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Gloria Steinem

 

HER SWINGIN' '60s CREDENTIALS: Writer, activist, and icon, Gloria Steinem is the legendary leader of the women's movement, setting in the '60s the direction that the women's movement would take in the '70s and beyond.

 

CATEGORIES OF SWINGIN' CHICK: Writer

 

BIRTH: She was born March 25th of '34, so she was 25 at the beginning of the '60s. Her exotic birthplace: Toledo, Ohio. Her moniker at birth: Gloria Marie Steinem.

 

IMPACT ON THE '60s: Gloria's impact on the '60s pales in comparison to her impact on the '70s, when women's rights flourished and she became an articulate, beautiful inspirational symbol of modern womanhood. But her life's work began in the '60s, when young college-educated women began challenging the confining rules and roles established by their parents. During the decade Gloria worked as an investigative journalist, most famously as the author of a famous indictment of life behind the scenes at the new Playboy Clubs that were springing up. To write it, she lived it, by getting a job as a bunny in the New York club for three weeks and writing about the demanding, demeaning experience for Show magazine. "Being a Playboy Bunny was rather like being hung on a meat hook," she said, "the male customers and employees were fully clothed, while the Bunnies were barely clothed at all. ... We were poorly paid and subject to being fired on a moment's notice, for appearance flaws or anything else. ... The Bunnies were exchangeable moving parts of a machine." In '68 she cofounded the weekly New York magazine as a hip alternative to the stodgy, conservative weekly The New Yorker. Gloria wrote a column called "The City Politic." Three years later she would co-found Ms., the magazine that would help popularize the burgeoning women's movement.

 

CAREER IN THE '60s: Throughout the '60s Gloria was trying to shape the world to fit the needs of women. Her questioning of society -- "If the shoe doesn't fit, must we change the foot?" -- helped define the need for clearer, broader rights for women, at home and on the job. Early in the decade she was a free-lance journalist. Among her more visible works was an article on the then-new "pill" in '62 and a profile of Jackie Kennedy in '64 (both were written for Esquire). She also briefly contributed to the scripts for the sassy TV show, "That Was the Week That Was." In '68 she was a contributing editor to the magazine she helped found, New York. Her column, "The City Politic," explored liberal issues. Gloria was also working to support liberal champions of social causes, such as George McGovern, Cesar Chavez, Norman Mailer, and Mayor John Lindsay. Researching an article about abortion in '68, she said "the light bulb began to come on," and she started to focus on feminist issues. Gloria soon got deeply involved with the feminist movement and became one of its best-known, most-visible leaders. Women's rights were at the forefront of the youthful revolutions of the late '60s, parallel to the fights to stop the Vietnam War and to amplify civil rights. As the '60s ended and the '70s began, the women's movement had swept across America and brought millions of followers into the fold.

 

CAREER OUTSIDE THE '60s: Gloria's early life was spent criss-crossing the country with her parents in a trailer. These were the late 1930s, and her dad was an antiques dealer who drove from coast to coast in search of antiques. Gloria was home-schooled for most of these years and didn't start attending school on a regular basis until she was ten years old. In '42 her parents divorced, and her father moved permanently to California in search of steady work. Gloria's older sister, Susan, went off to Smith College in Massachusetts, leaving Gloria, still not a teenager, to care for her increasingly dependent mother. As her mother got more sick and depressed, Gloria became the strength of the household, doing all the shopping and cooking and cleaning while still trying to attend junior high school. "It made me grow up too soon, but it taught me that I could survive, which is very valuable," she said of this experience. At fifteen Gloria finally broke free and went to live in Washington, D.C., with her sister, and a couple of years later she too enrolled in Smith College. After spending part of her junior year in Europe, Gloria graduated magna cum laude in '56 and immediately accepted a fellowship to study in India. There she travelled with Gandhi and she saw how different life was from what she knew in America, especially in terms of how much suffering and poverty existed in most of the world. She also learned how to organize groups and how to lead them. She returned to America at the end of the '50s and wrote A Thousand Indias, a prelude to her writings in the '60s as a politically aware and conscientious journalist. After the '60s, Gloria was the perfect spokeswoman for women's rights in the '70s. Highly visible throughout the '70s, she helped form the National Women's Political Caucus in '71, she spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Miami in '72 (arguing for a woman's right to choose abortion), she co-founded the Coalition of Labor Union Women, she co-founded the Ms. Foundation for Women as a way to aid underprivileged girls, and she became president of Voters for Choice. She co-founded Ms. magazine in '72 as a voice for the modern American woman and as a powerful vehicle for advocating equality between the sexes. With Gloria as the chief fundraiser and editor in chief, the magazine was an instant hit: The first issue completely sold out, and by '77 the circulation was a half-million readers. The magazine's mandate, as described by Gloria in 2000: "The philosophy of Ms. magazine has always been that every issue is a women's issue, and that all women matter." For the next twenty years, Gloria became one of the most prolific and popular writers of her generation. Among her own works and literary contributions:

  • She wrote the intro (with Marlo Thomas) for the landmark book Free to Be You and Me in '74

  • wrote the intro to The Decade of Women in '80

  • contributed to Esquire's 50th-anniversary issue ("How We Lived, 1933-1983") in June '83

