15 Trailblazing Facts About Gloria Steinem

Gloria Steinem is the face of feminism and the reason it's cool to put your glasses on over your hair.
Gloria Steinem is the face of feminism and the reason it's cool to put your glasses on over your hair.
Jay Godwin, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

After more than half a century advocating for women’s rights and other civil liberties, Gloria Steinem has become one of the most famous feminists of all time. While you might know her best as the face of the women’s liberation movement or the founder of Ms. magazine, the Ohio-born activist has quite a few other accomplishments to her name. From going undercover as a Playboy Bunny to being Christian Bale’s stepmother, here are 15 incredible pieces of Steinem’s past (and present).

1. Gloria Steinem had an unconventional upbringing.

Gloria Marie Steinem, born March 25, 1934, in Toledo, Ohio, didn’t see the inside of a classroom very consistently until middle school. She and her parents spent the summers in Clarklake, Michigan, where touring bands came to perform at her father’s dance pavilion. Each year when the weather got colder, the Steinems would pack their belongings into a trailer and head south to Florida or California, dealing antiques along the way to fund their journey until the following summer. After Steinem’s parents divorced when she was 10 years old, she moved back to Toledo with her mother and eventually enrolled in school full-time.

2. Reading Little Women changed Gloria Steinem’s life.

A young Gloria Steinem, ready for a long march for equality but not long division.Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Though Steinem’s unofficial home-schooling skipped over certain key subjects—“I'm not sure I've ever learned to do basic math, to be frank,” she confessed on NPR’s Fresh Air—she remembers learning to read from “ketchup bottles and labels and billboards along the highway,” as well as the many books her parents kept around. Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women made an especially significant impression on her as a kid, she told The Guardian, “because it was the first time I realized women could be a whole human world.”

3. Gloria Steinem’s mother was also a writer.

Before Steinem was born, her mother, Ruth, had been a newspaper reporter and editor, sometimes even using a male pseudonym so that her work would be published. The nomadic, penniless lifestyle that her husband had chosen for the family didn’t suit Ruth, and she struggled with her decision to divorce him. Afterwards, she suffered from depression and developed a dependence on tranquilizers, and a young Gloria became her de facto caretaker—a responsibility that left her disinclined to start a family of her own. “I’d already been the very small parent of a very big child,” she later told People. “I didn’t want to end up taking care of someone else.”

4. Gloria Steinem's early activism was inspired by her time living in India.

Gloria Steinem at a peaceful protest in 1995.Evan Agostini/Liaison

After graduating from Smith College in 1956, Steinem was awarded the Chester Bowles Fellowship and spent two years in India, partaking in non-violent protests, contributing to Indian publications, and learning about Gandhian activism. The experience opened her eyes to the issues created by such a stark divide between a society’s richest and poorest members, and she returned to the U.S. with a newfound passion for civil rights.

5. Gloria Steinem went undercover as a Playboy Bunny.

While freelancing for high-profile outlets like Esquire and Vogue in the early 1960s, Steinem took on an unforgettable assignment: an exposé for Show magazine on the life of a waitress, or “Bunny,” at the Playboy Club in Midtown Manhattan. To write it, the 28-year-old journalist came up with a fictional identity—a 24-year-old named Marie Catherine Ochs [PDF]—and worked undercover as a Bunny for an entire month. Her two-part story, titled “A Bunny’s Tale” and published in spring 1963, revealed the abysmally low pay and rampant sexual harassment that Hugh Hefner’s Bunnies endured at the club. “To this day when people don’t like me they introduce me as a former Bunny, as a put-down,” she told The New York Times in 2016. “On the other hand, I did improve the working conditions for those women.”

6. Gloria Steinem used to write for a sketch comedy television show.

"See? Politics can be funny!" Steinem seems to be saying with her eyes.Susan Wood/Getty Images

Steinem took a short break from print journalism in 1964 to become a regular contributor for That Was the Week That Was, NBC’s short-lived version of the BBC sketch comedy program of the same name. The 30-minute live episodes, hosted by David Frost, comprised satirical sketches about each week’s political news and featured celebrities like Henry Fonda, Gene Hackman, and Alan Alda. It was, in Steinem’s words, “the parent of Saturday Night Live.”

