Early Morning Open Thread: Happy Birthday, Gloria Steinem!

Actually, her birthday isn’t till tomorrow, but apparently she’s on the other side of the date line right now. Gail Collins, “This Is What 80 Looks Like”:

ON Tuesday, Gloria Steinem turns 80.

Do not bother to call. She’s planning to celebrate in Botswana. “I thought: ‘What do I really want to do on my birthday?’ First, get out of Dodge. Second, ride elephants.”

Very few people have aged as publicly. It’s been four decades since she told a reporter, “This is what 40 looks like.” Back then many women, including Steinem herself, fudged their age when they left their 20s, so it was a pretty revolutionary announcement. A decade later she had a “This is what 50 looks like” party at the Waldorf for the benefit of Ms. Magazine. Steinem, who has frequently said that she expects her funeral to be a fund-raiser, has been using her birthdays to make money for worthy causes ever since. Before heading off to Botswana, she, along with Rabbi Arthur Waskow, was feted at a “This is what 80 looks like” benefit for the Shalom Center in Philadelphia….

There are two reasons that Steinem turned out to be the image of the women’s liberation movement. One did indeed have to do with her spectacular physical appearance. For young women who were hoping to stand up for their rights without being called man-haters, she was evidence that it was possible to be true to your sisters while also being really, really attractive to the opposite sex. (An older generation tended to be less enthusiastic. The Washington Post columnist Maxine Cheshire once called her “the miniskirted pinup girl of the intelligentsia.”)

“I think for her as an individual, in one sense aging has been a relief,” says her friend Robin Morgan. “Because she was so glamorized by the male world and treated for her exterior more than her interior.”

But the interior always mattered. The other thing that made Steinem unique was her gift for empathy. Women who read about her or saw her on TV felt that if they ran into her on the street, they would really get along with her. And women who actually did run into her on the street felt the same way. More than a half-century into her life as an international celebrity, she remains stupendously approachable, patient with questions, interested in revelations. When she goes to events, young women flock around her. All celebrities draw crowds, of course. The difference is that when Steinem is at the center, she’s almost always listening…

I was a college freshman when Steinem made her signature remark, and I wasn’t the only young feminist comforted even though she looked better at 40 than many of us half her age. She made maturity look like something to look forward to, we agreed. Funny thing, in my experience, it’s feminist/progressive men who tend to take umbrage about Steinem “making a career off her looks” — as though it was okay to be smart or attractive, but not both.

Barring unseasonable weather (although really, March in New England has never been other than erratic), what’s on the agenda for the start of another week?

47 replies
  1. 1
    Patricia Kayden says:

    Hope Ms. Steinem has a fabulous time in Botswana. When I think of feminists, she’s numero uno on my list.

  2. 2
    electricgrendel says:

    Happiest.if birthdays to her!

    Fun fact- for three years she was Christian Bale’s stepmother.

  3. 3
    NotMax says:

    Have had a soft spot for the stylings of British comedy writer and actress Miranda Hart whenever have stumbled across her in a program here or there.

    Hadn’t realized she had a TV sitcom of her own.

    It takes a lot to get me to belly laugh out loud anymore, especially if I’m alone, but the first episode (from 2009) of her own TV series managed that several times.

    Have to admit to also being a sucker for the break the fourth wall technique she employs in the show.

    May be on Netflix (which I do not have) but can also be watched here.

  4. 4
    PurpleGirl says:

    Steinem was an inspiration for this working class 20-something. I read Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions when it was first published. I’ve always wanted to read the rewritten forward written for the Second Edition. Being reminded of her now, maybe I’ll get it from the library. I also looked at her book list at Amazon and I might get names for a book or two from it.

    ETA: Just went looking for it on the book shelves and can’t find it. I wonder if it’s in the storage locker…

  5. 5
    JPL says:

    Happy Birthday Gloria!

    Since I fell asleep during the Good Wife, I googled The Good Wife CBS so I could stream it. If you don’t like spoilers, find another way to access CBS. Now I’m going to finish the show.

  6. 6
    Phylllis says:

    @NotMax: She’s also what makes ‘Call the Midwife’ work so well. Which starts up again next Sunday on PBS, btw.

    Also, happy b-day Gloria.

  7. 7
    Debbie(aussie) says:

    Our Aussie feminine icon, Germaine Greer has said a few things over the years that made us cringe a little. And going to live in England and all arty farty as the uninteligencia called her. We have no Gloria as such. Of course it may not have helped that Germaine always called a spade a spade and ‘women just don’t do that’ said the many bastards of the times(some of them modern even).

