Gloria Steinem, Looking Back And Moving Forward

My life is better because of Gloria Steinem. I and many women of my generation take for granted so many of the opportunities that Gloria and many women of her generation had to demand.
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Watching HBO'S fascinating new documentary, Gloria: In Her Own Words, I felt overwhelmed. Not that I did not know Gloria's story. I did. But as I watched her evolve from a journalist forced to cover patterned pantyhose to an activist demanding equality for women, the simple truth struck me over and over again: my life is better because of Gloria Steinem.

This realization may be a disappointment to Gloria, who makes it clear in the film that she's not looking for thanks. She even quotes another feminist icon, Susan B. Anthony, who declared, "Our job is not to make young women grateful. It is to make them ungrateful so they keep going."

And in large part, she succeeded. I and many women of my generation take for granted so many of the opportunities that Gloria and many women of her generation had to demand. Entering the workforce as a journalist in the mid-50s, Gloria describes an environment where "there were no words for sexual harassment. It was just called life."

The modern women's liberation movement that Gloria sparked fought for equal rights and fair treatment, reproductive rights and control over our own bodies, and basic respect. She also worked tirelessly to extend that support to others in need, including the gay community and minorities of all kinds from all over the globe. Viewing herself as more persuader than crusader, she launched Ms. Magazine in July 1972 to amplify her voice. It was -- and still is -- a voice of justice and reason set apart from many other feminists by her preternatural Midwest calm and disarming sense of humor. One of my favorite things about the documentary is all the footage of Gloria laughing and dancing. For all of the hostility and insults and even cruelty she suffered, she also experienced great success, great friendships, great loves and great joy.

It is that joy which permeates this documentary -- a celebration of a woman who is smart and determined and warm and honest and funny and sexy and cool. At 77, Gloria remains all those things as well as modest. At a Q&A after a screening, she insisted, "If I'd been hit by a Mack truck, the woman's movement would have still happened." I am not sure that this is right, but it is certainly a gracious and generous thing to say.

So watch the movie, cheer Gloria's triumphs and then get inspired. Because the fight's not over and Gloria's not looking back. "The point is we go forward," she says. "We're nowhere near where we need to be."

That's true. We still haven't achieved the goal of real equality for women in the workplace and men in the home. Women continue to need protection not only globally where many women lack basic civil and human rights, but also here where the most dangerous place for an American woman is still shockingly in her home. We're currently 70th on the list of nations for electing women to our national legislature and in 44 years, we've closed the pay gap by only 19 cents. We can -- we must -- do better.

And how do we move forward? In the documentary, Gloria offers the following advice to young women. "Listen to the voice inside you and follow that," she says, adding "The primary thing is not that they know who I am, but that they know who they are."

Let's take her advice and move forward with the same determination and with a sense of humor as well. And let's also take a moment -- just a moment -- to thank her. Because whether Gloria likes it or not, we are extremely grateful.

Gloria: In Her Own Words premieres Monday, August 15th at 9 PM on HBO and is produced by Peter Kunhardt and Sheila Nevins, directed by Peter Kunhardt, editing and graphic design by Phillip Schopper; original music by Michael Bacon. For HBO: supervising producer, Jacqueline Glover. For Kunhardt McGee Productions: executive producer, Dyllan McGee.


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