Gloria Steinem

Feminist and Editor

Gloria Steinem, 1975
Gloria Steinem, 1975. Jack Mitchell/Getty Images

Born: March 25, 1934
Occupation: Writer, feminist organizer, journalist, editor, lecturer
Known For: Founder of Ms. Magazine; bestselling author; spokesperson on women’s issues and feminist activism

Gloria Steinem Biography

Gloria Steinem was one of the most prominent activists of second-wave feminism. For several decades she has continued to write and speak about societal roles, politics, and issues affecting women.

Background

Steinem was born in 1934 in Toledo, Ohio. Her father’s work as an antique dealer took the family on many trips around the United States in a trailer. Her mother worked as a journalist and teacher before suffering from severe depression that led to a nervous breakdown. Steinem’s parents divorced during her childhood and she spent years struggling financially and caring for her mother. She moved to Washington D.C. to live with her older sister for her senior year of high school.  

Gloria Steinem attended Smith College, studying government and political affairs. She then studied in India on a post-graduate fellowship. This experience broadened her horizons and helped to educate her about the suffering in the world and the high standard of living in the United States.

Journalism and Activism

Gloria Steinem began her journalism career in New York. At first she did not cover challenging stories as a “girl reporter” among mostly men.

However, an early investigative reporting piece became one of her most famous when she went to work in a Playboy club for an expose. She wrote about the hard work, harsh conditions and unfair wages and treatment endured by women in those jobs. She found nothing glamorous about the Playboy Bunny life and said that all women were “bunnies” because they were placed in roles based on their sex in order to serve men.

Her reflective essay “I Was a Playboy Bunny” appears in her book Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions.

Gloria Steinem was an early contributing editor and political columnist for New York Magazine in the late 1960s. In 1972, she launched Ms. Its initial publication of 300,000 copies sold out rapidly nationwide. The magazine became the landmark publication of the feminist movement. Unlike other women’s magazines of the time, Ms. covered topics such as gender bias in language, sexual harassment, feminist protest of pornography, and political candidates’ stances on women’s issues. Ms. has been published by the Feminist Majority foundation since 2001, and Steinem now serves as a consulting editor.

Political Issues

Along with activists such as Bella Abzug and Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem founded the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971. The NWPC is a multi-partisan organization dedicated to increasing the participation of women in politics and getting women elected. It supports women candidates with fundraising, training, education, and other grassroots activism. In Steinem’s famous “Address to the Women of America” at an early NWPC meeting, she spoke of feminism as a “revolution” that meant working toward a society in which people are not categorized by race and sex.

She has often spoken about feminism as “humanism.”

In addition to examining race and sex inequality, Steinem has long been committed to the Equal Rights Amendment, abortion rights, equal pay for women, and an end to domestic violence. She has advocated on behalf of children who were abused in day care centers and spoken out against the 1991 Gulf War and the Iraq war launched in 2003.

Gloria Steinem has been active in political campaigns since that of Adlai Stevenson in 1952. In 2004, she joined thousands of other canvassers on bus trips to swing states such as Pennsylvania and her native Ohio. In 2008, she expressed her concern in a New York Times Op-Ed piece that Barack Obama’s race was seen to be a unifying factor while Hillary Clinton’s gender was seen as a divisive factor.

Gloria Steinem co-founded the Women’s Action Alliance, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, and Choice USA, among other organizations.

Recent Life and Work

At the age of 66, Gloria Steinem married David Bale (father of actor Christian Bale). They lived together in both Los Angeles and New York until he passed away of brain lymphoma in December 2003. Some voices in the media commented on the longtime feminist’s marriage with disparaging remarks about whether in her 60s she had decided she needed a man after all. With her characteristic good humor, Steinem deflected the remarks and said she had always hoped women would choose to marry if and when it was the right choice for them. She also expressed surprise that people did not see how much marriage had changed since the 1960s in terms of rights allowed to women.

Gloria Steinem is on the Board of Directors of the Women’s Media Center, and she is a frequent lecturer and spokeswoman on a variety of issues. Her bestselling books include Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem, Moving Beyond Words, and Marilyn: Norma Jean. In 2006, she published Doing Sixty and Seventy, which examines age stereotypes and the liberation of older women.