Having had an abortion at age 22 (which she kept secret at the time), Steinem’s political awakening accelerated when she covered an abortion hearing for New York Magazine in 1969 and learned of the horrifying and humiliating experiences women endured attempting to exercise their right to reproductive freedom. She began to seek out everything she could find on the burgeoning women’s movement and helped lead the nationwide Women’s Strike for Equality march on Aug. 26, 1970, the 50th anniversary of the enactment of women’s suffrage. It was, Steinem notes, “the first time in my life, and I think for many other women too, that we marched for ourselves.”
Since then, Steinem has been ever-present on the front lines of social activism, co-founding Ms. Magazine, where she continues to serve as a consulting editor, in 1972, despite media speculation about the publication’s viability. She recalls that at the time “there was nothing for women to read that was controlled by women.”
Steinem became the public face of the women’s rights movement, participating in marches, making media appearances and also weathering the inevitable backlash, feeling she had to work twice as hard to not be judged by her looks. Indeed, Steinem would become almost as well-known for her distinct style as for her political activism, remembering that her streaked blonde locks were inspired by the character Holly Golightly in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Her signature aviator glasses were about concealment, she reveals, saying, “The bigger they were, the more I felt I could hide behind them.”
GLORIA: IN HER OWN WORDS also explores Steinem’s early days. Born in 1934 in Toledo, Ohio, she studied tap dance as a child and watched her mother give up a career as a journalist to have children. Her parents had a rocky marriage and ultimately divorced. Steinem, who attended Smith College, wonders whether devoting so much of her time and energy to the women’s movement was a way to avoid the kind of suffering her mother experienced.