Steinem, Gloria

views updated May 29 2018

Gloria Steinem

BORN: March 25, 1934 • Toledo, Ohio

American social activist, writer

Gloria Steinem is a political activist who became an effective national spokesperson for the women's rights movement in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s, a movement frequently referred to as the second wave of feminism. Steinem founded several organizations to promote the cause of women's rights and established the first national women's magazine actually run by women. She had a special ability to present feminist issues to a wide audience.

"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."

An unsettled childhood

Gloria Marie Steinem was born in March 1934 in Toledo, Ohio, at the height of the Great Depression (1929–41), a period of economic downturn in the world that led to high unemployment and much hunger. Her father Jewish American father, Leo Steinem, was a traveling antiques dealer. Her mother, Ruth, was a newspaperwoman. Through much of the year, the Steinems traveled around the United States in their dome-roofed house trailer, buying and selling antiques. They spent summers at their small resort in Clear Lake, Michigan. Gloria spent her first ten years living this nomadic (traveling) lifestyle. Her mother tutored her while on the road.

As an adult, Steinem was proud of her family's political activism. Her paternal (on her father's side) grandmother, Pauline Steinem, had gained notoriety as president of the Ohio Women's Suffrage Association from 1908 to 1911, and was a representative to the 1908 International Council of Women. However, Steinem did not have much exposure to this aspect of the family in her early life.

In the mid-1940s, Gloria's parents divorced. Leo left for California to find work and Gloria went with her ailing mother, who was suffering from severe mental depression, back to Toledo. In her early teens, Gloria cared for her mother while helping to support the family. For the first time in her life, she began attending school on a regular basis. By the time Gloria was fifteen and a senior in high school, her mother had become incapacitated (unable to care for herself) by depression. Her father agreed to care for her mother for a while so Gloria moved to Washington, D.C., to live with a sister who was ten years older while she finished school.

Beginnings of social activism

Upon graduation from high school, Steinem received a scholarship to attend Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. Smith is the largest women's college in the United States. She entered college in 1952, majoring in governmental studies. Steinem was also attracted to political activism. She worked for Democratic nominee Adlai Stevenson's (1900–1965) presidential campaign in 1952. Steinem graduated with honors from Smith in 1956 as magna cum laude (with high honors). She was also elected to the Phi Beta Kappa honor society.

Steinem had become engaged to marry during her senior year at Smith, but broke off the engagement when an opportunity to study political science in India came along. Steinem continued her studies in India for the next two years. There she adopted Indian dress and customs and became interested in India's political issues. Steinem joined nonviolent protests against governmental policies that were strongly prejudiced against certain elements or castes (strict social classes) of Indian society. She also witnessed caste riots in southern India while visiting there. As a result of her experiences, Steinem developed a deep sympathy for the powerless populations in the world. Steinem was a freelance (self-employed) writer for Indian newspapers and joined a group known as the Radical Humanists. The Indian experience vastly broadened Steinem's horizons by showing her the extent of human suffering in parts of the world.

Upon her return to the United States in 1958, Steinem looked for work as a journalist. However, she found that gender prejudice was well established in the profession. Editors seemed to want only male journalists. Finally, in 1960, Steinem was hired as assistant editor for the political satire magazine Help! in New York City. Steinem also began writing freelance articles for various popular publications, including Esquire, New York Times, and Show. Steinem kept her professional life separate from her personal interests. Her articles were about fashion, celebrities, and vacation destinations rather than advocating for social justice.

In the national spotlight

Steinem burst onto the national scene in 1963 when she wrote an investigative article for Show magazine about the opening of the New York City Playboy Club. She wrote about the working conditions of women who worked for the Playboy Club as waitresses wearing skimpy outfits. To gather her information, Steinem applied and was hired as a Playboy waitress. She worked for three weeks. Her article "I Was a Playboy Bunny" attracted national attention for its portrayal of the gender prejudice—including low wages and discrimination—faced by the women working in the clubs. The article was made into a television movie in 1985 called A Bunny's Tale.

Steinem was now a celebrity and could work full time as a freelance writer. She now received more substantial writing assignments. Throughout the 1960s she published a number of pieces on well-known political figures. She also did some script writing for the popular television show That Was the Week That Was in 1964 and 1965. Among the interviews she wrote was one with Playboy founder Hugh Heffner (1926–). In the interview, Steinem debated with Heffner about women's rights and other social issues.

Journalist becomes activist

Throughout the 1960s, Steinem became increasingly committed to political causes including women's rights, racial justice, and world peace. She supported the Civil Rights Movement, antiwar protests against the unpopular Vietnam War (1957–75), and Cesar Chavez's (1927–1993; see entry) United Farm Workers labor union of Latino fieldworkers. As her fame intensified, the media treated Steinem as the outspoken leader of the Women's Liberation Movement. Feminism was reborn in the early 1960s (see box). In her growing public role, she was attracting other public figures to the movement. Steinem also worked on behalf of various political candidates, including the presidential campaign of U.S. senator Robert F. Kennedy (1925–1968), which was cut short by his assassination in June 1968.

