15 Things To Know About Feminist Icon Gloria Steinem

Happy 79th birthday, Gloria Steinem! Journalist, feminist icon, and one of the founding members of Ms. magazine, Steinem is the woman I wanted to be when I was 17 … and, who am I kidding, who I still want to be today.

If you’re not familiar with Gloria Steinem’s place in Second Wave feminism — that is, the movement in the 1960s and 1970s that fought sexism in the workforce, legalized abortion, invented the birth control pill, criminalized domestic violence, and a whole host of other gains we take for granted today — then you’d best read up. Because if you’re not down with Gloria, we can’t be friends.

  1. Gloria Steinem was born in Toledo, Ohio, to parents who divorced while she was young. She had a difficult, impoverished childhood caring for a mentally ill mother. She has often said she had no interest in having children because she spent most of her childhood caring for someone else.
  2. Gloria attended Smith College, a women’s college, and studied government. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1956. After graduation, she received a fellowship to study for two years in India. Both of these pursuits were uncommon for women in the mid-1950s.
  3. As a young journalist in the late ’50s and early ’60s, she was often hired to write “puff pieces.” Her big break came when she wrote “A Bunny’s Tale,” an expose about the Playboy Club, going undercover as a waitress dressed in a Playboy bunny costume.
  4. Gloria helped found New York magazine; Ms. magazine originally appeared an an insert within New York in 1971 and as a stand-alone magazine in 1972.
  5. She got involved in women’s rights issues of the day, including abortion rights, the Equal Rights Amendment, and labor rights. As she is white and conventionally beautiful, she was often depicted by the mainstream media as the “leader” of the Second Wave feminist movement, although the truth is that she was just one of many leaders.
  6. She survived breast cancer during the mid-’80s.
  7. In 2000, at age 66, Gloria married David Bale, an animal rights activist (and, so bizarre, the father of Christian Bale). Her husband passed away only three years later from brain cancer.
  8. Gloria co-founded the Women’s Media Center in 2004, a feminist media analysis group, along with actress Jane Fonda and Robin Morgan, the anthologist behind the book Sisterhood Is Powerful.
  9. Various other groups and projects she’s been involved with include Take Our Daughters To Work Day and the National Women’s Political Caucus.
  10. Last year HBO aired a documentary about Gloria’s life called “In Her Own Words” — and I highly, highly recommend it.
  11. Gloria doesn’t care for the “Real Housewives” shows and thinks “Girls” is just meh. She thought that Anne Hathaway did a great job playing Catwoman, calling her a “feminist superhero.”
  12. Last year Gloria did a TEDxWomen talk. Check it out!
  13. Stephen Colbert finds her utterly charming. Oprah Winfrey is also a fan.
  14. Lately, Gloria travels the country lecturing at colleges about issues of the day. She was also vocal about why women needed to join the Occupy Wall Street movement.
  15. Regardless of what you think of the gains of Second Wave feminism, can’t we all agree aviator sunglasses are pretty rad?

Of course, these 15 tidbits are just scratching the surface.You can learn a hell of a lot more about Gloria Steinem in the lovely biography The Education Of A Woman: The Life Of Gloria Steinem by Carolyn Heilbrun, or in one of Steinem’s many, many, many published books and essays.

Happy birthday, Gloria!  The world wouldn’t be the same place without you.

[New York Times]
[Colbert Nation]
[Ms. Magazine]

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