  8. 8
    WereBear says:

    Wow. Time flies when you are struggling for basic human rights.

    We don’t have to doll up and we don’t have to dumb down.

  9. 9
    Baud says:

    Just caught a bit of “news” this morning about the “controversy” over Kim and Kanye on Vogue’s cover. Makes me want to join Ms. Steinem in Botswana.

  10. 10
    Ben Cisco says:

    @Baud: Not that I needed a reminder of why I don’t watch anymore, but thanks.

  11. 11
    raven says:

    Very good conversation with Jimmy Carter on Morning Joe. sorry

  12. 12
    Baud says:


    Carter’s been featured on Newsmax recently, and now on MJ. Does he have a book out?

  13. 13
    Betty Cracker says:

    As it turns out, hedgehogs can experience night terrors and wake entire households up with horrifying high-pitched squeals at 4 o’clock in the morning, then wake up and wonder why everyone is looking at them funny. Who knew?

  14. 14
    chrome agnomen says:

    @Betty Cracker:

    i knew there had to be some reason i didn’t own one.

  15. 15
    Baud says:

    @Betty Cracker:

    Probably had a nightmare about Republicans taking the Senate.

  16. 16
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    Not that we didn’t already know it, but women still have a long ways to go: A terrifying precedent: Woman to be tried for murder for giving birth to stillborn

  17. 17
    SiubhanDuinne says:


    He has a book out, or about to be published, on the status of women around the world. He was on NPR yesterday (Morning Edition Weekend? Bob Edwards? Cannot remember.)

    Rosalynn Carter, meanwhile — in addition to her work on mental illness — is committed to the restoration of the monarch butterfly throughout North America. The Carters are indefatigable and amazing.

  18. 18
    MikeJ says:

    @Betty Cracker: He just heard about 538’s new logo and feels slighted.

  19. 19
    Baud says:


    Thanks. They are impressive.

  20. 20
    Ben Cisco says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Wow.

    And they apparently wanted to run with this issue badly enough to prosecute over the death of a black child.

    Compare this, for example, with any random case of a father getting their kids killed b/c of a gun laying around.

    “It was decided not to prosecute – the family’s suffered enough.”

  21. 21
    Cervantes says:


    The Carters are indefatigable and amazing.

    And thoughtful, and ambitious, and prickly as heck — but definitely amazing.

    We are lucky to still have them.

  22. 22
    Elizabelle says:


    But do the Carters paint?

  23. 23
    Elizabelle says:


    Very good conversation with Jimmy Carter on Morning Joe. sorry

    That’s good to hear. Will watch for the video link.

    Did you see any brain cells hitting the floor?

  24. 24
    Ronzoni Rigatoni says:

    @PurpleGirl: Try http://www.bookfinder.com. They tell me it’s a “google for bibliophiles”. So far so good

  25. 25
    raven says:

    @Elizabelle: Joe had nothing but praise and respect. They talked a good bit about folks using select passages from the bible and koran to justify all kinds of shit, especially fucking over women.

  26. 26
    SiubhanDuinne says:


    Agree on all counts!


    Don’t know whether Rosalynn paints, but Jimmy certainly does. Many of his paintings have been auctioned (for pretty decent sums) as fund raisers for The Carter Center.

  27. 27
    Cervantes says:

    Happy Birthday, Gloria!

    And thank you for making your world, and mine, so much better than it ever was.

    The Washington Post columnist Maxine Cheshire once called her “the miniskirted pinup girl of the intelligentsia.”

    Maxine Cheshire — there’s someone I don’t miss. The words are from 1968, around the time of the Democratic Convention in Chicago. Gloria had been in the same clothes for four days — I don’t think she even slept — because she had been working so hard. And calling her cheesecake is all Ms. Cheshire knew how to say at the time. (I believe it was Henry Kissinger who said about Cheshire that she “makes you want to commit murder.” He followed that up with: “Whereas Sally Quinn makes you want to commit suicide.”)

    Which reminds me: I’m glad Gail Collins remembers Robin Morgan in her column. Here’s something unforgettable Robin once wrote:

    There is something every woman wears around her neck on a thin chain of fear — an amulet of madness. For each of us, there exists somewhere a moment of insult so intense that she will reach up and rip the amulet off, even if the chain tears the flesh of her neck. And the last protection from seeing the truth will be gone.

    Even if you thought you knew — even if you did know — still, reading that, in 1970, was unforgettable.

  28. 28

    I began my book The Lifelong Activist with a discussion of Gloria Steinem’s Revolution From Within:


    Also, talking about how ages look, saw Marty over the weekend. A great film, but we were struck by how different various ages were perceived then and now.

