Gloria Steinem has been around for decades. The feminist and women’s rights advocate has a history of achievements with varying criticism on her work. She speaks of her journey in her new book “My Life on the Road”.
The feminist icon has caused a lot of uproar in her 5-decade career. She’s written multiples books based on her essays, experiences, she has exposed the overlooked intelligence and complexity of actress Marilyn Monroe and has given us a better insight on what media doesn’t show us.
Gloria Steinem has appeared in multiple documentaries: HBO’s Gloria: In Her Own Words and PBS’s MAKERS. She also appeared in Carolyn Heilbrun’s The Education of a Woman.
Who is Gloria Steinem? What makes her a feminist and a women’s rights advocate?
Before being a feminist and a women’s rights advocate, Gloria Steinem is firstly a journalist, a writer and a lecturer. Born on March 25th, 1934 in Toledo, Ohio, the Steinems had a difficult life due to the matriarch’s mental illness.
Gloria’s parents divorced as a result and the daughter lived with her father. Although she was understanding of her father’s decision, she had a revelation due to her mother’s experiences. The impact of her parents’ divorce had its effect on shaping her character.
Seeing that her mother was unable to hold a job, Gloria deduced that it was proof of general hostility towards working women. She also understood that the doctor’s lack of interest and uncaring attitude towards her mother was because of the same reason.
These events were critical to Gloria Steinem, as they were the tipping point of her life. She came to see how social injustices were implemented, and that women are in need of social and political equality.
How did feminist Gloria Steinem become a writer? What events led her to write the book “My Life on the Road?”
Gloria Steinem had spent two years in India in the late 50s where she was a Law Clerk to Mehr Chand Mahajan at the Supreme Court of India. After completing her work there, she returned to the US and became the director of the Independent Research Service.
What’s queer about the latter was that it was an organization that had a secret sponsor. The donor was later revealed to be the CIA. Her writing career took off when she was hired by Warren Publishing in 1960, making her the first employee of Help! Magazine.
Every writer has difficulties when they first start working. Gloria Steinem’s journalism work wasn’t always praised. As a freelance writer, she was forced to rewrite her first serious assignment regarding contraception, as the editor of the magazine did not like it.
But, setbacks are not obstacles impossible to overcome. Her final draft about women choosing between a career and marriage preceded Betty Friedan’s book “The Feminine Mystique” by only a year.
Like method acting, feminist Gloria Steinem worked as a Playboy bunny at the New York Playboy club to have a better insight of how women are treated there. Her article “A Bunny’s Tale” was published in 1963.
She publicized the exploitation of the women’s working conditions and the sexual demands made to them. The article featured a picture of the women’s rights advocate in a Playboy bunny uniform, which slightly impeded her work. For a while, she was unable to find work because she was viewed as a Playboy bunny and not a journalist.
Luckily, that was only temporary. Her book “My Life on the Road” talks about how her childhood and career made her who she is. Her career still had a long way to go.
Abortion was an issue Gloria Steinem passionately spoke of. At a speak-out for New York Magazine in the late 60s, she spoke of her personal experiences that made her a pro-choice feminist. She confessed that she had an abortion at the age of 22 and that she didn’t begin her life as a feminist until the day she had it.
She spoke of abortion saying:
Abortion is supposed to make us a bad person. But I must say, I never felt that. I used to sit and try and figure out how old the child would be, trying to make myself feel guilty. But I never could! I think the person who said: ‘Honey, if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament’ was right. Speaking for myself, I knew it was the first time I had taken responsibility for my own life. I wasn’t going to let things happen to me. I was going to direct my life, and therefore it felt positive. But still, I didn’t tell anyone. Because I knew that out there it wasn’t positive.
Gloria Steinem’s book “My Life on the Road” was published in 2015
This wasn’t the feminist’s first publication, she has written 10 books and countless articles with a career spanning more than 5 decades.
In her book “My Life on the Road”, Gloria speaks about herself and her life as a traveler, writer, feminist, women’s rights activist, listener and an impulse for change.
Since her father had to try making a living, he would assemble the family and drive to new places in search of a job. This showed Gloria that settling down isn’t the end of the line. She says in her book how her life began as a traveler and how it all led her to become the women’s rights activist she is.
By reading “My Life on the Road”, you discover how the idea of leadership was rooted in the feminist and how the ability to be a good listener can start a revolution. We learn more about her early experiences with the Supreme Court of India and the Chief Justice of India and how she began working as a journalist.
The book “My Life on the Road” is more than just a plain biography of Gloria Steinem. It’s funny, whimsical, emotional and empowering.
Another topic that feminist and women’s rights activist Gloria Steinem wrote in her book “My Life on the Road” is how Ms. magazine was first established.
Gloria, along with Dorothy Pitman Hughes, co-founded the liberal feminist magazine Ms. in 1972. The test copies of the first publication were sold out in almost a week. For the first 15 years, the magazine was published on a monthly basis, whereas now, it publishes quarterly.
When Ms. magazine was published, the Second-Wave feminist movement was at its peak. During the 70s, much of the movement was directed towards fighting against the social and family-life norms expected of women.
Ms. became the voice of feminists that was hidden for a long time by mainstream media. The first publication consisted of articles about women who had had abortions, how the English language has sexist wording, how literature taught women to stand up against social injustices.
As for picking the name of the feminist magazine, Gloria Steinem commented:
As to the origin of the name chosen for the magazine, we were going to call it “Sojourner”, after Sojourner Truth, but that was perceived as a travel magazine. Then we were going to call it “Sisters”, but that was seen as a religious magazine. We settled on “Ms.” because it was symbolic and also it was short, which is good for a logo.
In her book “My Life on the Road”, Gloria explains the motivation behind the magazine
I realized as a journalist that there really was nothing for women to read that was controlled by women, and this caused me along with a number of other women to start Ms.magazine.
Magazines like O: The Oprah Magazine and The New York Times have praised the book.
O: The Oprah Magazine:
Like Steinem herself, My Life on the Road is thoughtful and astonishingly humble. It is also filled with a sense of the momentous while offering deeply personal insights into what shaped her.
The New York Times:
A warmly companionable look back at nearly five decades as itinerant feminist organizer and standard-bearer. If you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to sit down with Ms. Steinem for a casual dinner, this disarmingly intimate book gives a pretty good idea, mixing hard-won pragmatic lessons with more inspirational insights.
Gloria Steinem has reached countless historical milestones for women’s rights, all of which are discussed in her book “My Life on the Road”
She has spoken about female genital mutilation and male circumcision, she has stated:
The real reasons for genital mutilation can only be understood in the context of the patriarchy: men must control women’s bodies as the means of production, and thus repress the independent power of women’s sexuality. These patriarchal controls limit men’s sexuality too… That’s why men are asked symbolically to submit the sexual part of themselves and their sons to patriarchal authority, which seems to be the origin of male circumcision, a practice that, even as advocates admit, is medically unnecessary 90% of the time. Speaking for myself, I stand with many brothers in eliminating that practice too.
She has criticized pornography, distinguishing it from erotica. She has voiced her position on same-sex marriage, which she supports. She has received a list of awards honoring her work. Among them are the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California’s Bill of Rights Award, the American Humanist Association’s 2012 Humanist of the Year, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Steinem isn’t an ordinary woman. She has seen the progression of the feminist movement and has inspired millions to fight for their rights. The world needs to draw inspiration from her and stand in solidarity to establish equal rights.
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