85 Feminist Tributes for Gloria Steinem’s 85th Birthday

Ms. co-founder Gloria Steinem turns 85 today—and 85 artists, activists and journalists from around the world are marking the occasion with toasts and tributes to the feminist icon.

Gloria hugs a supporter after an event. (Gage Skidmore)

The birthday messages, collected by the Women’s Media Center (of which Steinem is also a co-founder), will appear on the organization’s website and across social media with the hashtag #Happy85Gloria. They’ll also be presented to Steinem herself in the form of a printed book, featuring scores of photographic memories.

“The first thing I feel whenever I’m in Gloria Steinem’s presence is safe. She makes me feel safe,” wrote actor, activist, author, fellow WMC co-founder and many-time Ms. cover star Jane Fonda. “That’s because she is deeply kind. Her slender body seems to curve towards you like a parenthesis, leaning in, protecting. Though she is barraged by demands on her time, she is always willing to stop and listen, wanting to help, to understand. I know there are literally millions of women—I have personally spoken to hundreds of them—whose lives have been changed by Gloria’s words.”

Ms. editor and WMC co-founder Robin Morgan noted that even at 85, Steinem shows no signs of slowing down. “Age cannot wither her,” she observed in her tribute, “nor custom stale her infinite anxiety: that she has not yet saved the world enough, lobbied picketed protested rallied organized put off her writing deadlines and fundraised fundraised fundraised enough.”

Actor, activist and WMC Speech Project Chair Ashley Judd was inspired by the occasion to reflect on Steinem’s impact on her own career as a woman in media. “Gloria has mentored my growth and development with keen intelligence and brilliant perspective forged by her decades of lived experience,” Judd confided in her greeting. “For someone so fierce, she’s is so gentle. That’s perhaps what I love best about her. She wears her inimitable experience loosely.”

ERA Coalition president and WMC founding president Carol Jenkins noted the Steinem is consistently a force to be reckoned with—albeit a gentle one. “I have seen you on the world stages and in the quiet rooms with people seeking solace,” she said. “You never disappoint. You never reject. And your words, whether on the page, or in that inimitable voice, you embrace.”

Soraya Chemaly, WMC Speech Project director, looked back for the occasion on her own first engagements with Steinem’s work. “No matter where I go, no matter what the ages of the people I talk to, they know her and the immense value of her commitment to women’s human rights and equality,” she shared. “For me personally, my earliest memory of being struck by her work was when I read her writing about her own mother. What she described resonated powerfully with me. Since first reading those words, I’ve come to realize how many of us, doing this work, share memories like hers.” (Click here to watch Chemaly’s interview with Ms. digital editor Carmen Rios.)

But Steinem’s impact, of course, cannot be contained within the walls of WMC HQ. Washington’s women weighed in on the occasion, too. “You understand that race and gender are deeply interwoven,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal noted in her message, “and you pushed to highlight the women of color who have undergirded feminism for so long.” 

Rep. Maxine Waters made a grander declaration: “Gloria Steinem,” the WMC board member wrote, “you are absolutely the most significant leader who set the Women’s Movement on the right course in this country.”

Scores of women actors and Hollywood heavyweights also sent in warm messages to celebrate Steinem’s influence—on their own lives and in their industry. “Gloria is more than a feminist,” actor and director Sally Field wrote, “more than an activist, a writer, an entrepreneur. Much more than an icon or a hero. She is indelible and irreplaceable.”

Filmmaker, philanthropist and activist Abigail Disney echoed the sentiment. “I know you are a big deal and everything,” Disney wrote, “but I just want, on this big birthday, to make sure you know that it is in all the ways you are a small deal that you the most amazing.” (Disney’s latest docuseries, Women War and Peace II, airs tonight on PBS.)

Christine Lahti, the actor and filmmaker who brought the icon before audiences for months as the titular character in “Gloria: A Life,” the theatrical production telling Steinem’s story, opened up about what she learned about the legendary activist in the process. Playing her in ‘Gloria: A Life,’ I came to understand that maybe because she grew up thinking her mother did not matter,” Lahti observed in her message, “that indeed her own needs didn’t really matter, she became determined to make sure all women on the planet mattered.”

Liberian Nobel Peace Prize winner, social workers and advocate Leymah Gbowee also looked back—to Easter Sunday in 2009. “I had the pleasure of sitting with Gloria Steinem in her home in New York,” she explained. “We talked about feminism, life, sisterhood and friendship. I cherish that day because it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sit with such wise woman under the ‘Baobab Tree’ of knowledge. Beyond the wisdom, the humility and authenticity… I learned that day that these are legacy traits.”

AI-Jen Poo, the executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, recalled another stark example of Steinem’s spirit in action. One of the first memories I have with Gloria is when domestic workers held a 24-hour vigil in front of the governor’s office to demand movement on the passage of the New York State Domestic Workers Bill of Rights,” she remembered in her message. “I sent her a quick note letting her know we were there. She showed up, brought friends and stood with domestic workers for hours, sharing stories about past campaigns that she had been a part of to recognize women’s work in the home, to help keep our energy up. She deeply inspired every last one of our members and energized us all for the work ahead.”

Actor and activist Kathy Najimy reflected, instead, on Gloria’s last big birthday. “We spent her 80th birthday in Africa,” she shared. “In fact, on the day of her birthday, rode elephants in a humane sanctuary. The sight of her, little pony tail swinging in the wind, the view landscape of possibilities in front of her—who she is, where she’s come and what’s still awaiting her.”

Comedian, actor and former Ms. cover star Amy Schumer also remembers that 80th birthday celebration well. “I learned you can run up to her with compliments but she would rather sit with a cup of tea and talk about what’s happening and what we are going to do about it,” she wrote. “I was honored to speak at her 80th birthday. To stand in front of hundreds of people and speak confidently in a way she didn’t even realize she taught me how. But I don’t think she really cares how it happened just as long as we are talking.”

Ms. founding editor Letty Cottin Pogrebin also submitted a personal message to Steinem. “I met Gloria 48 years ago at the founding conference of the National Women’s Political Caucus,” she wrote. “For 17 years, my desk was ten feet from hers at Ms. magazine, but our friendship long ago outgrew our professional relationship. Knowing this, people often ask me, ‘What’s Gloria really like? She can’t be as kind, wise, funny, caring, patient, loving, warm as she appears.’ The answer is: Yes she can, and she is. Unlike most cultural icons, what you see is who she is—genuinely.”                

WMC co-chair, TED Women curator and legendary media executive Pat Mitchell summed up the celebration with her own concise message. “Happy Birthday, Gloria,” she exclaimed, “and may the torch you lit and continue to carry burn brightly forever!”


Carmen Rios is a self-proclaimed feminist superstar and the former digital editor at Ms. Her writing on queerness, gender, race and class has been published in print and online by outlets including BuzzFeed, Bitch, Bust, CityLab, DAME, ElixHER, Feministing, Feminist Formations, GirlBoss, GrokNation, MEL, Mic, the National Women’s History Museum, SIGNS and the Women’s Media Center; and she is a co-founder of Webby-nominated Argot Magazine. @carmenriosss|carmenfuckingrios.com