    In the movie, from 1955, Marty (played by a paunchy Ernest Borgnine) is 35 but looks like 50 in modern terms. 35 is treated in the movie like deep, resigned middle age, whereas these days 35 is still youngish adult.

    Marty’s mom, an old-world looking Italian-American widow, is 56 in the movie. She looks more like\ 70-80 (NOT a Steinem 80 but a normal 80) today.

  29. 29
    Cervantes says:


    But do the Carters paint?

    He does. He also enjoys woodworking and makes furniture, small items mostly.

    A stool he made out of cherry wood sold at a fund-raiser last year for more than a quarter of a million dollars.

    (I have no idea what G. W. Bush does with his post-presidential masterpieces but I do have an idea as to what he should do with them.)

  30. 30
    geg6 says:

    Happy birthday, Gloria!

    She was truly one of my heroes as a teen and young adult. I subscribed to Ms. and read everything she ever wrote. I wrote and presented an epic speech about her for a public speaking class in college. I love her. And yes, she made it okay to be attractive and a feminist at the same time. That is a good thing.

  31. 31
    Cervantes says:

    @Hillary Rettig: Thanks, Hillary — the book looks great! If you’ll allow me:

    On the one hand, there’s no question that [Steinem] paid a terrible personal price for her activism: decades of anxiety and self-denial. On the other hand, there’s also no question that she was spectacularly effective. Along with her feminist colleagues, she transformed our culture and politics in ways that have improved life for hundreds of millions of women and men in North America and around the world. It’s sometimes hard to remember how difficult things were for women before the second wave of feminism ushered in by Steinem and her colleagues, but here’s a sampling: employers routinely discriminated against women both in hiring and in pay; women were often fired from jobs simply for marrying or becoming pregnant; many schools provided little or nothing in the way of athletics programs for girls; many banks wouldn’t lend money to unmarried women or to married women without their husband’s approval; and behavior that we now consider sexual harassment or even rape was considered socially acceptable.

    About that last bit: I think it was actually a little bit worse than your description. Not only were those things to some degree socially acceptable, even on the so-called revolutionary or progressive left, but not yielding to such force was considered socially unacceptable: women who did not “put out” willingly and happily were criticized for being “uptight” or worse. (I want to say this has all changed for young women nowadays, but comparisons over decades are difficult and so I am not entirely sure.)

    Steinem and her colleagues were largely responsible for changing all of that, but many of them, including Steinem herself, paid a heavy personal price for devoting their lives to activism. Was it worth it? Steinem doesn’t address this question directly in her book, but I suspect her answer would be “Yes.” (And as a direct beneficiary of this liberation, I can only say “thank you.”)

    Yes, and thank you, too.

  32. 32
    Elizabelle says:

    Happy Birthday, Gloria!

    I appreciate that my suburban high school library carried Ms. magazine, a source of good information on women’s opportunities, possibilities, accomplishments, and women’s health issues. A font of knowledge to balance out the perfect models in Seventeen and other magazines aimed at females.

    It was excellent to know about contraception and sexual issues, because my mother dodged the subject with us daughters her whole life, and our CCD* classes just provided literature with smiling white infants whose mothers aborted them.

    So thank you, Gloria. You were needed.

    (CCD are the Catholic religious education classes provided through 12th grade; acronym means Confraternity of Christian Doctrine; now sometimes called Continuing Catholic Development.

    I assumed it meant Classes on Catholic Dogma and never looked up the precise definition until just now.)

  33. 33
    Elizabelle says:


    That’s good to hear about the painting and skilled woodworking/carpentry.

    In addition to writing, working for good causes, supporting actual democracy in action, and building the occasional affordable house.

    OK, we have the “Don’t Tread on my Obamacare” stickers.

    Now we need a Take Back Jimmy Carter Day, in his lifetime. He’s an American treasure who’s done even more out of office than in (and he was President during troubled times).

    His accomplishments are why the GOP and its MSM megaphone has to constantly detract President Carter while fluffing President Reagan.

  34. 34
    kindness says:

    It’s been a while since we’ve had a bitch about NPR thread so here is my 2 cents.

    I listen during my commute. Used to be I liked hearing what they said. Underline that used to be part. This morning I lasted 15 minutes before switching over to the ipod. Frankly I can only tolerate so much Republican Whining Points pandered as news before I loose the lunch I’ve yet to eat.

    I’ve become a conspiracy theorist. I think that it is a long view plan by conservatives to have liberals be the ones to finally gut the funding of PBS. I think it started when bush43 essentially replaced the leaders at PBS with Powell’s son & a bunch of other right wing loons in the name of ‘balance’. Well fast forward to now and it’s working. If I had a politician who said he supported cutting funding for NPR I would almost want to support him. Clever evil plan those Republicans have hatched. I’ll give them credit for that.

