The Sunday, March 16th edition of The New York Times ran an article by Sarah Hepola titled “Gloria Steinem, A Woman Like No Other”. The piece asks why no one has stepped in to Steinem’s role as a feminist leader; in Hepola’s words, “Where is the next Gloria Steinem, and why — decades after the media spotlight first focused on her — has no one emerged to take her place?”
I was two years old when Steinem presented her testimony during the Senate Hearings on the ERA and the women’s movement on May 6, 1970. (Steinem’s words come alive in this brief video of Inspirational Speeches of the Twentieth Century. Steinem’s speech is at 1:29). I’m now forty-three years old, and a lot has changed since the days when my mother (a former teacher), my mother-in-law (a secretary) and my grandmother (a former nurse) considered their career options. You could say that everything’s changed since then…and not just the music,
The U.S. Oratory Project’s Voices Of Democracy, Volume 3, includes a 2008 contribution by Penn State’s Jill M. Weber describing Steinem: “Defining herself as a professional, a participant in mainstream politics, and an advocate for workers and children, Steinem showed that she was not just some angry radical—as some of the ERA opponents and some media had characterized feminists. Rather, she appeared as a credible and reliable witness, capable of speaking not only for the women's movement but on behalf of all U.S. women. (p. 169-170).
I feel the road Steinem and others paved for women like me has been well-traveled but often unnoticed. Growing up, I always saw my career options as countless – and for the record, I did not come from a family of unlimited means. Unlike my mother’s and my grandmother’s generations, I always believed my future aspirations were endless.
Countless reports cite Steinem as an initially hesitant player in the spotlight of the women’s movement, yet somehow, she managed the reins. Today she’s 78 years old and still speaking out. What many may not realize is the ongoing, complicated debate between a woman’s role in society versus feminism, particularly as the landscapes of our politics, family lives and professional paths have shifted.
I never knew a world in which I had to fight for my rights as a woman. As a one-year-old, I certainly had no idea that Erma Bombeck’s column appeared in over 500 U.S. newspapers or that her income afforded her Midwestern family a lavish home in Arizona, but my mother sure did. By the time I was eleven, Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister. I was sixteen when Walter Mondale selected Geraldine Ferraro as his Vice Presidential running mate, and I was forty years old when Sarah Palin was asked to…oh never mind.
I don’t know if anyone necessarily needs to take Steinem’s place, particularly since she’s still here and still offering her opinions. Nor do I know who might possibly take her place – or whether a successor’s even necessary. Are women and men treated equally? Depends on whom you ask. Do we need to fight for women’s rights? All I know is, I’m fortunate to be surrounded by people who’ve never once made gender an issue. However, I care about the women who must fight to earn the same wage as their male contemporaries, the women who are somehow spurned for earning more than men. I hate that I still hear a strong woman referred to as a bitch-on-wheels and a sensitive man considered weak. But who’s responsible to fight over these issues? In my opinion, it’s up to each one of us.