Second Wave Feminism

Gloria Steinem became recognized as a leading spokesperson for a revitalized feminist movement in the United States often referred to as the second wave of feminism. The second wave grew in the early 1960s and lasted through the 1980s. Whereas the first wave of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century focused on absolute legal rights such as the right to vote called suffrage, the second wave was concerned with the injustices and inequalities built into society that affected day-to-day life. These included limited job opportunities, political powerlessness, sexual exploitation, and restricted reproductive rights. Women learned how the effects of social mores (well-established customs) reached into every aspect of their personal lives. This awareness of gender prejudice burst into the broader public realm in 1963. The presidential Commission on the Status of Women chaired by former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (1884–1962) issued a report emphasizing that gender prejudice reached into every aspect of American life. That same year, author Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, a bestseller on gender prejudice in America.

From that beginning of awareness came the following successes in reducing gender prejudice in America. In 1964, the landmark Civil Rights Act was signed into law, making gender discrimination in employment illegal. In 1972, Congress passed Title IX of the Education Amendments, which greatly expanded educational opportunities for young women. That same year, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was sent to the states for ratification (approval and passage). In 1966, the National Organization of Women (NOW) was created to promote women's issues. In 1973, the landmark Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision legalized abortion. In addition, many prestigious universities that had been male-only, such as the Ivy League schools of Harvard and Yale, became coeducational in the 1960s and 1970s. A major disappointment was handed to feminists in 1982 when state ratification of the ERA fell three states short of the thirty-eight states needed. Steinem's Ms. magazine chronicled these issues for the second wave. The second wave feminists tried to establish a common feminist identity to achieve political solidarity. Their efforts fell short, and the third wave of feminism began in the 1990s, composed of women of color who felt passed by during the second wave.

In 1968, Steinem and Clay Felker (1928–) founded New York magazine. She provided a monthly political column for the magazine called The City Politic while serving as contributing editor. It was also at this time she attended a meeting of a radical feminist group known as the Redstockings. Though there on a writing assignment, Steinem became even more taken by the gender prejudice issues they discussed. She was deeply moved by their personal stories. Increasingly Steinem was not only writing about women's issues but accepting speaking engagements on the topic as well. She was becoming an active member of the movement rather than a journalistic observer.

Ms. magazine

In July 1971, Steinem helped found the National Women's Political Caucus with other activists Betty Friedan (1921–2006), Bella Abzug (1920–1998; see entry), and Shirley Chisolm (1924–2005). The Caucus encouraged women's active participation in the upcoming 1972 presidential election campaign. Also through the Caucus, Steinem found investors to help launch a new magazine that would be dedicated to covering contemporary social issues from the feminist perspective. Steinem had come to realize that only a magazine controlled by women could openly address women's issues.

By late 1971, Steinem had produced the first issue of Ms. magazine. That thirty-page issue appeared in the December 1971 edition of New York magazine. All three hundred thousand copies were sold in just eight days. Ms. magazine was the first national women's magazine run by women. Within five years, it had a circulation of five hundred thousand. As its editor, Steinem's reputation as the national feminist leader was firmly set. Through Ms., she became an influential spokesperson for women's rights issues, including unequal pay and sexual exploitation. However, now she was not just a writer but had the demanding responsibilities of an editor, too.

Involved in national politics

In 1972, Steinem attended the Democratic Party National Convention held in Miami, Florida. She fought to add an abortion rights segment to the party platform (a declaration of guiding principles). Steinem also called public attention to the under-representation of women and racial minorities among the convention delegates. Following the convention, Steinem covered Democratic candidate U.S. senator George McGovern's (1922–) campaign as a journalist.

Throughout the remainder of the 1970s, Steinem continued applying her organizational skills to the women's movement. In 1974, she founded the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the only national organization for women who are labor union members. Its goal was to improve the working conditions of women. Through 1975, Steinem helped plan the women's agenda for the next Democratic Party National Convention in 1976. In doing so, she relentlessly lobbied, or petitioned, liberal politicians on behalf of women's rights. The Democratic presidential nominee Jimmy Carter (1924–; served 1977–81) won the election.

In 1977, Steinem was a participant at the National Conference of Women held in Houston, Texas. It was the first conference of its kind. The conference's goal was to draw the nation's attention to women's issues. It also served to draw attention to the feminist leadership including Steinem.

Life changes

Well into the 1980s, Steinem continued writing for Ms. magazine and speaking out on women's rights. Her life took a major turn when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1986. The following year, Ms. magazine was sold to new owners, who showed far less dedication to its publication. The magazine faded out of production over the next few years until reviving in 1991 when Steinem, who recovered her health, returned as consulting editor. The magazine actually went ad-free in 1989, when it was bought from Australian publisher Fairfax by American Feminists. Liberty Media bought the magazine (and Steinem returned to help run it) from American Fems in 1998 and maintained the ad-free policy. But she was not responsible for implementing it. She had long been critical of the gender prejudice and other prejudices expressed by advertising in general. In 2001, Steinem recruited various women as investors known as the Feminist Majority Foundation to purchase the magazine. Steinem remained on the advisory board into the twenty-first century.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Steinem published several books. In 1983, she published a collection of essays in Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, in which she recounted twenty years of her earlier experiences and described the lives of other influential women. In 1992, she published Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem that was a self-help book to inspire others. She explained how low self-esteem can influence every aspect of a woman's life. Two years later, she published Moving Beyond Words in which she shared her views on various social topics.