7. Gloria Steinem once caused controversy by collaborating with the CIA.

As a leader of the Independent Research Service, an organization founded in 1958 to promote political involvement among young Americans abroad, Steinem accompanied a delegation of students to two World Youth Festivals: one in Vienna in 1959, and another in Helsinki in 1962. Then, in 1967, she told the press that the organization had been funded largely by the CIA. Because the World Youth Festivals were widely known as an outlet for the Soviet Union to disseminate communist propaganda on an international stage during the Cold War, some people interpreted the CIA’s involvement in sending Americans to the events as a political maneuver—a way for the U.S. government to gather intel and also combat the spread of radical Soviet ideology by presenting a nice, democratic alternative. Steinem insisted that the CIA’s financial support had no strings attached, and she was never asked to report back about the festivals, but that didn’t stop people from labeling her a CIA agent or operative after the fact.

8. Gloria Steinem helped found two prominent magazines.

A different kind of Octomom on the cover of the first issue of Ms. magazine in spring 1972.Liberty Media for Women, LLC, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

In 1968, Steinem helped launch New York magazine, where she wrote a political column and the occasional long-form story. For the December 1971 issue of the magazine, she spearheaded the development of an insert titled Ms., which featured women-centric articles on subjects like abortion, “de-sexing” the English language, and the housewife’s experience. What began as a one-time insert quickly snowballed into its own magazine, and the first issue of Ms., with Steinem at the helm, hit newsstands in July 1972. She continued to work as an editor for the publication for 15 years, and is still considered a consulting editor today.

9. Gloria Steinem also helped found a slew of civil rights, media, and charity organizations.

Gloria Steinem and Bella Abzug, a co-founder of the National Women's Political Caucus, at a New York event in 1980.Diana Walker/Liaison

Steinem self-identifies first and foremost as a writer, but she also happens to be the founder or co-founder of countless organizations in a variety of other spheres. To name just a few, there’s the National Women’s Political Caucus, which supports women running for political office; the Women’s Media Center, launched with Jane Fonda and Robin Morgan in 2005 to provide resources and opportunities for women working in media; and Direct Impact Africa, which provides small communities across Africa with the resources and education needed to achieve economic self-sufficiency.

10. Gloria Steinem enlisted Stephen Sondheim to write crossword puzzles for New York.

In the early days of New York, the founders were on the hunt for wordsmiths to create crossword puzzles for their fledgling publication. So Steinem asked Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim, whom she happened to know had a special passion for British-style crosswords. Though Sondheim hardly needed the work—his credits at that point already included West Side Story (1957), Gypsy (1959), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962), and more—he accepted, and devised a puzzle for every third issue of the magazine for its first year.

11. Gloria Steinem’s dream casting for a biopic includes Natalie Wood and Meryl Streep.

Julianne Moore looking groovy in 2020's The Glorias.FilmNation Entertainment

When asked who would play her in a biopic in 2017, Steinem didn’t limit her imagination to living actors. She chose Natalie Wood to portray her as a child, and suggested Audrey Hepburn and Cicely Tyson to tackle various stages of her adulthood. She also threw out Marisa Tomei and Meryl Streep, adding, “Of course, Streep could play anything, human or animal.”

A biopic is on its way to the silver screen right now, and although it doesn’t include any of Steinem’s dream cast, it does feature plenty of A-listers: Julia Taymor’s The Glorias, scheduled for a fall 2020 release, stars Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander, Lulu Wilson, and Ryan Keira Armstrong as Steinem at different ages.

12. Gloria Steinem has lived in the same building for more than half a century.

Gloria Steinem, a couch, and a cat pictured in her apartment in 1992.Michael Brennan/Getty Images

In 1966, Steinem started renting an apartment between Park and Lexington Avenues on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and she’s been living there ever since. She finally bought the apartment in the 1990s, and purchased another one soon after. In 2017, she bought the third of five apartments in the brownstone building, with tentative plans to use it as a meeting place for traveling feminists. After more than 50 years in the city, the native Midwesterner is every bit a true New Yorker as those who were born there—she’s never even learned to drive. “I couldn’t live anywhere else,” she told The New York Times.

13. Gloria Steinem doesn’t dwell on her status as one of the world’s most famous feminists.

Throughout Steinem’s storied, varied career, the through line has always been her commitment to women’s issues. She’s worked tirelessly to legalize abortion, secure congressional votes in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment, create outlets for women in politics and media, and so much more. But she doesn’t necessarily think of herself as the feminist icon that so many see her as.

“You know, I get up every morning and try to remember to do what I’m supposed to do and get my dry cleaning, and so I don’t see myself that way,” she said in an interview with Feminist.com. “I just do the best I can, and try to make some balance between what needs doing and what I can uniquely do.”

