Gloria Steinem turns 85 today.
Good heavens–how can that be?
A founder of contemporary feminism, Steinem has had a storied life and is a fabulous looking eighty-five.
She started out as a plucky journalist, who in 1963 went undercover to Hugh Hefner’s New York Playboy Club to pen “A Bunny’s Tale” for Esquire magazine.
It was the kind of journalism young women (and men) once aspired to and a herald of the New Journalism era.
There is something appealing about Steinem’s overcoming her economically precarious family background and rising to the top of the magazine world and then becoming a famous feminist.
And yet . . . some like to think that the feminist movement started off being about equity and fair pay and then was hijacked by radical causes.
No doubt there is an element of truth in this, but Steinem’s career doesn’t bear it out.
Steinem started out with the most “advanced” opinions.
She was always as interested in gender theory as in equity. In 1970, for instance, she anticipated some of the hot button gender issues of today in a Time magazine essay headlined “What Would It Be Like If Women Win.”
What will exist is a variety of alternative life-styles.
Since the population explosion dictates that childbearing be kept to a minimum, parents-and-children will be only one of many “families”: couples, age groups, working groups, mixed communes, blood-related clans, class groups, creative groups.
Single women will have the right to stay single without ridicule, without the attitudes now betrayed by “spinster” and “bachelor.” Lesbians or homosexuals will no longer be denied legally binding marriages, complete with mutual-support agreements and inheritance rights.
Paradoxically, the number of homosexuals may get smaller. With fewer over-possessive mothers and fewer fathers who hold up an impossibly cruel or perfectionist idea of manhood, boys will be less likely to be denied or reject their identity as males.
Cathy Young has done an excellent job of cataloguing Steinem’s promotion of the cult of female victimhood and male villainy.
Steinem’s reputation took a hit in 1998 when she took the side of President Bill Clinton against the women who accused him of sexual transgressions.
It would be nice to say that on her 85th birthday Gloria Steinem harkens back to a kinder, gentler feminism. But it just wouldn’t be true.