Numerous awards were bestowed upon Steinem. Notably, in 1993 Steinem was elected into the National Women's Hall of Fame in New York. In 1998, she was inducted into the American Society of Magazine Editors Hall of Fame along with Hugh Hefner of Playboy magazine. During the 1990s Steinem encountered more health problems. In 1994, she contracted trigeminal neuralgia, a disorder that causes very sharp facial pain.

Much to the surprise of all her friends, sixty-six-year-old Steinem married South African David Bale (1941–2003), father of actor Christian Bale (1974–), on September 3, 2000. The wedding was at the Oklahoma home of fellow feminist and Cherokee Indian tribal leader Wilma Mankiller (1945–; see entry). Tragically, Bale died only three years later on December 30, 2003, of brain lymphoma (cancer). He was sixty-two years old.

Overcoming personal hardships, Steinem's activism continued into the early twenty-first century. She sought to erase class, race, and sexual prejudice among women and bring several generations of feminists together in a common cause. In 2005, she appeared in the documentary film I Had an Abortion. In it, she described an abortion she had years earlier in London while on her way to study in India. She also had become a member of another political party, the Democratic Socialists of America. Steinem also served on the advisory board of Women's Voices, Women Vote, an organization that seeks to increase the participation of unmarried women in the political process.

For More Information


Daffron, Carolyn. Gloria Steinem. New York: Chelsea House, 1988.

Heilbrun, Carolyn. The Education of a Woman: The Life of Gloria Steinem. New York: Dial Press, 1995.

Lazo, Caroline E. Gloria Steinem: Feminist Extraordinaire. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publications, 1998.

Steinem, Gloria. Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions. New York: H. Holt, 1995.

Steinem, Gloria. Moving Beyond Words. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994.


Women Voices. Women Vote. (accessed on December 11, 2006).

Steinem, Gloria

views updated May 29 2018


Born 25 March 1934, Toledo, Ohio

Daughter of Leo and Ruth Nuneviller Steinem

As a child, Gloria Steinem moved around from city to city in a house trailer while her father Leo, who "never wore a hat and never had a job," looked for work. Her parents divorced when she was ten, and Steinem became the sole caretaker of her mentally ill mother. As a teenager, Steinem was an avid reader who dreamed of "dancing [her] way out of Toledo," not of following in the footsteps of her pioneer feminist grandmother, Pauline Steinem, who was president of the Ohio Women's Suffrage Association and one of two U.S. representatives to the 1908 International Council of Women.

In her teens Steinem worked part-time dancing for $10 a night at conventions. She left Toledo during her senior year in high school and moved to Washington, D.C., to live with her older sister. Winning an academic scholarship to Smith College, she graduated with a B.A. in government, Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude (1956). Travel in southern India after graduation as a Chester Bowles Asian Fellow helped her develop a lifelong understanding and empathy for oppressed peoples and started her writing career freelancing for Indian newspapers. In India she joined a group called the Radical Humanists and worked as part of a peacemaking team during the caste riots. Her first monograph, The Thousand Indias, a guidebook for the government in New Delhi, appeared in 1957. When Steinem returned to the U.S. in 1958, filled with an "enormous sense of urgency about the contrast between wealth and poverty," she became the codirector of the controversial Independent Research Service, an offshoot of the National Student Association.

Steinem moved to New York in 1960 to establish herself as a journalist. Her first job was as a writer of photo captions and celebrity liaison for Help!, a political satire magazine. In 1962 her first bylined article, a study of the contraceptive revolution called "The Moral Disarmament of Betty Co-ed," appeared in Esquire. Her second monograph, The Beach Book (1963), a coffee-table semibook filled with excerpts from literature about beaches, featured suggestions of things to do while sunbathing, beach fantasies, and a foil jacket that could double as a sun reflector.

"I Was a Playboy Bunny," written in 1963 for Show magazine, helped launch Steinem's freelance writing career and celebrity status by bringing her assignments on fashion, culture, celebrities, and books from such mass circulation magazines as Glamour, McCall's, and Look and from the New York Times. The essay, in the form of a diary, recounts Steinem's undercover experiences working in the New York Playboy Club, waiting on tables with a Kleenex-stuffed bosom. It is full of the beginnings of her feminist consciousness, the recognition of power differences, and illustrations of indignities suffered by the body. Looking back, Steinem refers to this work as "schizophrenic."

