Gloria Steinem: The Face of 1960s Women’s Liberation

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The Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1960s as captured by the documentary makers triumphed through various phases. As the documentary suggests, the movement would eventually require that the initial leadership of the movement, led primarily by Betty Friedan, would need to step aside for the burgeoning movement to become more established and, ultimately, change the traditional power structure. Thus, the ascension of Gloria Steinem as a women’s liberation leader began when the growing rift between various emerging women’s liberation subgroups and the Betty Friedan/Emma Goldman-era feminists. The change in leadership led to the creation of a women’s magazine designed for modern women’s interests.

While Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique undoubtedly sparked the women’s movement, the growth of movement necessitated that Betty Friedan’s feminists relinquish leadership as they were older and more concerned integration into society. Makers address the issue of race, class, and education as it notes that black, poor, or uneducated are not necessarily included in the full integration of women’s liberation plans. It could be argued that as the women’s movement worked parallel to the Civil Rights movement, their goals were complementary. The power structure was contested by various subgroups and women would be best aligning their ultimate goals with those of the overall Civil Rights movements. The documentary never explicitly addresses the issue of the complementary nature of these movements instead choosing to focus on the viewpoint of traditional male viewpoints from the 60s vis-a-vis the Women’s Liberation movement.

Gloria Steinem reflected the younger new wave of feminists, such as the Guerilla Girls, who were in tune with the needs of the subgroups. Aside from their ideological differences, the documentary women’s movement panel noted the physical and materialistic differences and advantages to Steinem over Friedan. The co-founder of Ms. magazine Letty Cottin-Pogrebin noted that Steinem was “in her own body and presentation can tell you can have any man you want and still be critical of men” (Makers). The assertion that Steinem’s primary benefit over Friedan was that she was attractive and young underlines the degree of collaboration with the existing power structure the women sought to change. The movement required someone who could become the face of the movement in front of the media and challenge the perceptions of traditional society that viewed them as merely “angry, hysterical women” (Makers). The issue of societal perceptions would eventually become the basis for the establishment of a formal outlet for women’s issues.

Gloria Steinem’s career in journalism began as an offshoot of her mother’s submission of her own journalism career. Steinem wanted to avoid becoming a “mother of, wife of” a man and discard her life’s ambitions (Makers). The documentary steadily notes that Steinem’s journalism career began well enough as a journalist for the New York Times. However, she is quickly discriminated against when her roles are primarily to cover topics regard female roles towards men or women’s garments. Despite Steinem’s assertiveness to attempt to cover top political figures, she is redirected to cover their wives. This discrimination against her only serves to forge a greater sense of indignation towards the power structure at the NY Times and society. Steinem’s refusal to accept the NY Times pigeonhole leads her to cover a 1969 public hearing on abortion. Her coverage of the hearing and her sympathy towards the women’s activists who questioned the panel does not go unnoticed. Her colleagues suggest to Steinem that she worked hard to be taken seriously and to “not get involved with these crazy women” of the 1969 public hearing and the women’s movement as a whole (Makers). The issue of the women’s movement being led by essentially hysterical women would become the basis for Steinem to found Ms. Magazine.

Steinem believed feminism would never be taken seriously in journalism as it then existed. When media predictions likewise dismissed the magazine as becoming solely interested in “marriage, role exchanging, and the female identity crisis” it notes how the power structure was both dismissive and intolerant of an independent media publication founded by the women’s movement (Makers). The creation of Ms. magazine established that women required an outlet for their issues as the traditional power structure created by men would be either hostile or dismissive of their issues. As men viewed women’s issues as primarily materialistic or petty, women viewed men’s stranglehold on the active, public discussion of gender roles as intolerant and antiquated. In many ways, Makers serves to show how even early feminists were trapped in that worldview by their environment. Only an open discussion led by Steinem and new feminists would enable such an evolution of the women’s movement.

Work Cited

McGee, Dyllan, Betsy West, and Peter Kunhardt. Makers. Kunhardt McGee Productions, 2013. Web. 16 Oct. 2013.