Authors: Gloria Steinem

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American critic

Author Works

Nonfiction:

Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, 1983

Marilyn: Norma Jean, 1986

Revolution from Within, 1992

Moving Beyond Words, 1994

Biography

Gloria Steinem, founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus, is one of the leading spokespersons for the feminist movement in the United States, and her witty, cogent, and vivid writing style exemplifies the vitality of the women’s movement. When she was eleven, her parents were divorced, and Steinem had to care for her mother, who apparently had a nervous breakdown. Steinem wrote of her mother in “Ruth’s Song,” in Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, viewing her as a victim of a patriarchal society. Steinem graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Smith College and pursued a career in journalism. Despite her popularity as a “feminist,” Steinem was never actually a member of any active group fighting for women’s rights.{$I[AN]9810001643}{$I[A]Steinem, Gloria}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Steinem, Gloria}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Steinem, Gloria}{$I[tim]1934;Steinem, Gloria}

Beginning in the 1960’s, while writing and editing for magazines and newspapers, Steinem traveled extensively, campaigning for civil rights. She also went “under cover” as a Playboy bunny to investigate the treatment and lifestyle of Hugh Hefner’s employees; his Playboy Clubs were nightclubs in which female employees dressed in bunny ears, leotards, and fuzzy tails to entertain male customers. Likewise, Steinem’s light-hearted look at the way life would change “If Men Could Menstruate” indicates her ability to poke fun at cultural stereotypes. However, she also raises questions about patriarchal religions, traditional marriage, and negative images of women.

Although Steinem never joined an active women’s rights group, she was accepted readily as a spokesperson for women’s liberation because her relatively conservative views were palatable to the mainstream media. Her article in New York magazine entitled “After Black Power, Women’s Liberation” and her money-raising talents caused the popular press to embrace her as a “voice of reason” in the women’s rights debate. McCall’s named her “Woman of the Year” in 1971. Steinem’s activism is humane, altruistic, and focused on inclusion, as she urges radical feminists to welcome more conservative, traditional women into the fold, arguing logically that the women’s movement is not only for career women or manhaters.

In her first book, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, Steinem issued a collection of the best of her early columns and some provocative new articles, including “In Praise of Women’s Bodies,” “If Hitler Was Alive, Whose Side Would He Be On?” and “The International Crime of Genital Mutilation.” The collection profiles everyone from Pat Nixon (wife of President Richard M. Nixon) to Linda Lovelace (a one-time pornography star who was a victim both of male desire and sadistic abuse) as well as Alice Walker (the African American writer famous for The Color Purple, detailing the treatment of black women by black men).

To Steinem, writing “produces a sense of accomplishment and, once in a while, pride,” but she also says it can be “frightening.” She served as editor and columnist for New York magazine and Ms. (the first feminist magazine, which she established) until she relinquished control in the 1980’s. She has written prolifically from the 1960’s on for Ladies’ Home Journal, Life, Look, Esquire, Glamour, McCall’s, and others, all of which put her in the midst of the firestorm begun over the demand for civil rights and pay equity for women. Like other feminist activists, Steinem supports women’s choice in issues relating to reproduction. She surprised many feminists in 2000 when she married businessman and activist David Bale.

Considered a visionary by some and a predictable apologist for women’s causes by others, Steinem identifies with those oppressed by a sexist system that views all women as mere objects of desire or conquest. Thus, her biography of 1950’s movie star Marilyn Monroe, Marilyn: Norma Jean, was met with some dismay, since Monroe’s “dumb blonde” persona angers female critics for fueling a world order based on superficial traits such as beauty, affability, and passivity. Denied recognition for her acting and singing abilities, Monroe was a victim of the very social order that had made her a star. Steinem’s engaging tribute to a flawed but gentle spirit is one of the kinder biographies of this gifted actress, seen as vulnerable and as an unmothered child. Steinem asks what might have occurred had Monroe lived to see the dawn of the women’s rights revolution.

In the era of self-help, Steinem’s Revolution from Within allows readers to survey old and new pathways to self-esteem for women, drawing upon the words and ideas of experts in anthropology, religion, philosophy, art, and literature. This effort was seen by critics as a reasonable but predictable montage of the self-help genre. In 1994 Steinem published a new collection of essays entitled Moving Beyond Words, which met with mixed reviews. Some critics complained that she fails to listen to anyone–male or female–unless they share her life view, one conviction of which is her famous saying, “the personal is the political.” As with Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, the book perhaps tries to be too much to too many, lacking a comprehensive overview. Nonetheless, in 2002 Steinem was awarded the PEN Center West Literary Award of Honor.

BibliographyBrown, Spencer. “Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions.” Sewanee Review 92 (Fall, 1984). Praises Steinem’s courage in speaking out against genital mutilation of girls in Arab and African countries yet dismisses her portrayal of women as more decent than men.Cohen, Marcia. The Sisterhood: The True Story of the Women Who Changed the World. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988. Offers a look at the lives of Betty Friedan and other feminists, including Germaine Greer, Susan Brownmiller, and Gloria Steinem, and their positions and struggles in the women’s rights movement.Fritz, Leah. “Rebel with a Cause.” The Woman’s Review of Books 1 (December, 1983). Argues that Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions is thought-provoking and vital.Heilbrun, Carolyn G. The Education of a Woman: The Life of Gloria Steinem. New York: Dial Press, 1995. A biography written by the feminist literary critic who was to academic women what Steinem was to American women as a whole.Stern, Sydney Ladensohn. Gloria Steinem: Her Passion, Politics, and Mystique. Secaucus, N.J.: Carol, 1997. A biography that addresses many of the contradictions in Steinem’s character and life.
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