In 1968 she began taking on more serious writing assignments, becoming a cofounder, contributing editor, and political columnist for New York magazine. After attending a 1969 hearing on illegal abortions, organized by the radical feminist group Redstockings, Steinem wrote "After Black Power, Women's Liberation," her first openly feminist essay, which won her the Penney-Missouri Journalism award. Having come to believe that only a magazine controlled by women would advance women's issues, in 1972 Steinem was a cofounder, with Pat Carbine and others, of Ms., the first feminist mass circulation magazine.

Steinem's first major collection of articles, essays, and diary entries, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (1983), chronicles her 20-year writing journey from prefeminist pretty "girl reporter," who never thought her work was good enough, to feminist editor of Ms. and spokeswoman-icon of American women's liberation. The collection begins with "I Was a Playboy Bunny," which was adapted for an ABC television movie, A Bunny's Tale, in 1985 starring Kirstie Alley.

Outrageous Acts also includes pieces on politicking with McGovern, McCarthy, Kennedy, King, and Chavez, the contradictory messages of the right-wing, the institution of marriage, the media, and the comical "If Men Could Menstruate." Steinem shows us where feminism has been and encourages women to network, find their sisters, and perform outrageous acts in order to advance the liberation of women and other powerless groups. Her personal journey to feminism is accompanied by empathic sketches of a diverse group of notable women that includes Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Onassis, Alice Walker, Pat Nixon, and Linda (Lovelace) Marchiano, and a moving tribute to Steinem's mother in "Ruth's Song." Like herself, the women Steinem profiles are both victims and survivors, sexual objects and, in most cases, feminist protagonists.

Steinem's biography of Marilyn Monroe, Marilyn: Norma Jean (1986), expands on her profiles of emblematic women. In a series of essays, Steinem provides a feminist and psychological portrait of a multidimensional sex goddess who is a prisoner of her neglected childhood and of an age characterized by sexual exploitation. Steinem explores her own identification with the actress, remembering that as a teenager in 1953 she walked out of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in embarrassment at the "whispering, simpering, big-breasted child-woman" who dared to be just as "vulnerable and unconfident" as she was. Focusing on the private, inner life of Norma Jean, not the mythical, public Marilyn Monroe, Steinem's sensitive portrayal weaves together the story of a neglected, abused, unparented child with a vulnerable woman, an "interchangeable pretty girl," living behind a mask of sexuality, struggling for independence, wanting only to please others but longing to be taken seriously.

Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem (1992) is also a modern parable of a woman whose image of herself is very distant from the image others had of her. Steinem employs her autobiographical account of the search for identity and self-worth to help explore internal barriers to women's equality. She takes the reader from a rat-infested Toledo home where she is her mentally ill mother's caretaker to a television studio where her "imposter" self has become the mother of a movement. While supporting her argument that inner strength and self-esteem are the bases of liberation with extensive summaries of psychological research and exegeses of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, she also makes central the voices of diverse people: a lesbian, a man-junkie, a Cherokee Indian, and others whose comparable journeys of personal growth are linked to social activism. She associates women's loss of self-esteem with such factors as stereotypical gender roles, a preoccupation with romantic love, and male-imposed standards of female beauty. Steinem encourages both men and women to find their inner child, unlearn, reparent themselves, and imagine a future self in order to begin their own positive personal and social change.

Moving Beyond Words (1994) is another of Steinem's essay collections, this time containing three original essays, the wicked satire "What If Freud Were Phyllis? or, The Watergate of the Western World"; "Revaluing Economics"; and "Doing Sixty"; and three that were recastings of articles that had originally appeared in Ms., "The Strongest Woman in the World" (on body-builder Bev Francis); "The Masculinization of Wealth" (an analysis of the position of wealthy women); and the much-reprinted and frequently taught indictment, "Sex, Lies, and Advertising."

While her earlier books were and are still bestsellers, Moving Beyond Words has not enjoyed this success, though the book continues to demonstrate Steinem's intellectual acumen, her writing ability, and her admirable candor. "Doing Sixty," written as its author enters her seventh decade, identifies herself as "a nothing-to-lose, take-no-shit older woman," and exults, "I'm looking forward to trading moderation for excess, defiance for openness, and planning for the unknown….More and more, there is only the full, glorious, alive-in-the-moment, don't-give-a-damn yet caring-for-everything sense of the right now."

Steinem was chosen by the World Almanac as one of the Twenty-five Most Influential Women in America for nine consecutive years and has received the Front Page, Clarion, and ACLU Bill of Rights awards, the United Nations' Ceres Medal, and the first Doctorate of Human Justice awarded by Simmons College (1973). In 1978 she studied the impact of feminism on the premises of political theory as a Woodrow Wilson Scholar at the Smithsonian Institution. Arguing that "we teach what we need to learn and write what we need to know," she has been credited with inventing the phrase "reproductive freedom" and popularizing the usage of "Ms." to address women. Her nearly constant travel as a lecturer and feminist organizer (nearly two decades of plane travel every week is documented) and her constant presence in connection with Ms. magazine since its founding have earned her the distinction of being, probably, the leading American feminist of her time, although throughout she has also been one of the most controversial—and, assuredly, much misunderstood—of famous Americans.

