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Who is Gloria Steinem? True Story of Her Career, Activism, and Where She Is Now
Gloria Steinem’s lifetime of activism is a pillar of American feminism and politics—her legacy continues to echo across debates on social issues today in 2020. And in FX and Hulu’s Mrs. America, Rose Byrne captures a likeness that has become synonymous with with second-wave feminism that extends into modern American politics.
She’s portrayed in the series as a famous figurehead of the women’s movement, fighting for the Equal Rights Amendment, the ongoing battle for abortion access, her groundbreaking work in journalism, and her presence in Shirley Chisholm’s campaign. Here’s a deeper look at Steinem’s real life and career that Mrs. America doesn’t show.
Her Work in Journalism
Though many know Steinem for founding Ms. magazine in 1972, Steinem’s early bylines appeared in publications like New York Magazine and Esquire. In fact, one of her earliest major published works was “The Moral Disarmament of Betty Coed,” which ran in Esquire in 1962. Much of her work challenged gender norms and the expectations that are placed upon women, ranging from employment to contraception.
Ms. magazine came later. Originally intended to be a special edition of New York, Ms. eventually grew into its own, largely successful publication. The left-leaning feminist magazine was published monthly for 15 years before moving to a quarterly basis. The magazine was revolutionary upon its release, providing a publication for women, by women, discussing issues that were often too taboo for other publications to cover. In the series, Steinem’s character is seen working at the offices. She faced no shortage of criticism from opponents of the magazine. As depicted in the series, Screw magazine ran a centerfold of a nude Steinem with the caption “Pin the Cock on the Feminist.”
Her Battle For Abortion Access
One of Steinem’s greatest passions was her desire for women to have autonomy over reproductive rights. A big part of that advocacy started in 1969, when she covered an abortion “speak-out” for New York magazine. In the series, Steinem is seen advocating for reproductive rights and access to abortion, famously working at the 1972 Democratic National Convention to bring the plank of abortion rights to the convention floor. In an episode that further investigates Steinem’s past, viewers see a flashback to her own 1957 abortion, which Steinem has opened up about in recent years.
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In her most recent book, My Life on the Road, Steinem dedicates the book to a physician named Dr. Sharpe, writing:
Knowing that she had broken an engagement at home to seek an unknown fate, he said, “You must promise me two things. First, you will not tell anyone my name. Second, you will do what you want to do with your life.” Dear Dr. Sharpe, I believe you, who knew the law was unjust, would not mind if I say this so long after your death: I’ve done the best I could with my life. This book is for you.
The scene plays out in the series, with a doctor telling a young Steinem the same lines. Though an important aspect of her work, Steinem’s activism goes well beyond reproductive rights.
Her Other Activism and Legacy
Though Steinem’s role in Mrs. America tends to trend more toward general women’s issues, Steinem has dedicated her career to a wide-range of topics, including female genital mutilation and same-sex marriage. In 1970, Steinem wrote about same-sex marriage in Time, advocating for a world where the restrictions placed on parenting and marriage were simply notions of the past.
Steinem’s work advocating for the Equal Rights Amendment anchored the initiative to the left and helped ensure that women of many creeds—not just straight, white women—were counted among those affected by the feminist movement in America.
Justin Kirkland is a writer for Esquire, where he focuses on entertainment, television, and pop culture.