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Gloria Marie Steinem (born March 25, 1934) is an American feminist, journalist, and social and political activist.

Rising to national prominence as a feminist leader in 1969, Steinem was a columnist at New York magazine in the 1960s and broke ground in 1963 with an investigative report of how the women of Playboy were 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 second-wave feminism, the women's rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

In 1971, Steinem, along with other feminist leaders (including Betty Friedan, Fannie Lou Hamer, Myrlie Evers, and U.S. Representatives Shirley Chisholm and Bella Abzug) founded the National Women's Political Caucus. 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 publication.

Steinem actively campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment, in addition to other laws and social reforms that promoted equality including same-sex marriage. She also founded or co-founded many groups, including the Women's Action Alliance, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the Women's Media Center, and Choice USA, and she is also a prominent member of the Democratic Socialists of America.[38191]

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 States.


Early life

Gloria Marie Steinem

Steinem was born in Toledo, Ohiomarker, on March 25, 1934. Her mother, Ruth, was of part German descent. Her Jewish father, Leo Steinem, was a traveling antiques dealer (with trailer and family in tow) and the son of immigrants from Germany and Poland. The family split in 1944, when he went to Californiamarker to find work while Gloria lived with her mother in Toledo.

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 Collegemarker, 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.

Gloria Steinem attended Waite High School in Toledo, then graduated from Western High School in Washington, D.C.marker She attended Smith Collegemarker, where she remains active. In 1960 she was employed by Warren Publishing as the first employee of Help! magazine.

Journalism career

Esquire magazine features editor Clay Felker gave freelance 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's book The Feminine Mystique by one year.

In 1963, working on an article for Huntington Hartford's Show magazine, she was employed as a Playboy Bunny 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 magazine in 1968.

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" Kennedy. In 1971, she co-founded the National Women's Political Caucus 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 America.

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 Dunn.

Steinem co-founded the Coalition of Labor Union Women in 1974, and participated in the National Conference of Women in Houston, Texasmarker in 1977. She became Ms. magazine's consulting editor when it was revived in 1991, and she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1993.

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 Alliance.

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 America.

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.

Later life

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 1994.

In 1992, Gloria co-founded Choice USA, a 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, Steinem, along with prominent feminists Robin Morgan and Kate Millett, publicly opposed an incursion into the Middle East and asserted that ostensible goal of "defending democracy" was a pretense.

During the Clarence Thomas sexual harassment scandal, Steinem voiced strong support for Anita Hill and suggested that one day Hill herself would sit on the Supreme Courtmarker.

According to two Frontline features (aired 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 preschool case).

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 Mankiller, 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 in the 1952 presidential campaign.

1968 election

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, Hubert Humphrey, went free."

On a late-night radio show, Steinem garnered attention for declaring, "George McGovern is the 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 secretary."

McGovern lost the nomination in the infamous 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicagomarker. 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 police and the bloodshed in the streets."

1972 election

By the 1972 election, the Women's Movement was rapidly expanding its political power. Steinem, along with National Organization for Women founder Betty Friedan, Congresswomen Shirley Chisholm and Bella Abzug, and others, had founded the National Women's Political Caucus in July 1971. Steinem attempted to run as a national delegate in support of Chisholm's presidential campaign.

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 Women's Movement."

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:

Germaine Greer flatly contradicted Steinem's account. Having recently gained public notoriety for her feminist manifesto The Female Eunuch and sparring with Norman Mailer, Greer was commissioned to cover the convention for Harper's Magazine. Greer 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 screwed."

2004 election

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 Bostonmarker, Steinem declared Bush "a danger to health and safety," citing his antagonism to the Clean Water Act, reproductive freedom, sex education, and AIDS relief.

2008 election

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 rights advocates, feminists, environmentalists, and critics of the war in Iraq.... Both have resisted pandering to the right, something that sets them apart from any Republican candidate, including John McCain. Both 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 Times 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, and 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 guises."