She has served as a board member or adviser to the Ms. Foundation for Women, the National Women's Political Caucus, Voters for Choice, Women's Action Alliance, and the Coalition of Labor Union Women. At her sixtieth birthday party, organized by friends and other famous feminist leaders, a "Gloria fund" was established at the Ms. Foundation, which raised more than $2,000,000 in two months. The object was, according to Marlo Thomas, to enable Steinem "to continue doing what she always did—giving away every cent of every dollar she had."

Bella Abzug, the former U.S. congresswoman, said about Steinem, "She's served as our most vivid expression of our hopes and demands. She's our pen and our tongue and our heart. She's Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony and Emma Goldman all rolled up into one." There have been several biographies of Steinem, one for children, and, most notable, The Education of a Woman: The Life of Gloria Steinem (1995) by Carolyn G. Heilbrun (which Steinem authorized), and Gloria Steinem: Her Passions, Politics, and Mystique (1997) by Sydney Ladensohn Stern.

Assessing Steinem's impact, Stern concluded her book by saying, "Bella [Abzug] and Stan Pottinger and Marie Wilson and so many others inside and outside the movement understand [Steinem's] place in history. Feminism's second wave had better theorists. There were more graceful writers. There were more eloquent speakers. There was no better leader."

Other Works:

The Steinem papers are in the Sophia Smith Collection and College Archives at Smith College


Cohen, M., The Sisterhood: The Inside Story of the Women's Movement and the Leaders Who Made It Happen (1988). Daffron, C., Gloria Steinem (1988). Davis, F., Moving the Mountain: The Women's Movement in America since 1960 (1991). Diamonstein, B., Open Secrets: Ninety-Four Women in Touch with Our Time (1970). Echols, A., Daring to Be Bad: Radical Feminism in America, 1967-1975 (1989). Gilbert, L., and G. Moore, Particular Passions: Talks with Women Who Have Shaped Our Times (1981). Heilbrun, C. G., The Education of a Woman: The Life of Gloria Steinem (1995). Henry, S., and E. Taitz, One Woman's Power: A Biography of Gloria Steinem (juvenile, includes afterword by Steinem, 1987). Lazo, C., Gloria Steinem:Feminist Extraordinaire (1998). Stern, S. L., Gloria Steinem: Her Passions, Politics, and Mystique (1997).

Reference works:

CANR 28 (1990). CBY (1988). CLC 63 (1991). Encyclopedia of Twentieth Century Journalists (1986). FC (1990). MTCW (1991).

Other references:

Booklist (15 Sept. 1995). Boston Globe (17 Jan. 1973, 15 Jan. 1992, 22 Jan. 1992). Chicago Tribune (20, 22 Jan. 1992). Christianity and Crisis (14 Dec. 1992). Commentary (May 1992). Humanist (May/June 1987). LAT (3 Feb. 1992). LJ (1 Oct. 1995). Nation (6 Nov. 1995). Newsweek (16 Aug. 1971, 2 Oct. 1995). TLS (8 June 1984). NYT (11 Dec. 1984; 9 Feb. 1995; 9 Oct. 1997; 2 Nov. 1997; 14, 19 Dec. 1997; 25 Jan. 1998; 3 May 1998; 22, 24, 25, 27, 28 Mar. 1998; 11 Oct. 1998). NYTBR (21 Dec. 1986, 2 Feb. 1992, 10 Sept. 1995). Sewanee Review (Fall 1984). WSJ (6 Mar. 1992). WP (9 Oct. 1983, 12 Jan. 1992). WRB (Dec. 1983, June 1992, Dec. 1995). Yale Review (Winter 1988).



Gloria Steinem

views updated May 21 2018

Gloria Steinem

The feminist and journalist Gloria Steinem (born 1934) was active in many liberal causes beginning in the mid-1950s and was the first editor of Ms. magazine. She became a leading spokeswoman of the feminist movement and helped shape the debateover women's enfranchisement.

Gloria Steinem was born on March 25, 1934, in Toledo, Ohio. Her father was an antique dealer and her mother was a newspaperwoman. She was the granddaughter of the noted suffragette, Pauline Steinem. Given her family's background, it was not surprising that she became a feminist and a journalist. But her life followed a winding path which began in her youth, when she travelled around the country with her parents in a trailer.

When she was only 8 years old her parents divorced, leaving Steinem to live the next several years with her mother in bitter poverty. Her mother suffered from depression so severe that she eventually became incapacitated, required young Steinem to care for her. At the age of 15 she went to live with her sister, ten years her senior, in Washington, D.C., and from there she entered Smith College. When she graduated from Smith in 1956 (Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude), she won a fellowship to study in India for two years.

Steinem's experience in India broadened her horizons and made her aware of the extent of human suffering in the world. She realized for the first time the high standard of living most Americans take for granted was not available to all. She commented at the time that "America is an enormous frosted cupcake in the middle of millions of starving people." She returned with a strong sense of social injustice and embarked on her career as a journalist.

