Gloria Steinem turned 80 last week. The force of nature behind the women’s liberation movement in the 1960s and 1970s is one of my inspirations – I’ve long admired her intelligence and courage. Since my mama instilled in me from a young age that a well-written thank you note is a beautiful thing, and since Gloria and I are only on first-name basis in my dreams, I decided that this was the most appropriate place to express my deep gratitude to one of the women who made it possible for all of us to speak our minds and made it imperative that others listen.
Gloria Marie Steinem was born in Toledo, Ohio on March 25, 1934. When Steinem was three years old, her mother suffered what was considered a nervous breakdown that led to several inpatient stays in sanatoriums and to the dissolution of the Steinems’ marriage. Steinem continued to live with her mother, who was never able to keep steady employment after her breakdown. The insensitivity of employers and the apathy of doctors toward her mother were what Steinem considered the impetus for her understanding of social injustice and her realization that women were politically and socially unequal. Steinem went on to graduate Phi Beta Kappa from Smith College in 1956. After that, she spent two years in India on a Chester Bowles Fellowship, where she was influenced by Gandhian activism. Upon her return to the United States, Steinem began a career as a journalist, co-founding Ms. Magazine in 1972. She explained the motivation behind the publication this way: “I realized as a journalist that there really was nothing for women to read that was controlled by women.” Other than her journalistic pursuits, Steinem has made her stance clear on many social and political issues. She actively campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment and protested the Vietnam War, is an outspoken supporter of gay rights and animal rights, and has lent her voice to international issues such as FGM and human trafficking, not to mention her stance on reproductive freedom.
With all that said, where is my thank you? It’s here, in these words. As I sit and write this article, a student at one of the most prestigious liberal arts colleges in the United States (which did not embrace coeducation until 1973), it is not lost on me the impact that Steinem’s activism has had on the opportunities of which I’ve been able to take advantage. This magazine would most likely not exist had Steinem not seen the need for writing for women by women. The confidence with which I speak out on social issues is attributable to the trail blazed by Steinem and her peers. I titled this article “The Age of Gloria” for two reasons. First, I love a good pun. And second, we are living in the age of Gloria. As young women in the United States, we owe our educations that we so often take for granted, our ability to air our grievances on Twitter and Facebook with reckless abandon, and all of those cracks in that tall glass ceiling to women like Gloria Steinem. This is not to say that feminism is finished. We haven’t “won.” We probably won’t for a while, and there will always be a new cause to champion. But because of the bravery and boldness and brilliance of Gloria Steinem and women like her, we have the privilege to champion those causes. Those of us who are privileged have the luxury of choosing our life’s path. And we have the honor of knowing that we are following in incredible footsteps. So with that I say, Ms. Steinem, thank you. And happy birthday.