Skip to main content

An Icon at 90: Gloria Steinem’s Enduring Quest for Equality

Equality Now is proud to celebrate the 90th birthday of the revered writer, political activist, and feminist organizer, Gloria Steinem.

Gloria’s association with Equality Now began with our founding over 30 years ago. Over the years, Gloria has supported our mission, and her contributions have been invaluable in advancing our work. She plays an integral role as a founding member of Equality Now’s  Advisory Board, serving as a Board Member from 2010 to 2016 and currently the Chair, Board Emeritus.

With her considered insight, together, we have advocated for vital policy changes and raised awareness about the critical issues that continue to impact women and girls worldwide. We are thankful to be part of her rich legacy and to recognize her as an important part of our own history.

To mark her 90th birthday, we want to share nine moments from Gloria’s lifetime of activism: 

1. Supporting Equality Now and the Women’s Liberation Movement through grassroots organizing.

Gloria’s years of expertise have helped guide Equality Now’s growth and ensure our continued international presence and impact. Her history in grassroots organizing began with a two-year period in India in the 1950s during which she studied Mahatma Gandhi’s protest strategy and joined local movements. This experience in grassroots activism in particular has broadened Equality Now’s toolkit so that we can better complete our essential work. We now work with various partners, including small grassroots activists working at the community level. 

Gloria continues this work today, joining protests supporting various social justice movements and working alongside Smith College to record and honor the US women’s rights movement. Smith College’s Special Collections Reading Room, which contains information on women’s history and grassroots activism, was renamed in honor of Gloria in 2022.

Gloria at Equality Now's 10th Anniversary
Gloria at Equality Now’s 10th Anniversary

2. Mobilizing women in politics and increasing the number of women in elected positions

In the 1960s, Gloria made her mark as a journalist, initially covering various women’s rights issues. Later, she became a prominent figure in the Women’s Liberation Movement, addressing various topics from workplace equality to sexual and reproductive rights. 

In 1971, she co-founded the National Women’s Political Caucus (NWPC), a milestone in her quest to empower women in politics. The Caucus supports female, pro-choice candidates to expand women’s political participation and the number of women in elected positions. Thanks in part to their efforts, there are now 421 women mayors in the United States, compared to only 7 in 1971. There are also 151 women in Congress, compared to 15 in 1971. 

An increased number of women in elected positions equates to greater representation and the likelihood of more policies that benefit women, such as paid leave and abortion.

3. Catapulting feminist topics to the national stage

The following year, Gloria co-founded Ms. Magazine, the first feminist magazine. She revolutionized how the media discussed and portrayed women’s issues at the time and provided content women hungered for. The magazine’s test issue sold out in just eight days! 

In her satirical essay, “If Men Could Menstruate,” published in Ms. Magazine in 1978, Gloria theorized what would happen if men could menstruate, and women could not. She imagined a world that suddenly admired and envied periods, and used periods to justify men’s elevated role in society.

“Whatever a “superior” group has will be used to justify its superiority, and whatever and [sic] “inferior” group has will be used to justify its plight.”

Steinem, G. (2020, July 25). If Men Could Menstruate. National Library of Medicine.

Her writing and activism challenged societal norms, prompting widespread conversations about women’s rights, equality, and the pressing issues women faced worldwide.

4. Helping raise millions of dollars for Equality Now

Over the years, Gloria consistently served as the co-chair of  Equality Now’s Make Equality Reality Gala. Thanks to her support, Equality Now has raised over three million dollars through the gala since 2012, better preparing us to fulfill our mission to create a more equitable world for women and girls. At the 2014 Gala, we honored Gloria’s lifelong commitment to women’s rights.

5. Advancing the pro-choice agenda

Beyond co-founding the NWPC, Gloria fought for women’s right to choose by co-founding Choice USA (now URGE) and Voters for Choice (which later merged with the Planned Parenthood Action Fund). Both groups continue to advocate nationally for reproductive rights and women’s bodily autonomy. Their leadership resulted in major successes and events like URGE’s annual Abortion Positive Tour, which provides young people the opportunity to discuss abortion openly.

“The truth is that next to air, water and food, the ability of a woman to decide when and whether to give birth is the most powerful and common determinant of whether she is healthy or not, educated or not, working outside the home or not, active in civic and political life or not, and how long she’s likely to live.”

Steinem, G. (2010, October 29). Why Mama Grizzlies Vote Pro-Choice. Women’s Media Center.

One of Gloria’s first articles, “The Moral Disarmament of Betty Coed,” published in 1962, examines contraceptive pills and ‘the contraceptive revolution.’ She describes how contraception gives women greater freedom and control over their lives, for example by allowing women to marry later or continue working after marriage. 