In 1960 she moved to New York and began writing freelance articles for popular magazines. She also did some script writing for the popular television show That Was the Week That Was.

One of her first major assignments in investigative journalism was a two-part series for Show magazine on the working conditions of Playboy bunnies. In order to do research for the article, Steinem applied for a job as a Playboy bunny and was hired. She held the position for three weeks in order to do research. The articles that she wrote as a result of her experience exposed the poor working conditions and meager wages of the women who worked long hours in the lavish clubs where rich men spent their leisure time. Years later, in 1970, she published a lengthy interview with Hugh Hefner, founder and editor of Playboymagazine. In that dialogue Steinem debated Hefner on issues such as women's rights, the "sexual revolution," consumerism, and the "Playboy philosophy."

In 1968 Steinem joined the founding staff of New York magazine and became a contributing editor. She established a column, "The City Politic," and wrote in support of causes on the American left. During these years Steinem moved into politics more directly, working for Democratic candidates such as Norman Mailer, John Lindsay, Eugene McCarthy, Robert Kennedy, and later George McGovern. She also worked with Cesar Chavez in his efforts on behalf of the United Farm Workers.

Steinem's feminist concerns were first sparked when she went to a meeting of the Redstockings, a New York women's liberation group. Although she went as a journalist with the intention of writing a story about the group, she found herself deeply moved by the stories the women told, particularly of the dangers of illegal abortions.

Gloria Steinem's commitment to the political causes of the New Left provided a natural path into her later career as a feminist leader. During the years she spent establishing herself as a journalist she was deeply involved in the political movements that were stirring thousands of her generation to action. The civil rights movement and the movement against the Vietnam War involved young women as well as men who dedicated themselves to building a future based on racial justice and peace. Out of these movements sprang the rebirth of feminism, which had remained dormant for several decades. Women discovered their organizing skills in the process of participating in the political left during the late 1950s and early 1960s, and by the late 1960s they began mobilizing on their own behalf. The new movement for women's liberation began at the grass roots level and swelled to mass proportions within a few short years.

By the late 1960s Steinem had gained national attention as an outspoken leader of the women's liberation movement, which continued to grow and gain strength. In 1971 she joined Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm, and Betty Friedan to form the National Women's Political Caucus, encouraging women's participation in the 1972 election. Steinem herself was active in the National Democratic Party Convention in Miami that year, fighting for an abortion plank in the party platform and challenging the seating of delegations that included mostly white males. Those efforts drew attention to the issue of underrepresentation of women in politics and the centrality of political issues for women's lives.

In that same year of 1972 Steinem, as part of the Women's Action Alliance, gained funding for the first mass circulation feminist magazine, Ms. The preview issue sold out, and within five years Ms. had a circulation of 500,000. As editor of the magazine Steinem gained national attention as a feminist leader and became an influential spokeswoman for women's rights issues.

Steinem's editorship of Ms. did not prevent her from continuing her active political life. In 1975 she helped plan the women's agenda for the Democratic National Convention, and she continued to exert pressure on liberal politicians on behalf of women's concerns. In 1977 Steinem participated in the National Conference of Women in Houston, Texas. The conference was the first of its kind and served to publicize the number of feminist issues and draw attention to women's rights leaders.

Steinem continued to speak and write extensively. In 1983 she published her first book, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions. The book included her recollections of the past, such as her experience as a Playboy bunny, and also highlighted the lives of other notable 20th-century women. In 1986 she published Marilyn: Norma Jean, a sympathetic biography of the unhappy life of the film star whom she knew personally. In her books Steinem argued for the causes that occupied her energies for two decades. She continued to call for an end to women's disadvantaged condition in the paid labor force, for the elimination of sexual exploitation, and for the achievement of true equality of the sexes.

Revolution From Within: A Book of Self-Esteem was published in 1992, in which Steinem attempted to provide "… a portable friend. It's self-help and inspiration, with examples of what some people have done and a glimpse of the extraordinary potential of the unexplored powers of the brain and how much our ideas of reality become reality." In 1994, Steinem published another book, Moving Beyond Words, wherein her views on publishing, society and advertising were expressed.

In 1997, Steinem spoke out against the movie The People vs. Larry Flyntin a New York Times editorial (January 7, 1997). She has also been the subject of an A&E Biography (television show) profile.

Further Reading

Numerous articles have been written and interviews published with Gloria Steinem from the mid-1960s into the 1980s. Her own book Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (1983) was a good starting point for information concerning her life and her beliefs. She has also been featured extensively in magazines such as Cosmopolitan (July 1990); Time (March 9, 1992); Progressive (June 1995; and Mother Jones (November 1995). She was listed in Political Profiles, Vol. 5: The Nixon/ Ford Years (1979).