  35. 35
    Constance says:

    I stood in a very long line at a political conference 30 years ago waiting to have Gloria Steinem sign her book I had just purchased. When it was my turn she looked me in the eye and held the gaze and asked me a question (I don’t remember what), then listened thoughtfully and commented. She actually gave a damn about each and every one of us and let us know.

    Happy, happy birthday you lovely person.

  36. 36

    @kindness: My commute is short and I don’t often have the radio on but I have noticed the same trend on PBS’ snooze hour. Plus, Saturday morning is for quack doctors selling their kooky diet ideas.

  37. 37
    NotMax says:


    Powell was named to the FCC by Bill Clinton (and named chairman by Bush). He is no longer there, and works for the trade association of the cable industry.

    Also, you may be confusing PBS with CPB (Corporation for Public Broadcasting). PBS is a TV network and, unlike NPR, has no central unit or division which produces programming or news.

    Do agree that some of the long-running news programs on NPR are not what they once were but the same, unfortunately, can be said for every major network in the U.S.

  38. 38
    Mnemosyne says:

    Speaking of cool old ladies, if you bought the “Frozen” DVD (or your kids made you buy it), make sure to watch the “D’frosted: Disney’s Journey from Hans Christian Andersen to Frozen” mini-documentary included as one of the extras. It features Disney Legend Alice Davis, who is the widow of animator/Imagineer Marc Davis and is an Imagineer in her own right (among other things, she designed the costumes for “it’s a small world” and Pirates of the Caribbean). She’s still sharp as a tack at 85+ (though, sadly, slowly losing her eyesight after a lifetime as an artist) and is a joy to watch.

    (If you buy the film from the new Disney Movies Anywhere service, it also includes the mini-doc.)

  39. 39
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Ben Cisco:

    And they apparently wanted to run with this issue badly enough to prosecute over the death of a black child.

    Didn’t you know? When a white woman has a stillbirth, it’s a sad tragedy that she couldn’t have done anything about. When a black woman does, it’s all her own fault. Same as it always is.

  40. 40
    NotMax says:


    Anyone connected with “It’s A Small World” has much to answer for.

    Still shudder and recoil to this day whenever even a snippet of that tune is heard. As always, YMMV.

  41. 41
    Mnemosyne says:


    Nope, sorry. Mary Blair and Alice Davis are not responsible for the horrible actions of the Sherman Brothers in writing that song.

    Or, to put it another way since it’s a second wave feminist thread: Oh, fine, blame the women for what the men did! Typical chauvinist! ;-)

  42. 42
    NotMax says:


    I don’t blame the women, I blame everyone – in whatever capacity they had with the original exhibit at the World’s Fair.

    Equal opportunity gag reflex.

  43. 43

    @Mnemosyne: You may ask yourself, how do I work this?

  44. 44

    @Cervantes: Thank you Cervantes – you are absolutely right. Even in the movie Marty, where there are no rape scenes or other violence, there’s a level of callousness and disconnection between the sexes that is incredible. And women were definitely expected to be subservient / compliant – and also supposed to be grateful for the opportunity to be so.

  45. 45
    stinger says:

    Nearly a year ago, Ms. Steinem gave a speech I attended. Nearly 100 (mostly) women waited in line afterward to have books signed. I was near the end of that line, and her aide was getting anxious about a flight, but Gloria listened to what I said and responded as if we were sitting over coffee. That made as much impression as all her works I’ve read over the years.

  46. 46
    Bonnie says:

    Gloria Steinem is even more my inspiration at 80. I thank her for her hard work improving my life. And, wish her a very Happy Birthday.

  47. 47
    StringOnAStick says:

    I grew up seriously feminist, determined to be in a non-traditional field (environmental geologist) and not dependent on a husband for economic stability. 30 years later and some poor economy/workplace sexism issues later, and I’m now in a traditionally female career (dental hygienist, but at a small STEM university clinic so I still get to at least talk about science with my patients). I’m also unable to work more than a few days a week thanks to hand injuries, so I am entirely dependent on my husband’s career and workplace benefits.

    My goal as a young feminist was to never be financially dependent on another person, but life has a way of changing things around a bit. My husband and I have a partnership; we had equal salaries when we met and his career took off, while the field I was in shriveled entirely. Thankfully we are both comfortable with how our partnership works, which to me is the real underlying message of feminism. And for that, thank you and happy birthday Ms. Steinem!

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