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 on Gloria Steinem
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)