What Gloria Steinem Means to Me

6809844973_ff266631d6_zGloria Steinem, co-founding editor of Ms., turns 80 today. In honor of her birthday, we asked friends and colleagues of hers to answer this question: “What does Gloria mean to you?” Below, read touching stories of Gloria’s life and legacy from those who have loved, admired and learned from her over the last eight decades. Happy Birthday, Gloria!

In Jan. 1972, I resigned as editor of McCall’s and Gloria and I, as partners, began our search for financial backing for Ms. magazine. Even though the preview issue was selling out on newsstands, the usual investors in publications really did not want to talk to us—some thought that ‘everything had been said in that one issue,’ others thought it simply couldn’t find a ‘national  audience.’

Finally, we had an appointment to meet with the CEO of a major media company. He offered to invest $1.5 million and wanted to control more than a third of the company. He gave Gloria and me (and the friend/advisor we had invited) some privacy to think about his offer but wanted an answer right away.  We knew that the credibility of Ms. would depend on its being owned and controlled by women and that his offer was not going to guarantee that if we needed a second round of funding.

When the CEO came back to the table, Gloria and I thanked him and explained why we had to refuse  his offer that could have made the launch of Ms. a reality.  And although he seemed stunned, he walked us to the elevator. On the sidewalk, Gloria and I had to borrow cab fare from our friend.

That moment together in the crucible confirmed everything I had discerned about Gloria: she is absolutely  principled, unselfish, trustworthy  and a major risk-taker in the cause of advancing equality.

More than four decades later, I treasure our relationship and salute her on her 80th Birthday.

Pat Carbine, co-founder of Ms.

Sometimes in a college lecture hall there would be thousands and thousands of people … and sometimes in smaller groups there would be a woman with a crying baby in the back of the room. Gloria would say, ‘Would the woman with the crying baby please stay.’ And everybody applauded, and everybody got teary-eyed. It was an era when women were always told, ‘You can’t have your child misbehave’ and she would have left the room. [Gloria’s remark] exemplified the inclusive[ness], generosity and genuineness of Gloria that she always exhibited.”

Karin LippertMs. promotion director, 1972-1981

What does Gloria mean to me? Oh my. So many wonderful things. She is, I am either happy or sad to say, not all that many years ahead of me in birthdays. And we seem to have arrived at the moment of liberation (or, wishful-thinking liberation) at around the same time and in the same place: 1969-70, New York City, coordinates of truth that changed all our lives.

I was at The Associated Press, a young, energetic reporter; she, of course was the woman to be reported on. The woman who embodied and helped lead the path to our new world. Early on, I was assigned to write a profile of Gloria—which led … to an evening in Washington, D.C., when the party lasted so long we wound up sharing a friend’s kid’s bedroom. Gloria slept in the bottom of stacked bunk beds, I on the top. No kidding.

Fast forward to 1983, when Sally Ride flew into the sky to change forever the image of woman in space. Sally’s mom, Joyce Ride, asked to comment on the change of history that had sent her daughter to the heavens, said it for all of us:  ‘God Bless Gloria Steinem!’

Yup.

Lynn Sherr, ABC News reporter (Her forthcoming book, Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space, will be published in June by Simon & Schuster).

Gloria taught me, through kind words and powerful (though often unheralded) actions, what it means to be an effective feminist organizer. She taught me that any organizing effort must be informed and led by the people most impacted, with allies asking what they can do to help and doing it without seeking the spotlight. She’s instilled in me the truth that we are linked not ranked; all oppressions must be attacked at the same time and with the same intensity in a true revolution. I’ve watched her lead countless brainstorm sessions over the years, edit books and documents, help people fundraise and make connections, sometimes lending her name to the work if it helps and handing it over without any qualms if it does not. She’s shown me that the end goal of feminist organizing is action and the most important thing we can do is help others do the work however we can.

Shelby Knox, feminist organizer, Change.org

I’ve known Gloria since 1952 when we lived together in Laura Scales House at Smith. Later, I worked for her at Ms. for 8 years.  There have been many memorable moments during those years but the one I remember most strongly happened when we were seniors at Smith.  I was having trouble sleeping during my final exams and one night I went to Gloria’s room when I couldn’t fall asleep.  She gave me a wonderful back rub and when I fell asleep in her bed, she went to my room and slept there for the night.

Phyllis Rosser, Ms. contributing editor, 1973-1988

[While talking with Gloria after a speech she gave in India] I told her something that I was struggling with. It was a question about what to do when racism from whites enters the homes of families of color. I asked her this question because I knew that as a white woman she fought against racism in the U.S. and I wondered what she would say about the toxicity of racism when it permeated our homes not just institutions.

She looked me in the eye and said, ‘Bring a friend to witness it. Then write about it. I would read it if you did.’

She went on to share some anecdotes about her own family. We kept nodding our heads at each other in empathy. … I kept thinking about the possibility of her reading something I would write about racism, feminism, and families.

My conversation with Gloria Steinem was what I had always dreamed it would be. I realized that what I had wanted all along was a big sister moment. … Perhaps this is what all young feminists want from their older sisters.

