"The Glorias": God is a Woman

In The Glorias we see Gloria Steinem’s story unfold through four of her past selves. Steinem’s innocent, curious self is portrayed through the youngest version of herself, at roughly 8 years old. It is through this version that we see how Steinem was raised and the hardships she and her family endured. Then, director Julie Taymor shows her audience the circumstances under which Steinem entered her teen years. Her family dynamic has changed considerably, with her older sister moving away and her father leaving her mother and pursuing business on the road, as the Steinem family had done together once before. Steinem’s mother, once a passionate journalist, is sporadically bedridden and in poor mental health by the time Gloria reaches her teen years. The young girl spends most of her time taking care of her sickly mother until she is admitted into a mental health facility. By this time, the young Steinem has reached her college years, another version of the activist Taymor brings to the screen, this time portrayed by Alicia Vikander. We see this version of Steinem first in India, where she’s been traveling for 2 years, listening to local women speak of their struggles and injustices done against them by men and other social classes. Besides her own personal experiences, it’s this experience that ignites her desire to participate in the feminist movement. As an audience member, it wasn’t hard to see why. Hearing these women speak of the horrors that had happened in their lives, and which weren’t unusual in their country, caused a pit to form in my stomach, one that wouldn’t leave until I had seen something done about it. Vikander’s Steinem follows her passion for journalism to New York, where she encounters rampant sexism in and out of the workplace. Here, her passion for feminism and making women’s stories heard is augmented with every new connection and friendship she makes. 

We see another version of Steinem in Julianne Moore. This Steinem is the picture of courage. In the face of adversity, she refuses to step down and pushes ahead to what she knows can be a better, more equal world. In this portion of her life, she takes part in publishing Ms. Magazine, a radical feminist magazine, and with the help of New York Rep. Bella Abzug, portrayed by a spry Bette Midler, forms the National Women’s Political Caucus. This Steinem is the face of the feminist movement, though she abhors the thought of representing the movement as a white woman. As she says, the movement would have started and continued without her. The last version of Steinem we see is her older self, more like her current self. She is reflective of her past work and hopeful for the future of the feminist movement. In between the phases of her life, Taymor allows the various versions of Steinem to interact with one another. The four Glorias ride a train, symbolic of the theme of the film and the title of the novel on which the screenplay is based, Life on the Road.  

While Taymor did an excellent job creating a film that was visually stunning and equally thought-provoking, the trouble lies in her portrayal of Gloria Steinem’s life. Part of me thoroughly enjoyed the colorful, special effects filled retelling of Steinem’s life. In a discussion of history that can be hard to watch at times, Taymor lightens the mood with outlandish, almost cartoonish sequences. Unfortunately, they had no place in a biopic of Gloria Steinem’s life. We see small snippets of hardships she experienced throughout her career, the film’s biggest of which was adversity in the workplace. Alicia Vikander’s Steinem is given fashion articles and discouraged from covering social and political issues and events, like the March on Washington. When he is impressed by her work, an editor tells her that she “writes like a man.” Vikander bears a quizzical look and asks, “Is that supposed to be a compliment?”  

Sure, each of the Glorias suffered throughout the course of the film, though it’s almost as if Taymor’s Steinem is untouchable, a god amongst humans. The real Gloria Steinem faced plenty more adversity than is shown in the film, which wouldn’t necessarily be as much of an issue if the film was only intended to showcase her triumphs and briefly introduce her to the audience before diving into another subject. It would be acceptable should she have been a supporting character. This is not the case for “The Glorias”, though. Gloria Steinem is the subject of the film, its heart and soul and as such, should have been portrayed completely. Moore and Vikander gave emotional performances, though their range could have been more effectively used in a more accurate and balanced retelling of her life.  

This inaccuracy aside, I couldn’t help but leave the theatre feeling particularly impassioned. Throughout the film, we heard stories from women across the world and witnessed the behavior of people, especially men, who had no regard for women’s rights. At the end, Taymor included a clip of Steinem speaking at an earlier Women’s March, fighting for the same thing she has always been passionate about: equality. As I left the theatre, I felt a new sense of power in my position as a woman in society now. And for this, I commend both Taymor and Steinem.  

 

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