Gloria Steinem helped launch the Women's Liberation movement in the 1960s, and has remained one of America's leading feminists, spending nearly half a century writing and speaking out for women's economic, social, sexual and political equality.
"I'm constantly asked about the word 'feminist,' what does it mean?" Steinem says. "Of course, it means what the dictionary says it means, 'Somebody who believes in the full social, economic, political equality of women and men,' which means it can be a man as well as a woman."
As a little girl growing up in a poor Ohio neighborhood in the 1940's, Gloria Steinem dreamed of becoming a movie star or a dancer. In college, she studied journalism, and when she saw that reporter jobs seemed to go to men, she became a freelance writer. In her thirties, she helped start a social revolution.
There was little gender equality in the early 1960's, when Steinem wrote the article that brought her national attention. To research " Bunny's Tale" Steinem worked for 3 weeks as a Playboy Bunny - a scantily clad waitress in a men's club.
"I learned what it's like to be hung on a meat hook. That's the emotional experience of walking around in a costume that's so tight it would give a man cleavage," she says, recalling the experience. "It makes your thighs cold from lack of circulation and meanwhile you're carrying heavy trays, and you're getting paid two pennies, and you have to rent the costume. It's a humiliating experience, but it's a way of making a living."
Gloria Steinem continued making her living as a journalist, covering political campaigns and peace rallies, and becoming politically active herself. She championed women's causes like legal abortion and increased representation in public office, and became one of the leaders of the new feminist movement.
Over the past three decades, that movement has made great strides in changing laws and expectations. However, Steinem says, there's still a long way to go to reach full equality between men and women.
"For instance, we have convinced ourselves that women can do what men can do. But we haven't yet convinced ourselves, and therefore the rest of the country, that men can do what women can do," she says. "Therefore, women still have two jobs. You cook three meals a day, you have several perfect children, you run the house, you dress for success. And that was the source of 'Superwoman,' but of course, it's not possible to do two full-time jobs."
Since the early 1970's, Gloria Steinem's full-time job has been promoting what became known as Women's Liberation. She helped found the flagship publication of the feminist movement, Ms. Magazine, and several women's political organizations, including the National Women's Political Caucus, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, and Women Against Pornography. And, she continued to write. In The Revolution From Within, Steinem discussed low self-esteem is a problem for most women, including herself.
"I'd been wandering around the country and other countries for 20 years or more seeing women who were smart or courageous or wonderful, and who compared themselves to perfection instead of the real, who started their sentences with, 'It's probably only me, but…' And it broke my heart really," she says. "So I started writing for other people, and only later I realized that it was for me too."
For more than 40 years, Gloria Steinem has worked to help women seize control of their lives - economically, socially, sexually and politically. What she wants, she says, is more than just reform.
"This is no simple reform, it really is a revolution. Sex and race, because they are easy visible differences, have been the primarily ways of organizing human beings into superior and inferior groups and into the cheap labor, on which the system still depends," she says. "We're talking about a society in which there will be no roles other than those chosen or those earned. We're talking about humanism."In recognition of her efforts, Gloria Steinem was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1993. Now in her 70s [born March 25, 1934], Steinem refuses to slow down. As a speaker, writer and leader, she continues to advocate the cause of equal opportunity for women around the world. She says the feminist movement is not about men and women trading places, but rather men and women moving ahead together.