Gloria Steinem Receives Top National Honor


Presidential Medal of Freedom Ceremony at the White House

“I would be crazy,” said Ms. magazine cofounder Gloria Steinem at a National Press Club luncheon Monday in Washington, D.C., “if I didn’t understand that this was a medal for the entire women’s movement.”

The medal in question is the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which was bestowed by President Barack Obama on Steinem and 15 others today. Steinem was being honored for her leadership “in the women’s liberation movement,” the White House said, as well as for cofounding Ms. in 1972. The author of a number of books, including Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, she’s also an inspirational, widely traveled speaker and a founder of the Women’s Media Center.

Other recipients of today’s honors included the late astronaut Sally Ride (whose life partner Tam O’Shaughnessy accepted on her behalf), media mogul Oprah Winfrey, country singer Loretta Lynn and former president Bill Clinton. Here’s what Obama said before placing the medal around Steinem’s neck:

A trailblazing writer and feminist organizer, Gloria Steinem has been at the forefront of the fight for equality and social justice for more than four decades. Instrumental to a broad range of initiatives and issues, from establishing Ms. magazine and Take Our Daughters to Work Day, to pushing for women’s self-empowerment and an end to sex trafficking. She has promoted lasting political and social change in America and abroad.  Through her reporting and speaking, she has shaped debates on the intersection of sex and race, brought critical problems to national attention, and forged new opportunities for women in media. Gloria Steinem continues to move us all to take up the cause of reaching for a more just tomorrow.

None of the medal winners spoke at the awards ceremony. But speaking at the Press Club Monday was a homecoming of sorts for Steinem: She was the first woman to speak at a luncheon there, in 1971, after the club finally accepted its first women members. As a thank-you yesterday, she was given a mug, but as a thank-you gift more than 40 years ago she received a men’s tie. Steinem told yesterday’s crowd that she was dry-mouthed with nervous anticipation before that speech, but once she received the tie she “felt completely free to say outrageous things.”

Says Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) and publisher of Ms. for the past 12 years,

Gloria has been instrumental in shaping the direction of the feminist movement for more than 40 years. I value my long and productive friendship with Gloria and look forward to many more. She is a beacon of feminist wisdom and strength.

Adds Ms. executive editor Katherine Spillar—who was with Steinem, Smeal and other honored guests on the Press Club dais—”We are thrilled to celebrate Gloria’s contributions to the advancement of women and girls. And we’re proud that Ms.—a vital forum for promoting feminist ideas and shining a bright spotlight on the injustices of sex discrimination in the U.S. and around the globe—remains a powerful force.”

After Steinem’s Press Club speech, she answered questions from the audience, one being what message she would like to impart to young women?” Here’s how she answered:

Don’t listen to me. Listen to yourself … People often ask me at this age [she turns 80 in March], ‘Who am I passing the torch to?’ First of all, I’m not giving up my torch, thank you! I’m using my torch to light other people’s torches. … If we each have a torch, there’s a lot more light.

For video of events surrounding the medal ceremonies, see here

Photo of Gloria Steinem about to receive medal from President Obama by Jenny Warburg.



  1. I would expect Ms. Steinem to turn down the ‘honor’ in the name of political prisoners such as Chelsea Manning and Lynne Stewart and the US government’s attacks on NSA whistle-blower Ed Snowden and other whistle blowers, as well as due to the spying on the Associated Press and due to the government’s attacks on NYT reporter James Risen. This is not a secret or hidden knowledge.
    In addition to The Huffington Post, Mother Jones, The Sunlight Foundation and many others have reported on it.
    As a young woman in the 70s, I saw Gloria Steinem as the face of truth and justice.
    That she would take an award from a government waging wars and spying on the American people is deeply disturbing. That the attacks on the press do not bother journalist Gloria Steinem is very sad.

    • Mary Wendy Roberts says:

      Trina, I would honor Gloria Steinem for what she has done and at 80 years old, she is still a role-model and a beacon for women.
      To Someone who would take this moment to throw stones, I would say: Go ahead and tell us what you have done in your life that is worthy of awards . Tell us how many lives you have touched positively, people you have lifted up, challenges you have faced, and your bravery in advancing equality. Tell us so that we might think you have actually made positive contributions even a fraction of importance and lasting value as had Gloria Steinem. As someone who has been in the trenches on issues of equal rights, I can tell you that Gloria is the real deal, a heroine .

      • Myrna Moran says:

        I couldn’t agree more. It’s absolutely true that Gloria Steinem “lifted up” me and all the women of my and later generations. When women were being viciously derided for demanding equal rights, Gloria was there in front of us, waving us on and just smiling condifidently and fearlessly as she created MS Magazine and stood in the face of male fury. I LOVE HER fiercely and forever.

      • Martha Tompkins-Wood says:

        So Trina raises serious issues and Mary Wendy Roberts thinks the ‘feminist’ thing to do is to attack a woman with ‘what have you done?’
        I’m sorry, I’m a feminist. And as a Black woman, I’m really sorry to break it to you Mary Wendy Roberts, but Gloria Steinem isn’t my hero.
        Nor is any woman I admire above criticism.
        Steinem is a journalist. James Risen, among others, is facing imprisonment for practicing journalism. Lynne Stewart is a political prisoner an attorney who was shown more compassion by the government when the idiot Bush was in office. At least then, the woman with cancer was allowed to stay out of prison while she got treatment.
        The cancer has returned. Lynne is dying. She is guilty of no crime — only breaking an agreement (not a law) with the federal government by releasing a press release for her client, giving it to Reuters.
        Lynne is dying and needs to be released immediately.
        It’s worth noting that our only female Attorney General, Janet Reno, didn’t prosecute Lynne because Reno saw that no law was broken. Since then, the Bush and Obama administrations have gone after Lynne for issuing the press release — something she did when Bill Clinton was president.
        I look at the issues Trina raised and then have to wonder what Mary Wendy Roberts thinks feminism is? She addresses none of Trina’s issues but does manage to insult Trina.
        The worship of the White woman is apparently complete.
        Sorry if my Blackness can’t join you in your celebration of your pretty White blonde who refuses to stand for journalism or political prisoners.

