Activist, journalist, and feminist icon Gloria Steinem turned 80 years old on March 25, 2014. Steinem, a key and longtime figure in mainstream feminism, has showed no signs of slowing down or stopping.
Gloria Steinem first rose to prominence in the 1960s for her journalism, most notably with her exposé of life in the Playboy mansion in “A Bunny’s Tale.” In the 70s and beyond, Steinem has frequently been the public face of feminism, whether she was advocating for abortion access, decrying the violence in Vietnam, or championing the Equal Rights Amendment. Today, Steinem continues to be celebrated as a founding figure of modern day feminism.
As one of the founders of Ms. Magazine, Gloria Steinem’s contribution to feminist media cannot be overstated. Founded in 1972 by Steinem, along with Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Mary Thom, Patricia Carbine, Joanne Edgar, Nina Finkelstein, and Mary Peacock, Ms. has the distinction of being the first magazine to be created, owned, and operated entirely by women. In addition to her work at Ms., Steinem is the author of several book and hundreds of articles, marking her as one of the most significant meaning makers coming out of second wave feminism.
Throughout her career, Steinem has been a vocal proponent of women in government. She was deeply involved in George McGovern’s campaigns in both 1968 and 1972. Steinem, along with Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm, Myrlie Evers Betty Friedan, Dorothy Height and other prominent women leaders, founded the National Women's Political Caucus (NWPC) in 1971. The NWPC is dedicated to creating viable women candidates for elected and appointed political offices. More recently, during the 2008 election Gloria Steinem was an outspoken supporter of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and railed against the sexism that ran rampant during the presidential campaign. In an op-ed penned in the New York Times entitled, “Women Are Never Front-Runners,” Steinem argued,
“Gender is probably the most restricting force in American life, whether the question is who must be in the kitchen or who could be in the White House. This country is way down the list of countries electing women and, according to one study, it polarizes gender roles more than the average democracy.”
Steinem’s status as a preeminent social critic has not been without controversy, however. Not only has she been blasted by the Right, who have taken issue with her progressive notions of gender, she has also been censured by those on the Left as well. Her time at the Independent Research Council, an organization eventually determined to have been funded by the CIA, has been called out. Steinem has also been criticized over the years for her sometime problematic stances on race and gender. Feminists of color, such as Melissa Harris-Perry, challenged Steinem on her lack of nuance on how the intersection of race and gender played out during the course of the 2008 election. Similarly, Steinem has been chided on her previous stance on transgender issues as stated in "Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions," although she has more recently renounced her previous stance. Interestingly, just as her traditionally good looks may have helped to make feminism palatable to the masses, her appearance—tall, chic, and thin with her trademark aviator glasses—has sometimes incited negative commentary and attention. Nevertheless, despite these controversies, Steinem’s legacy is largely unscathed and she remains one of the most identifiable and significant feminist thinkers of the past four decades.
At 80 years old, Steinem is still writing and traveling the country, giving speeches on feminism and activism. Recently, Steinem appeared in the documentary "Makers: Women Who Make America," alongside other important women, discussing her life and career in context with some of the most important events of the twentieth and twenty first centuries. In 2013, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor, by President Barack Obama for her lifetime of work and activism. She gives the lie to the ageist notion that the older one gets the more out of touch one is, a circumstance she addresses in her book "Doing Sixty & Seventy." In fact, it is clear that Steinem, along with other prominent feminist elders such as Alice Walker and Maya Angelou, continues to actively shape and influence feminism on a national and international level, providing a model for the importance of feminism throughout the ages.