See also these selections written by Gloria Steinem: A Thousand Indias (1957); Marilyn: Norma Jean (1986); Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem (Little, Brown, 1992); and Moving Beyond Words (Simon & Schuster, 1994) □

Steinem, Gloria

views updated May 21 2018

Steinem, Gloria 1934


Gloria Steinem, a leader in the twentieth-century struggle for womens rights, was born on March 25, 1934, in Toledo, Ohio. Because of her fathers penchant for traveling to warmer climates each winter, Steinem and her sister, Suzanne, had little time for formal schooling. Her mother, who had been educated as a teacher, provided some homeschooling for the girls, long before home-schooling was widely accepted. When Steinem was eleven years old, her parents divorced, and with her older sister away at college, Steinem was left alone to care for her mother, who suffered bouts of deep depression, accompanied by dementia. At seventeen, Steinem went to live with Suzanne in Washington, D.C., where she finished high school and completed her education at Smith College, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1956.

After spending a year in India, Steinem returned to the United States and worked as a public relations officer for a group later associated with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), although she claims to have had no knowledge of the association at that time. She later wrote for Esquire, Glamour, and Show magazines, where her exposé of life as a Playboy bunny earned her not only accolades but also fame. At New York magazine she worked with many of the budding writers of the New Journalism movement, including Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer, and Gay Talese.

When the National Organization for Women was founded in 1966, Steinem, like many other women, saw the movement as a vehicle for white, middle-class housewives wanting to achieve independent goals outside traditionally male-controlled marriage. She saw no merit in the movement for herself, a single sophisticate, working in New York. But in 1969, Steinem attended a rally on abortion held by the feminist organization the Red Stockings, and after hearing other women detail the pain and humiliation they had endured, she had an epiphany. She had had an abortion herself and was harshly judged by the medical personnel who attended her procedure. Stories told by the women at the rally were even more horrific and included tales of emotional and physical pain and even death. Through the rally, Steinem came to see that not only married middle-class white women, but all women, including women of color, deserved to be treated as individuals, with rights equal to those enjoyed by men.

From that time forward, Steinem would devote much of her time and energy to furthering the cause of reproductive freedom and spoke at rallies around the country, recruiting women for the cause. She was a major catalyst in the movements long-term success and provided a strong voice in the ongoing struggle through Ms. magazine, which she and her partners founded in 1971.

By that time, Steinem had also become respected as a political writer and activist, and in 1972 she helped found the Womens Action Alliance. She backed presidential candidates Shirley Chisholm and George McGovern, for whom she wrote several speeches. She also wrote five books, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (1983), Marilyn: Norma Jeane (1986), Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem (1992), Moving Beyond Words (1994), and Doing Sixty and Seventy (2006).

Though she was credited with saying that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle, Steinem was not the originator of this phrase. She told Time magazine in 2000, In fact, Irina Dunn, a distinguished Australian educator, journalist and politician, coined the phrase back in 1970 when she was a student at the University of Sydney. Yet, the quip did define Steinems outlook on marriage until 2000, when she married David Bale, a British entrepreneur and avid animal rights activist. The marriage, however, was to be short-lived. Bale died of brain cancer at the end of 2003, leaving Steinem to her lifelong quest of helping women find personal power and inner peace.

SEE ALSO Feminism; Journalism


Cohen, Marcia. 1988. The Sisterhood: The True Story of the Women Who Changed the World. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Heilbrun, Carolyn G. 1995. The Education of a Woman: The Life of Gloria Steinem. New York: Dial Press.

Steinem, Gloria. 1983. Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. 2nd ed., New York: Henry Holt, 1995.

Patricia Cronin Marcello

Steinem, Gloria

views updated May 29 2018


Gloria Steinem is one of the most important feminist writers and organizers of the late twentieth century. Since the 1960s, Steinem has been a political activist and organizer who has urged equal opportunity for women and the breaking down of gender roles. As a writer she has produced influential essays about the need for social and cultural change.

Steinem was born on March 25, 1934, in Toledo, Ohio. Her parents divorced when she was 11 years old. Steinem enrolled at Smith College in 1952 and graduated in 1956. After graduation she went to India to study at the universities of Delhi and Calcutta. It was there that she began publishing freelance articles in newspapers.

In the 1960s, Steinem continued to pursue a writing career, working first for a political satire magazine in New York. Her breakthrough came in 1963 with the publication of her article "I Was a Playboy Bunny," which retold her experiences working in the Manhattan Playboy Club. For the next few years, her articles appeared in many national women's magazines. Steinem also wrote comedy scripts for a weekly political satire television show, That Was the Week That Was.

Her attention shifted to politics in 1968 when Steinem began writing a column for New York magazine. During the late 1960s, the "women's liberation movement" began and Steinem soon became a leading supporter of the movement. In 1971 she, along with betty friedan, bella abzug, and shirley chisholm,

founded the National Women's Political Caucus. The mission of the caucus was to identify and encourage women to run for political office.