Later, Gloria also created the term ‘reproductive freedom,’ further speaking to her influence and advocacy efforts in the pro-choice movement.

6. Championing an inclusive feminist movement

Gloria fights for the full equality of all people, which can’t be achieved without first acknowledging the intersection of race, class, sexuality, and other aspects of identity. She has always seen the need for a movement that belongs to everyone.

In the 1970s, she embarked on a five-year speaking tour with Dorothy Pitman Hughes, a Black activist, during which they engaged the grassroots, spoke about their unique experiences as women, and fought to bring attention to the stories of Black women. During a lecture at the Naval Academy in 1972, Gloria spoke of the need for human history, not just white male history.

“What we really need is women’s history and black history and Chicana history and Indian history and really we should, in fact, call it remedial history in order to express how cruelly and how hostilely everybody except white males have been left out of the history books up until now.”

Parry-Giles, S. J., de Saint Feliz, S., & Montgomery, F. (Eds.). (n.d.). Speech to Naval Academy, (4 May 1972) Annapolis, MD. Mark & Heather Rosenker Center for Political Communication & Civic Leadership.

“[R]acism and sexism are intertwined and can only be uprooted together.”

Steinem, G. (2020, March 5). 50 Years Ago, Gloria Steinem Wrote an Essay for TIME About Her Hopes for Women’s Futures. Here’s What She’d Add Today. TIME.

As an intersectional feminist, Gloria has joined various social justice movements worldwide, including pushing for the end of militarism and climate change, supporting the rights of telephone workers, and more.

7. Underlining the link between patriarchal norms and self-esteem

In addition to educating the public through essays and articles, Gloria wrote several bestselling books, including ‘Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem’ and ‘Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellion.’ 

Revolution from Within, published in 1992, highlighted the need for internal and external change and how societal norms seek to diminish women’s self-esteem. Her novel has touched millions worldwide, helping women find their voice and regain the confidence that might have been stripped away by our patriarchal society. The book continues to resonate with readers, as evident in its rerelease in 2020.

“Words may change, from self-esteem and self-respect to Gay Pride and Black Lives Matter, but the principle remains the same. Valuing the unique self within each of us is the source of democracy and rebelling against injustice.”

Steinem, G. (n.d.). Revolution from within: A book of self-esteem: Paperback. Barnes & Noble.

“We need to be long-distance runners to make a real social revolution. And you can’t be a long-distance runner unless you have some inner strength.” Editors. (2009, December 16). Gloria Steinem.

Gloria seizes opportunities to help her fellow women, whether that means advocating for far-reaching policies or providing inspiration for the individual.

8. Elevating women’s voices in the media

Gloria worked alongside Jane Fonda and Robin Morgan to create the Women’s Media Center. The Center aims to increase the number of women working in media to guarantee that women’s and girls’ voices are heard and have space on the national stage. Their research and reports underscore the continued disparity between men and women in media, and their training and leadership programs help women advance in their careers.

Equality Now recognizes the importance of women’s voices, which led to the development of the US Public Voices Fellowship on Advancing the Rights of Women and Girls, created in partnership with The OpEd Project and Senior Advisor Ann MacDougall. Fellows receive a year of training and mentorship to help elevate their work.

For social norms to change, women’s stories must be heard. Gloria has paved the way for more women to bring their voices to a national audience and have influence in the media industry.

9. Transforming the workplace for women

Gloria leads by example. At Ms. Magazine in the 1960s, pregnant women and working mothers were welcome, and they had the option to bring their children to the magazine’s daycare center. More recently, she supported the Make It Work campaign, which aimed to guarantee subsidized childcare, paid leave, and more. 

In the 1960s, she went undercover at the Playboy Club. Her following article titled “A Bunny’s Tale” outlined terrible work conditions, such as low pay and required gynecologist exams; routine objectification; and sexual exploitation. Hugh Hefner ended the practice of mandatory health exams after Gloria’s exposé.

In the 1970s, she spoke with the Smithsonian Institution Women’s Council and pointed out that “[the] entire maintenance crew was black and the women handled the mops and dustcloths, while the men used machines.”  This conversation led to an internal investigation, resulting in additional training opportunities for women, access to machinery positions, and higher pay.

Gloria has never stopped raising awareness and advocating for women’s continued presence in all industries, calling out differing expectations and stereotypes. In a speech to graduating college students, she once said, “the technical definition of women’s work is shit work.”

The result of her efforts is a transformed workplace that is more welcoming, safe, and fair for women.

Gloria Steinem’s impact on the Women’s Liberation Movement has created lasting change with effects reverberating across generations. She continues to advocate for women and girls everywhere and inspires change through her writing, media appearances, lectures, and more. Without Gloria Steinem, the world would not be what it is, and women would not have the voice they do.