14. Gloria Steinem is Christian Bale’s stepmother.

David Bale and Gloria Steinem in 2003.Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Steinem has never been shy about rejecting the idea of settling down and starting a family, so her decision to get married in 2000, at age 66, came as quite a surprise to many people. Not only did she become the wife of British businessman and animal rights activist David Bale, but she also became a stepmother to his son, Oscar-winning actor (and former Batman) Christian Bale.

Steinem’s marriage was tragically cut short when David Bale passed away from brain cancer in 2003. “He had the greatest heart of anyone I’ve ever known,” she said in a statement.

15. Gloria Steinem has no plans to retire.

Gloria Steinem laughs it up with fellow feminist Jameela Jamil at Diane Von Furstenberg's InCharge Conversations conference in March 2020.Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for DVF

Steinem’s relentless work ethic hasn’t slowed at all with age. She’s continued to give talks, champion new organizations, and publish works well into her eighties (her most recent book, The Truth Will Set You Free, But First It Will Piss You Off!, was released in October 2019), and she probably won’t ever retire. “The idea of retiring is as foreign to me as the idea of hunting,” she told Ms. magazine in 2018.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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14 Black Authors You Should Read Right Now

Pexabay, Pexels // CC0
Pexabay, Pexels // CC0

With the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, works on anti-racism have been flying off the shelves of Black-owned bookstores. But anti-racism doesn’t start and end with philosophical theories—it’s also a matter of shifting your current reading patterns. If you’ve found yourself purchasing Stamped but not The Hate U Give or With the Fire on High, then you’re doing yourself a major disservice. To help you get started, here are some groundbreaking Black authors you should read—and a few suggested books for you to check out.

1. Jason Reynolds

Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, Amazon

Jason Reynolds has a true gift when it comes to describing the Black male experience. He began writing poetry at age 9 and published his first novel in 2014. With his books—more than 10 so far—he’s created a space for Black boys to see themselves on the covers of fiction as much more than victims. On his website, Reynolds acknowledges that “I know there are a lot—A LOT—of young people who hate reading. I know that many of these book haters are boys. I know that many of these book-hating boys, don't actually hate books, they hate boredom… even though I'm a writer, I hate reading boring books too.”

Add to Your TBR Pile: The Boy in the Black Suit, Ghost

2. Nic Stone

Nic Stone has been kicking down the door on issues that have been overlooked for decades. Through her books, she brings attention and nuance to subjects like grief, discrimination, and questioning one’s sexuality in a way that has rarely been seen before in Young Adult and Middlegrade fiction. Up until 2013, The New York Times bestselling author didn’t think she could write fiction. “Part of the reason I didn't think I could do it is because I didn't see anyone who looked like me writing the type of stuff I wanted to write (super popular YA fiction),” Stone writes in an FAQ on her website. “But I decided to give it a shot anyway. (Life lesson: If you don't see you, go BE you.)”

Add to Your TBR Pile: Dear Martin, Odd One Out

3. Angie Thomas

Angie Thomas made waves after the release of The Hate U Give, a New York Times Bestseller that was made into a critically acclaimed film. Thomas’s second novel, On the Come Up, takes place in Garden Heights about a year after the events of The Hate U Give. It follows a 16-year-old up-and-coming rapper who goes by the nickname Bri. As a former teen rapper herself, Thomas knows the topic well. Just don’t ask her to participate in a rap battle. “I hoped that with writing these scenes and with showing people the ins and outs of it and the internal part of it, of coming up with freestyles on the spot, that maybe—just maybe more people would respect it as an art form,” Thomas told NPR. “But I can't do it.”

Add to Your TBR Pile: The Hate U Give, On the Come Up

4. Brittney Morris

Simon Pulse/Amazon

In her debut novel, Slay, author Brittney Morris shows the ways that Black people are discriminated against in the gaming industry. In its review, Publisher's Weekly wrote, “This tightly written novel will offer an eye-opening take for many readers and speak to teens of color who are familiar with the exhaustion of struggling to feel at home in a largely white society.”

Add to Your TBR Pile: Slay

5. Nnedi Okorafor

Nnedi Okorafor is a Hugo and Nebula Award-winning Nigerian-American author who intertwines African mysticism and science fiction in her writing, masterfully addressing societal issues while showing us how the world can become a better place. Okorafor never envisioned a career as a writer; she planned to be an entomologist until, as a college student, she was paralyzed from the waist down after back surgery. She began writing to distract herself while she recovered, and never looked back. “Nigeria is my muse,” Okorafor told The New York Times. “The idea of the world being a magical place, a mystical place, is normal there.”