In 1972, Steinem founded and served as editor of Ms. magazine. Ms. addressed feminist issues, including reproductive rights, employment discrimination, sexuality, and gender roles. The magazine presented Steinem with a platform to air her views about the contemporary social scene. That same year Steinem was one of the cofounders of the Ms. Foundation for Women, a nonprofit organization that pioneered the concept of giving money to programs that addressed the specific concerns of women. At that time less than one percent of foundation grants were given to programs that supported women's issues such as domestic violence, female-friendly legislation, and economic disparities.

Since the 1970s, Steinem has been a spokesperson for many feminist causes. She has sought to protect abortion rights, establish rape crisis centers, and guarantee work environments free from sexual discrimination. Steinem has distinguished between "erotica" and pornography, believing that nonviolent sexual material is acceptable but pornography should be banned. More radical feminists have criticized Steinem for these and other positions, arguing that she seeks legal changes that falsely promise equal opportunity and fair treatment.

Despite these criticisms, Steinem has remained a popular public figure, traveling across the United States and worldwide, and lecturing to packed audiences. In addition, she is a prolific writer, regularly contributing articles to magazines and newspapers; she also provides political commentary on television, radio, and the internet. A collection of her articles and essays, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, was published in 1983. In 1986, she published Marilyn, a biography of film star Marilyn Monroe retold from a feminist perspective. In Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem (1992), Steinem looked inward, discussing ways that women could empower themselves. And, in 1994, she wrote Moving Beyond Words, a collection of essays on the politics of gender.

In addition to her numerous awards and honorary degrees, in 1993, Steinem was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York. In 2000, she astonished observers by getting married at the age of 66 to an entrepreneur she had met at a

"Economic systems are not value-free columns of numbers based on rules of reason, but ways of expressing what varying societies believe is important."
Gloria Steinem

Voters for Choice (VFC) fundraiser in 1999. Steinem is president of VFC, which is a bipartisan political action committee that supports candidates working for reproductive freedom. In May 2002, Steinem and her supporters celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of the founding of Ms. magazine.

further readings

Davis, Flora. 1999. Moving the Mountain: The Women's Movement in America Since 1960. Champaign: Univ. of Illinois Press.

Heilbrun, Carolyn G. 1995. The Education of a Woman: The Life of Gloria Steinem. New York: Dial Press.

Marcello, Patricia Cronin. 2004. Gloria Steinem: A Biography. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press

Stern, Sydney Ladensohn. 1997. Gloria Steinem: Her Passions, Politics, and Mystique. Secaucus, N.J.: Carol Pub. Group.


Dworkin, Andrea; Feminist Jurisprudence; Ireland, Patricia; MacKinnon, Catharine Alice; Millett, Katherine Murray; Sex Discrimination; Women's Rights.

Steinem, Gloria

views updated May 14 2018


STEINEM, GLORIA (1934– ), U.S. feminist, writer, speaker, co-founder and contributor to Ms. Magazine, which became the most prominent mass-circulation feminist journal published and edited by women, from its inception in 1972 until it was sold in the 1980s. Born in Toledo, Ohio, of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother, Steinem was baptized in a Congregational church. Educated at home by her mother, she did not attend school regularly until she was 10, when her mostly absent father left the family permanently. Steinem came to link her mother's depression and other psychological ailments to the fact that she had given up her career for marriage, a realization that reinforced Steinem's dedication to the women's movement.

Steinem graduated with highest honors from Smith College in 1956, where she had majored in government. Her 1956 engagement to a Jewish fiancé ended in 1958 after Stein spent two years in India, following an abortion in England. Her abortion experience fueled her later "conversion" to feminism, which she attributed to an abortion rights rally in New York City in 1969. Steinem began her career as a magazine and television writer and became a founding editor of New York Magazine in 1968.

A widely sought public speaker and campaigner for women's rights in employment, politics, and social life, Steinem was often characterized as a Jewish feminist. She became a participant in the first feminist women's seders which started in 1976 and supported women's and minority rights in other walks of life. Her six books include Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (1983), a bestseller that was translated into 11 languages; Moving Beyond Words (1986); Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem (1992); and Feminist Family Values (1996). Her numerous essays made a deep impact on the feminist movement and beyond.

Steinem helped found the National Women's Political Caucus in 1971, to encourage women to seek political office and to work for women's rights legislation; co-founded the Women's Action Alliance, to fight discrimination against women; helped found Ms. Foundation for Women in 1972, to assist underprivileged girls and women; and was a founding member of the Coalition of Labor Union Women in 1974. She planned and attended the first of its kind National Women's Conference in Houston, Texas, 1977. Steinem was honored as McCall's Magazine 's Woman of the Year, 1972, and was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York, 1993.


C. Fuchs Epstein, "Steinem, Gloria," in: World Book Online Reference Center, at: www.aolsvc.worldbook (2005); C.G. Heilbrun, The Education of a Woman: The Life of Gloria Steinem (1996); P. Cronin Marcello, Gloria Steinem: A Biography (2004); S.L. Stern, Gloria Steinem: Her Passions, Politics, and Mystique (1997).

[Harriet Hartman (2nd ed.)]