  • published the provocative bestselling book Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions in '83, a collection of twenty years of her writings, including the famous "I Was a Playboy Bunny" and the hilarious "If Men Could Menstruate"

  • wrote the intro to the '84 collection of Doonesbury cartoons called The Reagan Years

  • wrote the intro to Linda Lovelace's '86 autobiography, Out of Bondage

  • wrote the text for the glossy Marilyn: Norma Jeane book in '86

  • appeared in Remembering Marilyn, a 1987 documentary about her friend, Marilyn Monroe

  • contributed some memories to Bad Dates in '90

  • published another bestseller, Revolution from Within, A Book of Self Esteem, in '92 ("a self-help book that utterly transcends the genre," according to the Library Journal, and "a significant contribution to the universal theme of interplay between the individual and society" according to the Los Angeles Times; among the women Gloria wrote about in this book was Julie Andrews

  • published yet another bestseller, Moving Beyond Words, in '94

Today Gloria is still a contributing editor of Ms. magazine. She also travels to some speaking engagement almost every week.

 

TALENT: A talent she had as a child -- tap dancing, which she learned during happy summers spent in Michigan and still practices. A dynamic speaker, one of her speeches is included in Rhino's '91 collection of Great Speeches of the 20th Century. But it's her writing that has made her famous. She was named woman of the year by McCall's magazine in '72. In '93 Gloria was inducted into the Women's Hall of Fame in 1993, and five years later she was inducted into the American Society of Magazine Editors Hall of Fame. People magazine included her in its end-of-the-century collector's edition called Unforgettable Women of the 20th Century. In December 2000 she was chosen by Biography magazine in as one of its "50 Favorites": "She's demonstrated that life is about choices," wrote the magazine as it praised her, "and making them at the right time." Exactly a year later the magazine named her one of its fifty "American Classics" (alongside such other notables as Elvis and Frank Sinatra).

 

HER '60s LOOK: Undoubtedly Gloria's physical attractiveness has contributed to her success as a crusader for women's rights. Her looks enabled her to get that job as a bunny in the Playboy Club in the early '60s, the job that put her on the literary map. Ten years later, her pretty face, long brownish-blonde hair, and lithe physique made her a welcome leader for the millions of American women who wanted a smart, attractive role model and spokesperson. "I was not considered so great-looking before feminisim as after, which I thinkis a comment onsome people's expectation level," she told Biography magazine in March of 2002. "They assumed that if you could get a man, you wouldn't botherto be concerned about equal pay." With her bare shoulders and long, rowdy hair, she was a compelling figure when she spoke at the Democratic National Convention in '72. Later in life she refused to have any cosmetic surgery: "I haven't chosen a face lift because I don't want to end up looking like someone else."

 

LIFESTYLE: Defiantly single most of her life, Gloria said that "a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle." But she also said that "feminism is about the ability to choose what's right at each time of our lives." She made a startling choice at the beginning of the new millennium. After a lifetime of being a liberated single woman, Gloria got married in September 2000 at the age of 66. "Though I've worked many years to make marriage more equal," she said after the ceremony, "I never expected to take advantage of it myself." She married David Bale, an entrepreneur from South Africa and the father of actor Christian Bale. They were married in Oklahoma; Gloria wore jeans, a T-shirt, and sandals for the ceremony; the rings were purchased at a local crafts shop. "We were both very surprised when we decided toget married," she said, "it was never something eitherof us thought we'd do." They have homes in New York and California. Once before she had been engaged -- that was in the mid-'50s, but she broke off the relationship when she went to India after graduation from Smith. While in India Gloria discovered she was pregnant, so she used half of her fellowship money to get an abortion in '57. She later had highly publicized relationships with filmmaker Mike Nichols and tycoon Mort Zuckerman.

 

EXTRAS: In '85 a movie called A Bunny's Tale retold the story of Gloria's Playboy Club experience, with Kirstie Alley as Gloria ... in the late '80s Ms. magazine was bought out, but the new publishers lacked the vision and purpose of the original founders, so ten years later Gloria joined with other feminists to buy back the magazine ... like Peggy Fleming and other strong women, Gloria overcame a fight with breast cancer in the late '80s ... Gloria made the cover of Time magazine (along with Susan Faludi) on March 9th of '92, their story was called "Fighting the Backlash Against Feminism" ... when Gloria was inducted into the American Society of Magazine Editors Hall of Fame, she joined another prominent inductee that year: Hugh Hefner ... like Hefner, she believes that prostitution should be decriminalized ... one of the causes she supports is prison reform, in fact prisoners are given free subscriptions to Ms. ... in a Yahoo chat room in 2000, Gloria described her role models as a kid:

"Growing up I can't say I had role models, except perhaps Louisa May Alcott like lots of girls, I read Little Women, and also her adult novels. She was very political. The others were people like Eleanor Roosevelt. ... It was until later in my thirties that I saw women like Bella Abzug or Norton, and now there are so many it's almost impossible to name. From Alice Walker to Maxine Waters. ... But really my most important role models are the many women I see around the country who are not famous, and don't get encouragement, and are ridiculed in their families and communities."

... Gloria's profile in Biography magazine in March of 2002 ended with this quote: "We've mad a good beginning, but it's only a beginning. We haven't even begun to imagine what could be."