Add to Your TBR Pile: Binti, Akata Witch

6. Tiffany D. Jackson

If you love psychological thrillers and haven’t read Tiffany D. Jackson’s first two novels, you’re missing out: Jackson has an ability to twist elements of her story to include new perspectives while keeping readers second-guessing their own theories. Her writing was influenced by many of the authors she discovered in her teen years. “I was, and still am, a HUGE R.L Stein fan, so his Fear Street series took me into my teen years," she writes on her website. "But then I was introduced to Mary Higgins Clark, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, and Jodi Picoult, to name a few.”

Add to Your TBR Pile: Allegedly, Monday’s Not Coming

7. Nafissa Thompson-Spires

Nafissa Thompson-Spires catalogues the plights of the Black community with stories that are so intricate, they could be true. One story follows a Black cosplayer shot by police; another addresses post-partum depression. She also showcases the joy that surfaces throughout our lives, despite the hardships. Thompson-Spires’s writing has earned her comparisons to the likes of Paul Beatty, Toni Cade Bambara, and Alice Munro. “I think the goal of a writer should be to tell the truth in some way, even if it’s to tell it slant—or to imagine a better version of the truth," she told The Guardian. "We have to find ways to confront difficult subjects.”

Add to Your TBR Pile: Heads of Colored People

8. Justin A. Reynolds

Katherine Tegen Books/Amazon

No, Justin A. Reynolds isn’t related to Jason Reynolds, but he’s just as talented. In his debut novel, Opposite of Always, Reynolds uses common YA tropes in an innovative way; a star-crossed lovers plot with the added effect of time travel truly sets this story apart.

Add to Your TBR Pile: Opposite of Always, Early Departures

9. Tony Medina

Tony Medina, the first Creative Writing professor at Howard University, has published 17 books, and his fight for social justice is evident in his writing. In his graphic novel, I Am Alfonso Jones, Medina uses Hamlet as inspiration for explaining issues of police brutality and social justice to Young Adult readers.

Add to Your TBR Pile: I Am Alfonso Jones

10. Elizabeth Acevedo

Quill Tree Books/Amazon

The Black experience is not a singular one, and Elizabeth Acevedo—whose debut novel, The Poet X, was a New York Times bestseller and won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2018—expands the canon with beautifully detailed Afro-Latinx narratives. “I feel like it’s hard to dream a thing you can’t see," Acevedo said in an interview with Black Nerd Problems. "And I think growing up like I knew I loved music and I loved poetry and I loved the feeling of being with other poets and listening to other stories and thinking, like, I think I can do that just as good.”

Add to Your TBR Pile: The Poet X, With the Fire on High

11. N.K. Jemisin

N.K. Jemisin is a voice for the marginalized in science fiction. She has won a number of awards for her work, including a Nebula Award and two Locust Awards, and she was the first person to win three Hugo Awards for Best Novel in a row, for her Broken Earth trilogy. "I’ll use whatever techniques are necessary to get the story across and I read pretty widely," Jemisin told The Paris Review. "So when people kept saying second person is just not done in science fiction, I was like, well, they said first person wasn’t done in fantasy and I did that with my first novel. I don’t understand the weird marriage to particular techniques and the weird insistence that only certain things can be done in science fiction."

Add to Your TBR Pile: The City We Became, The Fifth Season

12. Renée Watson

Renée Watson uses her novels to address gentrification, discrimination, and what it’s like to grow up as a Black girl. “My motivation to write young adult novels comes from a desire to get teenagers talking," she said in an interview with BookPage. "I hope my books are a catalyst for youth and adults to have conversations with one another, for teachers to have a starting point to discuss difficult topics with students.”

Add to Your TBR Pile: This Side of Home, Piecing Me Together

13. Maika and Maritza Moulite

Inkyard Press/Amazon

In their book Dear Haiti, Love Alaine, Haitian-American sister-author duo Maika and Maritza Moulite have created an exciting and riveting story of self-exploration and the meaning of family. These two have already secured a publishing deal for their next novel, One of the Good Ones.

Add to Your TBR Pile: Dear Haiti, Love Alaine

14. Talia Hibbert

Although you may have heard her name more recently due to her USA Today bestselling novel Get a Life, Chloe Brown, Talia Hibbert isn’t a newcomer to the world of adult and paranormal romance: In books, she writes narratives that often follow characters who are diverse in race, body types, and sexuality—because, as her website bio states, “she believes that people of marginalised identities need honest and positive representation.”

Add to Your TBR Pile: Get a Life, Chloe Brown, A Girl Like Her

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