        • Hear hear, Martha. Trina was not “throwing stones,” she was merely challenging feminism to examine its values and its commitments. Something that is always called for.

        • Sandia Belgrade says:

          thank you, Martha Tompkins-Wood. The intersection of racism, classism, and sexism keeps recurring, and it’s especially
          sad that Black Women always have to be pointing out what should be apparent to white women. To Gloria. To all of us. the struggle is never won. We have to
          spur consciousness and try to be aware each moment. with love

      • Amen to your comments. No need to be high and mighty. She deserves the recognition she gets.

  2. vliet tiptree says:

    I’m happy to see women like Ms. Steinem who have devoted their lives to women’s liberation receiving recognition. I had no idea Ms. Steinem is almost 80. I wish her many more years.

  3. I would love to be there to applaud her! I am very happy for all the recognition she gets.

    She is brilliant and brave, a support and an inspiration.

    Congratulations to Obama’s Administration.

  4. I am so very proud of Gloria Steinem and of very single effort she has made over the course of her life. She has made inroads for all of us to continue the work of bringing women’s voices forward. Surely, there is more work to do, but as she said this week, with all of our torches lit- that is a lot of light.
    I have been inspired by Gloria’s TEDxWomen talk in Dec. 2011 where she urged women to “gather in circles and tell our stories”. This urge of hers has mobilized me to lead writing workshops and social media workshops giving women the skills to build platforms for their writing and art online. She inspired me to start a blog series, to publish an Anthology of writings by women about mothering and creativity. Her words are important for each of us to consider. And I am so glad that at this moment in time, she is being honored for a lifetime of work. I surely hope to one day meet her so I can deliver a hug and words of thanks to Gloria directly. Until then, I have work to do. Thanks for this post! Suzi Banks Baum

  5. Congratulations to Gloria, who has been a constant inspiration for all these many years. Thank you so much for representing us and our struggle for equality with such courage, dignity and intelligence.

  6. lafemmeartiste says:

    Every woman’s comment here is right, without exception.

  7. Although I was a bit “late to the party” in becoming a Ms. subscriber and proud feminist, I am very grateful to Gloria for all her work on the magazine and for being an inspiration to women and girls nationally and internationally. I have both her books, “Moving Beyond Words” and “Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions,” and I’ve read each one more than once. It was a pleasure for me to be able to watch the ceremony on Wednesday and to see Gloria get this long-awaited award.

    Congratulations, Gloria, on achieving this honor. I look forward to reading more of your work in the years to come. 🙂

  8. Thank you Gloria!!! We’ve come a long ways to go —but there are many strong women out there who are willing to keep going and who will not give up!

  9. What is most amazing about reading all of these comments is that Gloria would applaud the dialogue. The freedom of women to speak their minds, to disagree, to dialogue, to give voice to their viewpoint is one of the pillars upon which the feminist movement was founded. While I am certainly outraged at the persecution of the journalists mentioned and I agree that this situation needs our vigilance, attention and action, I don’t feel refusing this medal on the grounds that Trina is suggesting is the way to achieve our goal. There are still people that believe the women’s movement had and has no value whatsoever. By accepting this medal Gloria has made the women’s movement more concrete. Women are not going away. Our voices will be heard. With recognition on this level it is my hope that we can, in fact, tackle some of the important issues that Trina and Martha are bringing to the forefront and that we will be listened to. Thanks to everyone expressing yourself. Whether you like Gloria or not, whether she is your hero or not, is not as important as her message – which is to listen to yourself and speak OUT about what YOU believe is important.

  10. sally s. cone says:

    Congratulations, Gloria! Certainly you deserved this award for many reasns, one being that there are too few women who have received this award. However, you have given much to the women’s movement, calmly and graciously but quite detmindedly.

  11. Gloria Steinem is fabulous, and it is fabulous that she is being honored in this way! Her light shines and shines and shines–keep shining, Ms. Steinem!!!

  12. Jennifer Pelate says:

    First of all, congratulations on getting the medal, Gloria. You’re one of my heroes & one of the reasons I consider myself a feminist. Second of all, sorry to get off subject here, but I have something to say about weddings. I know that the bride’s father walks her down the asile & gives her away, but that’s something that I don’t agree with. I told my parents that if I do get married, I’d like to walk myself down the asile, which they don’t agree with, of course. I read one of Dear Abby’s book about weddings, in which she compiled all of the letters about weddings that she’s answered over the years. This lady who wrote to Dear Abby went to a wedding as a little girl & saw the father of the bride walk the bride down the asile & give her away, which the lady didn’t agree with. The lady asked why fathers give brides away. Dear Abby replied that until a woman gets married, she’s considered her father’s property. However when she gets married, she then becomes her husband’s property. Just so you know, I don’t agree with that either. That’s why if I get married, I’d like very much to walk myself down the asile.

  13. Congratulations Gloria! Like she stated, if you want change, light your torch on hers and go forth into the darkness. Forge your own path.

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