of the Board
of Directors dissolved the Women’s Action
Address to the Women of America
At the founding conference of the National Women's Political Caucus
Steinem delivered her Address to the Women of
This is no simple reform. It really is a revolution.
Sex and race because they are easy and visible differences have
been the primary ways of organizing human beings into superior and
inferior groups and into the cheap labor on which this system still
depends. We are talking about a society in which there will be no
roles other than those chosen or those earned. We are really
talking about humanism.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Steinem had to deal with a number of
personal setbacks, including the diagnosis of breast cancer
in 1986 and trigeminal neuralgia
In 1992, Gloria co-founded Choice USA
non-profit organization that mobilizes and provides ongoing support
to a younger generation that lobbies for reproductive choice.
At the outset of the Gulf War
along with prominent feminists Robin
and Kate Millett
opposed an incursion into the Middle East and asserted that
ostensible goal of "defending democracy" was a pretense.
Clarence Thomas sexual harassment
scandal, Steinem voiced strong support for Anita Hill and suggested that one day Hill
herself would sit on the Supreme
According to two Frontline
in 1995) and Ms.
magazine, Steinem became an advocate for
children she believed had been sexually abused by caretakers in day
care centers (such as the McMartin
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." The same year,
Steinem defended Clinton against allegations of sexual impropriety
that had been made by White House volunteer Kathleen Willey
On September 3, 2000, at age 66, Steinem married David Bale
, father of actor Christian Bale
. The wedding was performed at
the home of her friend Wilma
, formerly the first female Chief
of the Cherokee Nation
. Steinem and Bale were
married for only three years before he died of brain lymphoma
on December 30, 2003, at age 62.
Steinem has repeatedly voiced her disapproval of the obscurantism
and abstractions prevalent in
feminist academic theorizing. She said, "Nobody cares about
feminist academic writing. That's careerism. These poor women in
academia have to talk this silly language that nobody can
understand in order to be accepted...But I recognize the fact that
we have this ridiculous system of tenure, that 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." Steinem later singled out
deconstructionists like Judith Butler
for criticism: "I always wanted to put a sign up on the road to
Yale saying, 'Beware: Deconstruction Ahead'. Academics 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 has expressed support for same-sex marriage.
Involvement in political campaigns
Steinem has been an influential player in politics since the 1960s.
Her involvement in presidential campaigns stretches back to her
support of Adlai Stevenson
A proponent of civil rights and fierce critic of the Vietnam War
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." Interviewing him for
New York Magazine
, she called his answers a "fiasco,"
noting that he gave "not one spontaneous reply." As the campaign
progressed, Steinem became baffled at "personally vicious" attacks
that McCarthy leveled against his primary opponent Robert Kennedy
, even as "his real opponent,
, went free."
On a late-night radio show, Steinem garnered attention for
declaring, "George McGovern
real Eugene McCarthy." Steinem had met McGovern in 1963 on the way
to an economic conference organized by John Kenneth Galbraith
and had been
impressed by his unpretentious manner and genuine consideration of
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 "consecutively
or simultaneously served as pamphlet writer, advance "man," fund
raiser, lobbyist of delegates, errand runner, and press
lost the nomination in the infamous 1968 Democratic National
Convention in Chicago.
Steinem gave McGovern credit for standing on the platform with
Humphrey in a show of unity after Humphrey had clinched the
nomination, whereas McCarthy refused the same gesture. She later
wrote of her astonishment at Humphrey's "refusal even to suggest to
Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley
that he control the rampaging
and the bloodshed in the streets."
By the 1972 election, the Women's Movement was rapidly expanding
its political power. Steinem, along with National Organization for
founder Betty Friedan
Congresswomen Shirley Chisholm
, and others, had founded the
in July 1971. Steinem attempted to run as a
national delegate in support of Chisholm's presidential
Nevertheless, Steinem was reluctant to re-join the McGovern
campaign. Though she had brought in McGovern's single largest
campaign contributor in 1968, she "still
had been treated
like a frivolous pariah by much of McGovern's campaign staff." In
April 1972, Steinem remarked that he "still doesn't understand the
McGovern ultimately excised the abortion issue from the party's
platform. (Recent publications show McGovern was deeply conflicted
on the issue.) Actress and activist Shirley MacLaine
, though privately
supporting abortion rights, urged the delegates to vote against the
plank. Steinem later wrote this description of the events:
Steinem's account. Having recently gained public notoriety for her
feminist manifesto The Female
and sparring with Norman
, Greer was commissioned to cover the convention for
criticized Steinem's "controlled jubilation" that 38% of the
delegates were women, ignoring that "many delegations had merely
stacked themselves with token females... The McGovern machine had
already pulled the rug out from under them."
