How can we sum up an icon such as Gloria Steinem? It’s virtually impossible, considering how much she has done to help shape the roles of women in history. In short, Steinem is a feminist, political activist, author, editor, and all-around advocate for equality and women’s liberation. Maybe most importantly, Steinem has stood up against what she saw as social punishment for career-driven women and helped to change some views about “what a woman should be.”
Above: Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes
Steinem has credited her mother as the person who helped her understand the social injustices a woman must face in her lifetime. When Steinem was a child, she says her father demanded that her mother give up her career as a teacher, and because of this, her mother had a nervous breakdown, which led her to become mentally ill. Because of these circumstances, Steinem became thoroughly interested in issues of social and political equality. This led her to the topic of her first article while at Esquire magazine in 1962, which dealt with how women are forced to choose between a career and marriage and can never have both.
Steinem’s next assignment was critical in her journalistic career, which she wrote for Show Magazine. Well before Barbara Ehrenreich’s social experiment as a minimum wage worker in 2001’s Nickel and Dimed, Steinem conducted her own kind of social experiment. She got a job as a Playboy Bunny in the New York Playboy Club and wrote about how the women were treated while working in this environment. This expose made Steinem an in-demand writer, and she easily got a job as a staff writer for New York Magazine in 1968. Through New York Magazine, Steinem was hired to write a special edition of a new magazine, which was to be called Ms. The test copy of this first edition sold out in 8 days, and generated 26,000 subscription orders, which allowed it to become its own independent publication, and Steinem wrote for the magazine until 1987, and again in 2001.
The Ms. magazine era was just the beginning of Steinem’s important achievements. Steinem is a co-convener of the National Women’s Political Caucus, co-founder of the Ms. Foundation for Women (the foundation which created Take Our Daughters to Work Day), a founding member of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, co-founder of the Women’s Action Alliance, the Women’s Media Center, GreenStone Media, and Choice USA, which advocates “reproductive freedom” (a term Steinem coined herself). She is the author of numerous books, and still is an active writer of opinion pieces found in such publications as the New York Times and www.feminist.com. She has been active in the political arena since 1968, famously defending Bill Clinton and the “One Fee Grope” theory during the Clinton scandals, and more recently, blasting Sarah Palin by calling her an “unqualified woman” who “opposes everything most other women want and need.” Steinem was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, NY in 1993.
While it is clear Steinem has a voice on many important topics, it is very interesting to hear about her concerns about the future of women’s magazines and print media. It is extremely relevant right now, as economists are predicting the “death of print media” and we see many of our favorite magazines switching to online-only formats. The demise of print is said to be because print advertising is not as profitable as it once was. Yet Steinem feels magazines should not have ever depended on this advertising, as she reveals in a 2006 interview by Mariane Schnall for www.feminist.com:
“First, we can understand that the reason women’s magazines look the way they look is much less about readers than it is about advertisers. Advertisers simply won’t place ads in women’s magazines unless you write about their products. Other magazines may be punished if they write negatively about some product area, but only women’s magazines have to write positively or they don’t get ads in the first place. A lot that women liked very much has gone out of women’s magazines – fiction and a lot of articles that just aren’t about products. Only Oprah has enough power to put in a few non-product articles about self-improvement you can’t buy, and even those seem to avoid criticizing companies that, say, damage the environment. Other women’s magazine editors have to sneak in a couple pages here and there about something that isn’t a product. Really, they’re catalogues, not magazines, and should be given away free. They’re much cheaper because of advertising, but I think we would be better off if we paid for the magazines – just as we do for books – and they had what we care about in them.”
M.I.S.S. readers, what are your thoughts on this topic? Do you agree with Steinem’s viewpoint that “most women’s magazines simply try to mold women into bigger and better consumers?” Tell us your thoughts!
Below are some links on Gloria Steinem worth checking out, including her thoughts on Election 2008:
NY Times article by G. Steinem, Right Candidates, Wrong Question
- In Conversation: Gloria Steinem and Suheir Hammad
- DVF Presents “Be the Wonder Woman You Can Be, Featuring the Adventures of Diva, Viva & Fifa”?
- Women Who Made History: Anaïs Nin
- Lovebirds for KitKit
- Women Making History: Lesley Arfin