Gloria Steinem is a legendary figure in the women's movement in the United States. Her insights, passion, and drive were born from a hard life.
Gloria Steinem was born in Toledo, Ohio. Her father bought and sold antiques, and the family spent most of the year crossing the country in a dome-covered trailer. Her mother tutored both Gloria and her sister and instilled in Gloria a deep respect for books. Reading was Gloria's escape and pleasure.
While Gloria's mother was an intelligent, college-educated woman, she also suffered from depression. Her illness produced hallucinations and sometimes violent and self-destructive behavior. She spent most of her time in bed.
When Gloria was ten, the family split up, and Gloria and her sister returned with their mother to Ohio. When her mother became very ill, Gloria had to take care of her and their worn-down house. They had no heat and had to sleep in the same bed to stay warm. But Gloria still excelled in school and in 1952, she entered Smith College.
At Smith, Gloria began to explore the causes of her mother's depression. Ruth Steinem had been a successful editor for a Toledo newspaper. But when she married, Ruth was forced to give up her career to become a wife and mother. In those days, it was not socially acceptable for women to have both a family and career. Also in those days, doctors did not take her mother's condition seriously because she was a woman.
Gloria also discovered that her grandmother had been a suffragette who helped give women the right to vote. This inspired Gloria, and she found the courage to fight for her convictions. She emerged from Smith College as an activist.
When Gloria became a journalist, she experienced the pain of inequality first-hand. She felt the connection with oppressed women across the world. Her definition of feminism became "the belief that women are full human beings. In a deep way so many of us had mothers who were unable to be powerful in the world."
Gloria believes we are not here only to save other women, but also to save ourselves. "I have faith that if we do the hard work of learning what has gone on before us, taking on the pain of others as well as their pleasures, of honoring the self-authority of each person, including ourselves, then these days will have made us a multitude."
Gloria is now exploring the cultures of indigenous peoples and how gender roles and child abuse lie at the roots of violence. She is also interested in nonviolent conflict resolution and how to organize across boundaries for peace and justice.
Gloria felt it important to be with the Grandmother's Council in New York. "I truly appreciate that in a profound way we are overthrowing everything here," she said. "We are trying to learn again.
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