Gloria Steinem's official web page features an "about" section. It's entitled "Who is Gloria?" and, despite being 810 words long, it leaves out a really key detail.
Each year, Gloria's birthday is used as a fundraiser for the magazine she helped found, Ms. magazine. This year, her 78th, the fundraising noticeably dipped. Probably due to the economy. Possibly due to the fact that feminism isn't a fossil, it's a living, breathing movement.
Gloria's a feminist icon. She's not really a leader though, not anymore. She hasn't been for some time now.
As Mother Jones noted in 1992, covering the presidential campaigns, Gloria was just another Democratic flunkie, the independent woman, the Catwoman of the election (Batman Returns was huge box office that summer), Mother Jones declared, was Maureen Dowd.
Yes, boys and girls, that's how sad it was, Maureen Dowd was seen as making and taking braver stands than Gloria. It was a lot like the 1976 Democratic National Convention, where Gloria and others -- who had rightly expressed anger at Miami in 1972 -- now pressed women to go along to get along. (See Veronica Geng's "Requiem for the women's movement," the November 1976 cover story of Harper's. And for a take on 1972 that paints Gloria as a sell-out to women, see Germaine Greer's "McGovern, the big tease" from the October 1972 issue of Harper's.)
There have been accomplishments as well and no one's saying that there hasn't been.
And certainly at 78, it's probably not all that fair to expect her to still be at the vanguard -- despite the fact that she's repeatedly claimed over the years that she would get more and more radical as the years passed.
The years have passed.
78 is probably time to start preparing for certain things and, if you were ever a leader, that should include cleaning your closet, clearing the air.
Gloria was the face of feminism for middle America. At a time when the second wave was at its strongest, Gloria was the feminist next door, the reassuring face that said feminism is normal and natural.
Which is why the first thing Gloria needs to clear up is why she hasn't been honest about being a Socialist?
Being a Socialist is nothing to be ashamed of and it's personally sad that Gloria felt the need to hide that part of her while displaying much more (yes, we are thinking of the bathtub photo for People magazine). But for feminism, it's much worse.
Betty Friedan's writing for 'movement' periodicals was largely disappeared for public consumption and 'the mother of us all' supposedly sprung to life just before she wrote The Feminine Mystique. The lie didn't help feminism.
Utilizing another political closet case for a leader wasn't real smart either.
At her age, Gloria needs to be dealing with this mess she created. At 78, she shouldn't postpone it and she damn well shouldn't expect to saddle feminists with explaining it after she's dead.
She might try to argue that her being a Democratic Socialist wasn't hidden. You had to travel really inward to find that out. And that was near impossible for most Americans before the internet. Even now it's easy to get lost in the weeds.
By contrast, she's happy to talk about Democrats and campaign for them and write about them. You could read every book Gloria's written so far and walk away with the impression that she's a Democrat.
So should she try to assert that her ideology wasn't hidden, that would be a lie. It was hidden. (And by not addressing "Democratic Socialist," she also allowed that term to be misunderstood when people did encounter it -- the way she herself misunderstood "humanist" the first time she encountered it -- when people opposed to her had it on posters they carried to protest her.)
So Socialist Gloria and Communist Betty, the two most well known American feminists and both misrepresented themselves to the American people.
What does that say about feminism?
That's not the question for a twenty-something to answer five years after Gloria dies. It's a question she needs to address right now. She needs to be taking care of all her messes. If she's any kind of a leader, if she ever was a real one, that's what she needs to be doing right now.
First rule of leadership: Do not saddle future generations with your baggage.
No one else needs to try to explain why she misled so many people about her political leanings -- or to justify it or explain it or apologize for it.
And after she does that, she might want to explain why her outlets and her outlook have not been women-centric for many years now. Best example? The largest third party in the country, the Green Party, has a presidential ticket in 2008 that is two women and the 'feminist leader' never wrote one word about it. It's four years later, and Jill Stein has the Green Party's presidential nomination and her running mate is Cheri Honkala and Roseanne Barr has the nomination of the Peace and Freedom Party and her running mate is Cindy Sheehan. And Ms. and Women's Media Center both ignore the campaigns?
Gloria should explain how ignoring two presidential tickets made up of four women fits with Women's Media Center's stated purpose:
How does that statement of purpose jibe with ignoring the two women running for president? If WMC is supposed to be making "women visible," why the refusal to cover Jill and Roseanne, Cheri and Cindy?
At 78, you really should be aware of how your words fail to match your actions. That's something Gloria needs to explain as well. And she's probably going to have to make a few amends because while some will insist it's no big thing, the fact that she hid it for so many years makes it a very big thing.
This was written by Ava, C.I., Ann, Elaine, Betty, Ruth and Marcia.