Ileana Jimenez, N.Y. high school teacher who works with young feminists

It was, of course, Gloria who explained why I should care about the women’s movement. She sent me in her place to make speeches she was too busy to make and I learned how to do that. I wish I could say I took advantage of all the opportunities she offered, but I am so grateful for the ones I did follow. She has never, ever failed to be there for me if I needed her, but for the last three decades or so, after I moved to Vermont, I was not as much in touch because, after all, the world’s women needed her more and she was very famous and busy and I was just gardening and wondering  how to cure writer’s block. I regret that distance. I have seen more of her lately, and she isn’t Famous Person. She is just Gloria, smarter than most, kinder than most, a survivor of life’s blows perhaps more than most, true to her calling. I, too, hope she lives to be 100. And takes me along with her, as she has so often.

My permanent picture of Gloria Steinem is this: She is standing at some kind or party or reception, listening very intently to one person, and she reaches into her purse to pull out a notebook and a pen and she writes down an email address and the category of connection the person might need, and I know that person has just had her life changed for the better.

Jane O’ReillyMs. writer (famously the author of “The Housewife’s Moment of Truth” in the magazine’s first issue)

In the early days of Ms., some of us editors travelled with Gloria for a day or two when she went out to speak. What a great idea that was. Experiencing the reaction of the women who heard Gloria was eye-opening and powerful. They were visibly touched and inspired. Her words and presence seemed literally transformative for them. And so it was for me. It was one thing to work on the magazine and contemplate feminism in terms of trying to assign interesting articles and quite another to experience the power of her message on rooms full of women. There were the people I was working for.

—Mary Peacock, co-founder of Ms.

In the summer between my freshman and junior years of high school, Ms. magazine published its first issue … It was the same year I had an unfortunate hair-bleaching accident trying to streak my hair to look like Gloria’s. (A large blotch near the part gave mine a less-than-cool look.)

Eleven years later, I got a job at Ms. as an editorial assistant–an unbelievable stroke of luck. I mean, who gets to work with their heroes? … Late one day at Ms., she asked me if I would like to accompany her to a speaking engagement at Rutgers University. It meant sitting in the backseat of a hired car with my idol for an hour, each way. Gloria made a point of doing this with junior staff, and it was my turn.

I remember how funny her speech was, though not exactly what she said. I remember her surrounded by young women after delivering her remarks, watching her listen as each one stated a concern, pitched an idea, or bubbled over with testimony of her love for Gloria, who stayed until each one said her piece, and she herself had responded.

Thirty years later, at the National Press Club, I saw her do it again, at a speech she delivered on the day before President Obama bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom upon her. There she addressed the notion of ‘passing the torch’ by saying she wasn’t about to give up her torch.

‘I’m using my torch to light other people’s torches,’ she said. ‘Because the idea that there’s one torch-passer is part of the bonkers hierarchical idea—and if we each have a torch, there’s a lot more light.’

She certainly lit mine. Happy birthday, Gloria!

—Adele M. Stan, former editor at and contributor to Ms. (1983-1996); current senior Washington correspondent for RH Reality Check

In the 43 years since I first met her, people have been asking me ‘What is Gloria Steinem REALLY like?’  They can’t believe she is as warm and caring as she appears. The truth is, beyond her stature as a public intellectual and iconic feminist leader, with Gloria, what you see is what you get. Whip-smart, an original thinker, an indefatigable activist, gifted writer, quick wit, snazzy dancer, and a great beauty, she somehow remains genuinely self-effacing and devoid of the corrosive ego that often accompanies great fame.  It means a lot to me that Gloria is the real thing, through and through, in or out of the spotlight.

Above all, she’s a world-class friend. One recent example:  When my latest book, How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick, was published last year, I was scheduled to give a talk in San Francisco and. Afraid that my subject would not pull a crowd without some star power, I asked Gloria if she would be my interviewer.  She said yes (of course, since she is the most giving human being on the planet). But it turns out that this ‘yes’ required friendship beyond the call of duty.  Only when we met up in San Francisco an hour before the event did I learn of the grueling trip she’d undertaken in order to come and make me look good. She had just flown in from London where she had spoken the night before at a major international festival; and right after my event, she was taking the red-eye to New York in time to be the keynoter at a huge fundraiser the next night.

Thousands of women have similar stories of being on the receiving end of Gloria Steinem’s unstinting support and unselfish love.  Because that’s who she is.  REALLY.

For all that wonderfulness, I’m not saying she’s perfect.  She does have one flaw: she never learned to drive.

