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October 21, 2010

Finally, A Post About Gloria Steinem

Ask any feminist born during or after the tumultuous 60's and 70's who their hero is, and the answer will come back a resounding Gloria Steinem

Gloria Marie Steinem was born on March 25, 1934, and is widely regarded as the poster-child for the modern Women's Liberation Movement. As one of the many women inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame - along with Abigail Adams, Betty Friedan, Ella Fitzgerald, and my personal favorite, Susan B. Anthony - Steinem is a renowned journalist and political activist who has devoted her life to bringing humanitarian issues into the public scope.

After my life-altering decision to call myself a feminist, it felt almost automatic that I should look up to Gloria Steinem, the woman whose name graces every reputable feminist book and blog at least ten or fifteen times. It wasn't until after I started researching her life and accomplishments, however, that I felt my admiration snow-balling; with every new triumph for feminists (and humanitarians in general), I thought yes, this is my idol.

Interestingly enough, Steinem did not come from a feminist family, or even one that was particularly conscious of women's rights or societal issues. How, then, did she go on to become an animal rights activist, civil rights ambassador, political commentator, and “the face of feminism"?

When Steinem was just a few years old, her mother had a debilitating nervous breakdown that hurled her into a world of delusions. The woman couldn't hold a job - let alone take care of herself for any length of time - so her husband ended up divorcing her. While Steinem has made it clear that she doesn't blame her father for leaving, years of being forced to care for her mother opened her eyes to many of the injustices women faced and still face, such as constrictive gender stereotypes and horrifically low wages.

Since her unintentional "aha" moment all those decades ago, Steinem has become an irrefutable force with a list of achievements ten miles long. She co-founded Ms. Magazine, the first magazine written exclusively by women, for women. She campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment, and many other laws that would seek to destroy gender discrimination. She's appeared in every major magazine from Newsweek, to Time, to People, to Parade, and has been a major contributing factor in introducing the feminist agenda to a larger audience. She was arrested in 1984 for protesting apartheid in South Africa (which, like our nation’s own bought of racial segregation in the early-to-mid 1900's, is the forced separation of people based on ancestry), and has worked closely with countless organizations such as the Women's Media Center, Equality Now, Choice USA, the National Women's Political Caucus, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and First Peoples Worldwide.

When did she find time to breathe, I wonder?

To think that one woman - no, one person - accomplished all this is just mind-boggling. For a split second it makes me think "and what have YOU accomplished, Danielle?" but then I realize I still have another seventy or eighty years (keep your fingers crossed!) to follow in Steinem's footsteps. She is such an inspiration: it's one thing to be a loud, proud feminist nowadays when there are hundreds of thousands of women to back you up, but it was something entirely different to be a progressive (some would say "radical") feminist in an era when the woman's place was undisputedly in the home. I admire Steinem for her courage to stand up when few others did, for her ambition to take on the world without letting sexist stereotypes or expectations deter her, and for the fact that, even now, she doesn't give a flying fig about what people think of her.

When one thinks of our nation’s earliest pioneers of women's rights, they may think of the iconic Sister Suffragette made famous in the 1964 film Mary Poppins: prim, proper, middle-aged, white. While the suffragettes of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s did do unbelievable things for our country, Steinem took women's liberation a step further by grabbing feminist stereotypes by the horns. She chose to study politics in lieu of marriage and raising a family, showing that women are capable of making it on their own. She was one of the first people to tackle traditionally taboo subjects such as domestic violence, abortion, and genital mutilation, and gained a cult following for her insightful journalist pieces on said topics. She even used humor to deny (and perhaps stun) those who believed feminists are all stuffy, hairy hags who sit around drinking tea and thinking up what to complain about next. “Gloria Steinem” and “Women’s Liberation” are almost synonymous; Steinem is a pioneer, role model, and modern-day Superwoman.

If I’ve learned anything from Gloria Steinem, it’s simply to accept yourself for who you are. I mean, after claiming the feminist label a million thoughts ran through my mind: what will people think of me? What will my friends say, or my parents? Will people look at me differently in the future? Will they understand? It was almost as if my entire success as a feminist was dependent on how others viewed me. Isn’t that messed up? But after reading about Steinem and her amazing history, I knew she never cared about what people thought about her. Whether they worshipped her, mocked her, exalted her, or despised her, it had absolutely nothing to do with who she was as a person. So, in a way, Gloria Steinem has helped me to accept myself for who I am, and simply be.

Works Cited

"Gloria Steinem Biography." A&E Television Networks. Web. 29 Sept. 2010.

"GLORIA STEINEM." Web. 28 Sept. 2010.

"Gloria Steinem." The Women's Conference - Empowerment, Inspiration and Education for Women - The Home for Architects of Change. Web. 29 Sept. 2010.

"The Official Website of Author and Activist Gloria Steinem - Groups." The Official Website of Author and Activist Gloria Steinem. Gloria Steinem. Web. 29 Sept. 2010.

"Women of the Hall." National Women's Hall of Fame. Web. 29 Sept. 2010.