Gloria Steinem to mark feminist magazine’s 40th anniversary with free talk at Vassar
Forty years ago this summer, something happened that would change the face of journalism forever, while creating a whole new frame of reference for the discussion of issues affecting women: The first issue of Ms. magazine came out. Within three days, its “test printing’ of 300,000 copies had vanished from the newsstands, gobbled up by a hungry public. Ms. was the brainchild of a New York magazine editor who had already made a name for herself as a feminist and antiwar activist, and who went on to become the rock star of the women’s movement of the 1970s and ‘80s. At age 78, Gloria Steinem is still kicking sexist butt, and she’ll be marking the 40th anniversary of Ms. with a talk in Chapel on the Vassar College campus on Wednesday, September 19.
For women who came of age in the Vietnam era, Steinem was a true revelation. It wasn’t just that she was an incisive journalist and a brilliant strategist; the women’s movement had plenty of those. Steinem had an electrifying, highly quotable speaking style that went straight to the heart, setting her apart from the dry academicians who typified ‘70s feminism. And she was living proof that a professional woman could look attractive without makeup and chic without being hobbled by stiletto heels – that we could be feminists without looking dour and dowdy, or adopting the “Diesel dyke” clone costume of buzzcut hair and overalls. She was fiery and feisty and what detractors of the movement would call “strident”; and yet the rage in her message was invariably fueled by compassion: for poor women, for victims of racism and apartheid, wage discrimination and domestic abuse, for abused children and animals. No wonder we adored her.
Steinem was cutting her teeth as a feminist journalist as early as 1963, when she went underground as a Playboy bunny to write an exposé of how women in that position were treated. In 1965 she did a stint as a scriptwriter for the satirical TV newsmagazine That Was the Week that Was. It was Steinem who talked George McGovern into entering the 1968 presidential race. Her influential 1969 article “After Black Power, Women’s Liberation” helped put feminism on the national agenda. And an assignment to cover a “speak-out” that same year by women who’d had abortions was what she described as the “click” moment solidifying her commitment to the abortion rights movement; it was Steinem who first coined the phrase “reproductive freedom.”
She testified before Congress in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1970, and in 1971 she co-founded the National Women’s Political Caucus. She became the first woman to address the National Press Club and championed Shirley Chisholm’s run for the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination. All of these milestones and more were already under Steinem’s belt by the time Ms. was founded, and she hasn’t stopped moving since, despite surviving breast cancer and widowhood (her husband, South African environmental activist and entrepreneur David Bale, died in 2003 of lymphoma; actor Christian Bale is her stepson).
Steinem has written seven books, several of them best-sellers, including what is probably the most insightful biographical treatment ever of the life of Marilyn Monroe. Her most recent, Doing Sixty & Seventy, came out in 2006 – well after her famous quote to a well-meaning but clueless young interviewer who told her that she looked great for 50: “This is what 50 looks like.” Currently, she is working with the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College, her alma mater, on a project to document the grassroots origins of the US women’s movement. And she is working on a new book, to be titled Road to the Heart: America as if Everyone Mattered, about her more than 30 years on the road as a feminist organizer.
It’s always a thrill when one of the stops on that historic road happens in one’s own backyard, and you can bet that the Vassar Chapel will be bursting at the seams for Steinem’s lecture on September 19. The talk is scheduled to start at 7 p.m., with a question-and-answer session to follow, but it would be wise to get there early. Sponsored by the Vassar College Women’s Studies program, and co-sponsored by the Departments of Anthropology, Art, Drama, Education, English, History, Philosophy, Religion, Sociology, French and Francophone Studies, German Studies, International Studies, Media Studies, Sex Education, Science, Technology and Society and Urban Studies, this event is free and open to the public.
Vassar College is located at 124 Raymond Avenue in Poughkeepsie; for directions to the campus, visit www.vassar.edu/directions. Individuals with disabilities requiring special accommodations must contact the Office of Campus Activities at least 48 hours in advance of an event; call (845) 437-5370 Mondays through Fridays.
Feminist activist, author and Ms. magazine co-founder Gloria Steinem will mark the publication’s 40th anniversary with a free talk in the Vassar College Chapel in Poughkeepsie on Wednesday, September 19 at 7 p.m., followed by a question-and-answer session. Visit www.vassar.edu for more information.