Greer leveled her most searing critique on Steinem for her
capitulation on abortion rights. Greer reported, "Jacqui Ceballos
called from the crowd to demand abortion rights on the Democratic
platform, but Bella [Abzug] and Gloria stared glassily out into the
room," thus killing the abortion rights platform. Greer asks, "Why
had Bella and Gloria not helped Jacqui to nail him on abortion?
What reticence, what loserism had afflicted them?" Steinem later
recalled that the 1972 Convention was the only time Greer and
Steinem ever met.
The cover of Harper's that month read, "Womanlike, they did not
want to get tough with their man, and so, womanlike, they got
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 has acted on
that hostility." She went on to claim, "If he is elected in 2004,
abortion will be criminalized in this country." At a Planned Parenthood event in Boston, Steinem
declared Bush "a danger to health and safety," citing his
antagonism to the Clean Water Act,
reproductive freedom, sex education, and AIDS
Steinem was an active political participant in the 2008 election.
She praised both the Democratic front-runners, commenting, "Both
Senators Clinton and Obama are civil
, and critics of the
war in Iraq
.... Both have resisted
pandering to the right, something that sets them apart from any
candidate, including John McCain
have Washington and foreign policy experience; George W. Bush
did not when he first ran for president."
Nevertheless, Steinem later endorsed Senator Clinton, citing
Clinton's broader experience, saying that the nation was in such
bad shape it may require two terms of Hillary Rodham Clinton
and two terms
of Barack Obama
to fix it.
She made headlines for a New York
op-ed in which she called gender
"probably the most restricting force in
American life," rather than race
. 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." This was attacked, however, from critics saying that white
women were given the vote unabridged in 1920, whereas many blacks,
female or male, could not vote until the Voting Rights Act of 1965
some were lynched for trying, and that many white women advanced in
the business and political worlds before black women and men.
Steinem again drew attention for, according to the New York Observer
, seeming "to
denigrate the importance of John McCain’s time as a prisoner of war
in Vietnam." Steinem's broader argument "was that the media and the
political world are too admiring of militarism in all its
Steinem was a vocal critic of sexist media treatment of the Clinton
campaign. Following McCain's selection of Sarah Palin
as his running mate, Steinem penned
an op-ed in which she labeled Palin an "unqualified woman" who
"opposes everything most other women want and need." Steinem
described her nomination speech as "divisive and deceptive" and
concluded that Palin resembled "Phyllis
, only younger."
2009 Manhattan DA Election
In the closing months of the 2009 Manhattan District Attorney
Primaries, Steinem endorsed trial lawyer and former prosecutor,
Democrat Cyrus Vance, Jr.
Steinem's decision to back Vance over the sole female candidate in
the race stemmed from her admiration of Vance's comprehensive Plan
to Reduce Violence Against Women, Children, and Intimate Partners.
Steinem commented-"I am proud to support Cy Vance for District
Attorney of Manhattan because he understands the seriousness of
this kind of violence, and he has a practical, thoughtful, humane
plan to diminish it. His plan will also help those brave
individuals who are trying to stop such violence on their own, yet
find themselves locked in a maze of government and police
procedures...We are lucky to have him to serve all the people of
Amongst Vance's many initiatives to create a safer Manhattan, his
Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women, Children, and Intimate
Partners calls for the creation of a Family Justice Center to
concentrate services for domestic violence victims under one roof.
Additionally, the plan includes the creation of a Sex Trafficking
Unit and a Teen Rape Prevention Initiative, as well as strategies
to address stalking, the prosecution of acquaintance rape cases,
and intimate partner violence involving LGBT couples.
Steinem's social and political views overlap into multiple schools
of feminism. This problem is compounded by the evolution of her
views over five decades of activism. Although most frequently
considered a liberal feminist
Steinem has repeatedly characterized herself as a radical feminist
. More importantly, 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."
Nevertheless, on concrete issues, Steinem has staked firm
Steinem is a staunch advocate of reproductive freedom
term she herself coined and helped popularize. She credits an
hearing she covered for
New York Magazine
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
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
, 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.
Female genital mutilation
Steinem wrote the definitive article on female genital cutting
the practice into the American public's consciousness. In it she
reports on the "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
: 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 basic
arguments that would be developed by philosopher Martha Nussbaum
Steinem has questioned the practice of transsexualism
. She expressed disapproval
that the heavily-publicized sex-role change of tennis player
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." Apparently concerned for
Richards' effect on the legitimacy of women's sports, Steinem
asked, "Why should the hard-won seriousness of women's tennis be
turned into a sensational circus by one transsexual?" She writes
that, while she supports individuals right to identify as they
choose, she claims that, in many cases, transsexuals "surgically
[mutilate] their bodies" in order to conform to a gender role that
is inexorably tied to physical body parts. She concludes that
"feminists are right to feel uncomfortable about the need for
transexualism." The article concluded with what became one of
Steinem's most famous quotes: "If the shoe doesn't fit, must we
change the foot?" Although clearly meant in the context of
transsexuality, the quote is frequently mistaken as a general
statement about feminism.
