I spent the entirety of last week bragging about Tuesday night. I was going to spend it with a good friend in Brooklyn, listening to Gloria Steinem speak. I was not shy about divulging my awesome plans to others– often raising my arms to the sky and saying, “What, what!”
But my “whats” fell on deaf ears as the majority of my friends and acquaintances interrupted me to ask one of the following questions:
“Which one is she again?”
“I’ve heard of her, what did she write?”
“What did she do?”
As some of you know, I am a total brat when it comes to lack of (what I deem) General Knowledge. I was completely stunned when I realized that those nearest and dearest to me didn’t know who the hell Gloria Steinem was. At first I scoffed at people, but by the 5th or 6th person I was dumbfounded. Did no one really know who she was?
Steinem was and is such an important part of my development as a scholar and as a woman, that I have decided I owe it to her and myself to shine a little light on who she is and why she’s important to me.
Steinem is a complex person, and there are definitely feminists that don’t agree with what she says and there are things she has said that I definitely question, I am not negating any of that here. As all great people are, she is in the spotlight and open to scrutiny from any of us. But whatever the case, we can not disagree that she is a dynamic and important part of the feminist movement.
Now that that’s out of the way, let me break down just a couple of key points you can gab about by your office candy dish.
Best Known For: Founding Ms. Magazine in 1972. Without a doubt, this is one of Steinem’s most lasting contributions. Ms. Magazine was the first media outlet dedicated to women’s issues. I mean, dedicated to issues outside of cosmetics and child-rearing, that is. In an age before everyone had a blog, Steinem’s grand effort to get the message of the movement out was no easy feat, and most everyone predicted failure. Men weren’t sure there was that much to discuss and that it couldn’t last for very long. The magazine still runs today and I still think about the courage it must take to dive right into such a divisive project.
Little Known Fact: Once upon a time, Steinem was a sports writer. She even won the Women’s Sports Journalism Award. This is just one of many very prestigious awards that Steinem holds, but one of my favorites. Growing up I was constantly questioning my place in athletics. I grew up with brothers which meant I was both exposed to sports on a daily basis, but also held back in many ways by often being excluded. I wanted to insert myself but didn’t know how. This fear lasted well into my early twenties and I am just now embracing my inner athlete and continuing my love affair with baseball and football. Steinem’s breadth of interests gives me hope that I, too, can still care about women’s issues AND watch men crush each other on Sundays.
She Has Literally Founded Everything: Women’s Action Alliance (with Dorothy Pitman-Hughes at right). National Women’s Political Caucus. Women’s Media Center. Voters for Choice. Choice USA. Ms. Foundation for Women. Take Our Daughters to Work Day. All among her involvement on the boards and teams of many other organizations. When I feel lazy or tired, I think of this. I think of this a lot.
Old Thing She Made Me Appreciate: Being feminine. This is probably going to cause some sort of uproar but I just have to say it. When I was first studying feminism and Steinem in college, I had little knowledge of either. You could say I was like many Americans, who at this very moment, believe that feminism is an anti-male movement. When I heard the word “feminist” I thought of women very different from me, a certain stereotype that very much lives on today– bra burning angry butch lesbians. Steinem gave me someone to identify with so that I could embrace and open up to feminism. Today I can happily say I no longer fear not being feminine and have fully embraced being a woman and a feminist. But when I was insecure, 18, and still learning, it was particularly nice to see I didn’t have to sacrifice parts of myself to believe or follow a movement.
New Thing She Made Me Appreciate: My feelings. She told Lena Dunham it was okay to cry out of anger. As both a Sagittarius and a New Englander, I am very afraid of showing my feelings to others and I am afraid to show how feelings manifest inside of me. Sometimes I cry out of anger, sometimes I laugh out of fear, sometimes what is on my face doesn’t match what’s inside of me. I like knowing and believing that what I am feeling is okay and that letting it out is healthy.
This is just a taste of who this amazing woman is. At 81 years old, Steinem is still touring the country delivering her message and making many fans, and enemies, along the way.