—Letty Cottin Pogrebin, co-founder of Ms.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Marnie Joyce licensed under Creative Commons 2.0

Comments

  1. I came to Germany and read somewhere in some walls in a university this writing,”Eine Frau ohne Mann ist wie ein Fisch ohne Fahrrad” which I would learned later it came from Gloria Steinem. Bought her book “Revolution from Within” which to date is my source of inspiration and learning. I hope it will add to her feeling that she is one truly a happy writer. Happy Birthday Ms Gloria Steinem! You’ve touched so many women’s lives. Thank you! You are so much appreciated and loved. Cheers!
    ML
    Pinay von Alemanya

  2. Carol Way says:

    In 1984 I took my daughter Laura and my son Craig (just two of my four children) to Gloria Steinem’s 50th birthday party at the Waldorf Astoria. It was a benefit for the Ms. Foundation which I was proud to support. I was just with Laura and her two daughters (my granddaughters — just two of eleven grandchildren) when we attended the Bryan Cranston performance of LBJ in All the Way this past Sunday and I mentioned Gloria’s upcoming birthday and the 1984 bash, which had Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue as the MC’s and Bette Midler as the primary entertainment. Yes, Bette did do her classic mermaid performance from her motorized chair. Fabulous!! But even more than that, I am so proud to be a lifelong Republican woman who has supported the centrist positions of feminists throughout my lifetime. From Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique to marching in support of the Equal Rights Amendment and today supporting so many other pieces of legislation that just make common sense in a sometimes very nonsensical world!

  3. Louise Gray says:

    Gloria Steinem helped me deal with the sexual abuse I had as a child. As I read her book Revolution from Within, I was able to take the first steps to recognizing the impact that abuse had on me and my self-esteem. Through hours of therapy, healers, and self-reflection over the past 20 years I have learned to love myself and accept who I am. I am forever in her debt. Thank you Gloria from the bottom of my heart and soul.

  4. Rev. Marjorie Lipari/aka Mudra says:

    I recognize her tenderness and her tenacity.

  5. Karen Brzezinska says:

    Growing up in Milwaukee in the late 1960′/early 70′s, I remember seeing Gloria Steinem’s pictures, and seeing her on television and my mother bought Ms. Magazine from time to time, so it was in the house. My father, a military man, had told me over and over again, “If someone ever says that you can’t do something just because you’re a girl, you know that person isn’t very smart.” But Gloria Steinem galvanized me, even at my young age: when I had to get new glasses, I pressed my mother for glasses ‘like Gloria Steinem’s’. I wasn’t so taken with her as being beautiful, as that she looked strong, and sure of herself (and that is beauty, for me). And that greatest of blessings, she also looked like she was kind and had a sense of humor. In my traditional, blue-collar environment, with its habits of put-downs of women and devaluation of women’s work and activities, her open, smiling, calm smarts helped me see ‘this is what women do too’ and gave me that life-line that all people need- a great role model. Thank you Gloria Steinem, for helping to change my life too, and happy happy 80th birthday.

  6. Excellent article. I am dealing with a few of these issues as well..

  7. Solina Appel says:

    Amazing someone of admire for her perseveres. Thanks Ms. Gloria Steinem

  8. Dianne Maughan says:

    Just saying her name makes me tear up. She has been my lifelong guiding light. So slight and unassuming and so huge in her impact on all of us. The media minimizes her constantly but they will never succeed. She is Gloria, as in glorious.

  9. Happy Birthday, Gloria! You have been my heroine for decades.

  10. Beth Key says:

    Gloria is my hero. When that realization first hit me at about age 16 or 17, it blew my mind to think there weren’t really women heros visible out there. You only heard about or saw men praised as heros. She has opened me up to so many things through reading MS., reading her books, seeing her speak twice. She is inspiring. I’ve read about lots of similarities in our growing up years. I’ve learned about feminism, equality, our bodies, racial equality, world issues, and so much more. I’ve done a little picketing and lobbying. I’ve just talked one on one to so many people about why these subjects are important to all of us, not just women. And I feel I have successfully passed those ideals on to my wonderful daughter. Raising her alone was sometimes overwhelming, but every time she saw me use my own toolbox, or realized that I was the only parent financially responsible for her, or was excited to go to Take Our Daughters to Work Day, I was so proud to be her mom. And I thank Gloria for that.

  11. Beth Key says:

    Gloria has been my hero since about age 16. I also realized that there weren’t a lot of women heros mentioned anywhere. Reading her magazine, her books, and seeing her speak twice has inspired me so much. I’ve learned about feminism, equality, our bodies, sexuality, racial equality and more. I feel I have successfully passed feminist ideals to my wonderful daughter. And I thank Gloria for that.

  12. I had always considered myself as liberal, but for some reason had not been entirely comfortable calling myself a feminist, primarily because I was not sure what feminism meant. After reading two of Gloria’s (I think of her now as an unmet friend, rather than a stranger) excellent books, Moving Beyond Words and Outrageous Acts And Everyday Rebellions, I have a much better understanding of what feminism means. I am also very comfortable calling myself a feminist, even though it took me a little longer to do so. Reading Gloria’s work inspired me to be a much more determined writer as well.

    Happy Birthday, Gloria! Thank you so much for all you have done for women, and what you’ll keep doing for all of us in the years to come.

  13. To me Gloria Steinem means endless possibility. As a young feminist I often wonder “What can I do?” or “What can we do?” and the answer is anything. That doesnt mean that things arent going to difficult. It just means you must set your mind to it. You must be patient and positive. To me, Gloria Steinem is a hero. A true hero

Speak Your Mind

*