Prominent feminists like Judith
, Eve Sedgwick
, and Donna Haraway
have subsequently rejected
Steinem's argument, embracing ideas of "queerness" and "the abject
other" as vital to the destabilization and subversion of normative
In August 2008, Steinem appeared on the radio program
and stated that her Wikipedia page falsely
attributed to her that she had "condemned transexualism, which I
absolutely had never done."
List of works
- The Thousand Indias (1957)
- The Beach Book (1963)
- Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (1983)
- Marilyn: Norma Jean (1986)
- Revolution from Within (1992)
- Moving beyond Words (1993)
- Doing Sixty & Seventy (2006)
- The Education of A Woman: The Life and Times of Gloria
Steinem by Carolyn Heilbrun 1995
- Gloria Steinem: Her Passions, Politics, and Mystique
by Sydney Ladenshon Stern 1997
- Ancestry of Gloria Steinem
- Marcello, Patricia. Gloria Steinem: A Biography. Westport, CT:
Greenwood Press, 2004. p. 20.
- Steinem, Gloria. Outrageous Acts and Everyday
Rebellions. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1984. pp.
- New York Observer Bio of Gloria Steinem
- Minnesota Public Radio interview, June 15, at
- Ms. Magazine History
- Five College Archives and Manuscript
- "It Changed My Life." New York Times article
- Democratic Socialists of America
- "A Bit of Herstory."
- Women's of the Hall.
- Making Ms.Story / The biography of Gloria Steinem,
a woman of controversy and contradictions
- Mother Jones. Gloria
- Choice USA
- The New York Times. "We Learned the Wrong Lessons
in Vietnam; A Feminist Issue Still."
- New York Times. "Anita Hill and Revitalizing
- TELEVISION REVIEW; Who Programmed Mary? Could It Be
Satan? - New York Times
- Read Frontline Feedback
- Psychiatrist Has License Suspended
- "Feminist icon Gloria Steinem first-time bride at
- "David Bale, 62, Activist and
- Mother Jones. "Gloria Steinem"
- "Feminism? It's Hardly Begun"
- Time, March 28, 2004. "10 Questions for Gloria Steinem"
- Lazo, Caroine. Gloria Steinem: Feminist
Extraordinaire. New York: Lerner Publications, 1998. pp.
- Steinem, Gloria. Outrageous Acts and Everyday
Rebellions. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1984. p. 87.
- Steinem, Gloria. Outrageous Acts. p. 88.
- Miroff, Bruce. The Liberals' Moment: The McGovern
Insurgency and the Identity Crisis of the Democratic Party.
University Press of Kansas, 2007. pp. 206
- Steinem, Gloria. Outrageous Acts. p. 95
- Steinem, Gloria. Outrageous Acts p. 96.
- Miroff. pp. 205.
- Steinem, Gloria. Outrageous Acts. p. 114.
- Miroff. pp. 207.
- Harper's Magazine October 1972.
- Wow, April 16, 2009. "Gloria Steinem: Still Committing 'Outrageous Acts'
- Harper's Magazine Archives
- Buzzflash Interview
- Feminist Pioneer Gloria Steinem: "Bush is a Danger
to Our Health and Safety"
- The Houston Chronicle. "Has Gloria Steinem Mellowed? No way."
- Steinem, Gloria. New York Times: Women are Never the Front-runners
- The New York Observer. Stumping for Clinton, Steinem Says McCain's POW
Cred Is Overrated
- "Palin: wrong woman, wrong message"
- The New York Times. "Steinem Backs Vance in District Attorney
- Cy Vance for DA. "Gloria Steinem Remarks Endorsing Cy Vance
- Cy Vance for DA. "A PLAN TO REDUCE VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN, CHILDREN
AND INTIMATE PARTNERS"
- Marianne Schnall Interview
- Interviewed By Cynthia Gorney: Mother Jones
- CBS News
- Erotica and Pornography: A Clear and Present
Difference. Ms. Magazine. November 1978, pp. 53. &
Pornography--Not Sex but the Obscene Use of Power. Ms.
Magazine. August 1977, 43. Also available Outgrageous
Acts, pp. 219.
- "The International Crime of Female Genital Mutilation." Ms.
Magazine, March 1979, pp. 65. Also Available Outrageous
Acts, pp. 292.
- Nussbaum, Martha C. Sex & Social Justice. New
York: Oxford University Press, 1999. pp. 118-129.
- Steinem, Gloria. Outrageous Acts, pp. 206-210.
- Butler, Judith. "Critically Queer." Bodies that
Matter. Routledge: New York, 1993. pp. 223-441.
- KUOW: Weekday. A
Conversation with Gloria Steinem