Gloria Steinem Research Paper

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Gloria Steinem, a leader in the twentieth-century struggle for women’s rights, was born on March 25, 1934, in Toledo, Ohio. Because of her father’s penchant for traveling to warmer climates each winter, Steinem and her sister, Suzanne, had little time for formal schooling. Her mother, who had been educated as a teacher, provided some homeschooling for the girls, long before home-schooling was widely accepted. When Steinem was eleven years old, her parents divorced, and with her older sister away at college, Steinem was left alone to care for her mother, who suffered bouts of deep depression, accompanied by dementia. At seventeen, Steinem went to live with Suzanne in Washington, D.C., where she finished high school and completed her education at Smith College, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1956.

After spending a year in India, Steinem returned to the United States and worked as a public relations officer for a group later associated with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), although she claims to have had no knowledge of the association at that time. She later wrote for Esquire, Glamour, and Show magazines, where her expose of life as a Playboy bunny earned her not only accolades but also fame. At New York magazine she worked with many of the budding writers of the New Journalism movement, including Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer, and Gay Talese.

When the National Organization for Women was founded in 1966, Steinem, like many other women, saw the movement as a vehicle for white, middle-class housewives wanting to achieve independent goals outside traditionally male-controlled marriage. She saw no merit in the movement for herself, a single sophisticate, working in New York. But in 1969, Steinem attended a rally on abortion held by the feminist organization the Red Stockings, and after hearing other women detail the pain and humiliation they had endured, she had an epiphany. She had had an abortion herself and was harshly judged by the medical personnel who attended her procedure. Stories told by the women at the rally were even more horrific and included tales of emotional and physical pain and even death. Through the rally, Steinem came to see that not only married middle-class white women, but all women, including women of color, deserved to be treated as individuals, with rights equal to those enjoyed by men.

From that time forward, Steinem would devote much of her time and energy to furthering the cause of “reproductive freedom” and spoke at rallies around the country, recruiting women for the cause. She was a major catalyst in the movement’s long-term success and provided a strong voice in the ongoing struggle through Ms. magazine, which she and her partners founded in 1971.

By that time, Steinem had also become respected as a political writer and activist, and in 1972 she helped found the Women’s Action Alliance. She backed presidential candidates Shirley Chisholm and George McGovern, for whom she wrote several speeches. She also wrote five books, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (1983), Marilyn: Norma Jeane (1986), Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem (1992), Moving Beyond Words (1994), and Doing Sixty and Seventy (2006).

Though she was credited with saying that “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle,” Steinem was not the originator of this phrase. She told Time magazine in 2000, “In fact, Irina Dunn, a distinguished Australian educator, journalist and politician, coined the phrase back in 1970 when she was a student at the University of Sydney.” Yet, the quip did define Steinem’s outlook on marriage until 2000, when she married David Bale, a British entrepreneur and avid animal rights activist. The marriage, however, was to be short-lived. Bale died of brain cancer at the end of 2003, leaving Steinem to her lifelong quest of helping women find personal power and inner peace.


  1. Cohen, Marcia. 1988. The Sisterhood: The True Story of the Women Who Changed the World. New York: Simon and Schuster.
  2. Heilbrun, Carolyn G. 1995. The Education of a Woman: The Life of Gloria Steinem. New York: Dial Press.
  3. Steinem, Gloria. 1983. Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. 2nd ed., New York: Henry Holt, 1995.

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