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 Schlafly, 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 Manhattan equally."

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.

Feminist positions

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 positions.


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 and Catharine 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.

Female genital mutilation

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 "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 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 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." 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 Butler, 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 constraints.

In August 2008, Steinem appeared on the radio program Weekday 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

See also


  1. Ancestry of Gloria Steinem
  2. Marcello, Patricia. Gloria Steinem: A Biography. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2004. p. 20.
  3. Steinem, Gloria. Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1984. pp. 129-138.
  5. New York Observer Bio of Gloria Steinem
  6. Minnesota Public Radio interview, June 15, at 32:40
  7. Ms. Magazine History
  8. Five College Archives and Manuscript Collections.
  9. "It Changed My Life." New York Times article
  10. Democratic Socialists of America
  11. "A Bit of Herstory."
  12. Women's of the Hall.
  16. Making Ms.Story / The biography of Gloria Steinem, a woman of controversy and contradictions
  17. Mother Jones. Gloria
  18. Choice USA
  19. The New York Times. "We Learned the Wrong Lessons in Vietnam; A Feminist Issue Still."
  20. New York Times. "Anita Hill and Revitalizing Feminism"
  21. TELEVISION REVIEW; Who Programmed Mary? Could It Be Satan? - New York Times
  22. Read Frontline Feedback
  23. Psychiatrist Has License Suspended
  24. "Feminist icon Gloria Steinem first-time bride at 66."
  25. "David Bale, 62, Activist and Businessman."
  26. Mother Jones. "Gloria Steinem"
  27. "Feminism? It's Hardly Begun"
  28. Time, March 28, 2004. "10 Questions for Gloria Steinem"
  29. Lazo, Caroine. Gloria Steinem: Feminist Extraordinaire. New York: Lerner Publications, 1998. pp. 28.
  30. Steinem, Gloria. Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1984. p. 87.
  31. Steinem, Gloria. Outrageous Acts. p. 88.
  32. Miroff, Bruce. The Liberals' Moment: The McGovern Insurgency and the Identity Crisis of the Democratic Party. University Press of Kansas, 2007. pp. 206
  33. Steinem, Gloria. Outrageous Acts. p. 95
  34. Steinem, Gloria. Outrageous Acts p. 96.
  35. Miroff. pp. 205.
  36. Steinem, Gloria. Outrageous Acts. p. 114.
  37. Miroff. pp. 207.
  38. Harper's Magazine October 1972.
  39. Wow, April 16, 2009. "Gloria Steinem: Still Committing 'Outrageous Acts' at 75"
  40. Harper's Magazine Archives
  41. Buzzflash Interview
  42. Feminist Pioneer Gloria Steinem: "Bush is a Danger to Our Health and Safety"
  43. The Houston Chronicle. "Has Gloria Steinem Mellowed? No way."
  44. Steinem, Gloria. New York Times: Women are Never the Front-runners
  46. The New York Observer. Stumping for Clinton, Steinem Says McCain's POW Cred Is Overrated
  47. "Palin: wrong woman, wrong message"
  48. The New York Times. "Steinem Backs Vance in District Attorney Race"
  49. Cy Vance for DA. "Gloria Steinem Remarks Endorsing Cy Vance 7/1/09"
  51. Marianne Schnall Interview
  52. Interviewed By Cynthia Gorney: Mother Jones
  53. CBS News
  54. 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.
  55. "The International Crime of Female Genital Mutilation." Ms. Magazine, March 1979, pp. 65. Also Available Outrageous Acts, pp. 292.
  56. Nussbaum, Martha C. Sex & Social Justice. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. pp. 118-129.
  57. Steinem, Gloria. Outrageous Acts, pp. 206-210.
  58. Butler, Judith. "Critically Queer." Bodies that Matter. Routledge: New York, 1993. pp. 223-441.
  59. KUOW: Weekday. A Conversation with Gloria Steinem

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