Happy birthday, Gloria!
Unbelievable as it may seem, today the feminist pioneer and icon Gloria Steinem turns 75!
Steinem is well known for her many contributions to Second Wave feminism. A journalist who co-founded Ms. Magazine (as well as New York magazine), she famously went undercover as a Playboy bunny to expose their treatment. She created Take Our Daughters to Work Day, and co-founded numerous organizations including the National Women's Political Caucus, Coalition of Labor Union Women, Women's Action Alliance, Choice USA, and the Women's Media Center. Eloquent, witty, wise, and beautiful, she has been a spokeswoman for feminism since 1969.
There's something very sweet to me in witnessing the aging of feminist pioneers such as Gloria -- and maybe particularly Gloria, who has been such an icon, with her long blond hair, skinny, long legs, and aviator sunglasses. I had the privilege of interviewing Gloria four years ago, and believe me, she is quite an impressive presence. She still wears the aviators and she's still beautiful, though not in a frozen-in-time, botoxy sort of way. She even wore leather pants -- something not many women in their 70s can pull off!
But of course, her looks are the least of it. There are many things to celebrate and learn from Gloria on her birthday. Here are a few:
- Feminism isn't a fad or a historical novelty. It's a way of life, a perspective on the world, and one that is still as relevant today as it was in 1969 when Steinem had her own feminist awakening. She's still out there, fighting for women's equality in the workplace, for reproductive rights, for greater representation of women in leadership, for racial equality, against violence, etc. We've made progress on these issues, but there's still far to go. She has not given up, nor has she become bitter. Her energy and commitment have not flagged. In a world in which activists and organizers tend to burn out quickly, we have a lot to learn from Gloria Steinem.
- Aging gracefully requires flexibility. At one time, for example, Gloria was known for choosing to remain single. At age 66, she married for the first time.
- The success of feminism depends on intergenerational conversation and support. Gloria is known for being an important mentor to younger feminists, willing to engage with them, teach them, and learn from them. While I believe it is important for each generation of women to create its own identity and identify its own priorities and styles, we waste so much energy fighting each other instead of our common enemies.
So from one young(ish) Jewish feminist to an older one -- happy birthday, Gloria, and thank you for making our world a better place. We wish you many more years of energy and activism.
Update: I totally forgot to mention the Ms. Foundation's new social change campaign in honor of Gloria's birthday: Outrageous Acts for Simple Justice. Check it out, and do something outrageous!