At The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio, we recognize those change agents that came before us, and paved a way for growth. By doing so we hope to celebrate those who have inspired us, and encourage every woman to step into her role as a change agent. Today, we celebrate Gloria Steinem, who is, in many ways, the original change agent for women and girls’ gender equality.
Gloria Steinem holds many titles. She is a writer, an editor, an activist, and a trailblazer. All these titles together are what make Gloria such a powerful and impacting individual. Labeling her with only one of her many titles would limit the affect she has had and continues to have on our society. There is something even beyond her actions and accomplishments, a spirit that whispers from the past, dominates the present, and guides us toward a future of equality for all.
“We need to remember across generations,” Steinem said, “that there is as much to learn as there is to teach.”
An Ohio native, Gloria was born in Toledo in 1934, Steinem grew up there before leaving for Smith College in Massachusetts. Steinem’s roots inspire me, as I am a product of Northern Ohio. My grandparents live 30 minutes outside of Toledo, and every time I visit them I am overwhelmed with the sense of self-ownership of the region. In the face of larger social forces or oppressions, lives are made and broken by hard-work and perseverance – the same kind of hard work and perseverance that Steinem exudes.
Identifying as a feminist and an active fighter for equality takes courage and the willingness to fight for a lifetime.
In an interview for the New York Daily News, Steinem explained that “women and girls no longer feel crazy, alone or flying in the face of nature if they have the outrageous idea that they should be treated as full human beings.” Simply knowing the accomplishments and struggle of Steinem is enough to feel part of a larger network of leaders, let alone the countless individuals I have met so far that understand the overwhelming feeling of denying what nature or society has deemed correct. “Knowing that the system is crazy, not you is a huge leap forward.”
When Steinem spoke at Keyholder in 2007, The Women’s Fund focused on Tributes, our way of referring to the women who inspire us across generations. At the Women’s Fund we believe in paying tribute to the people in our lives who have invested in our potential. We do this by sending a letter in honor or memory of an individual when you make a donation on their behalf. Steinem herself has roots in past generations of the women’s movement: her grandmother was the president of the Ohio Women’s Suffrage Association. Whether you have a grandmother, mother, mentor, or teacher that has inspired you toward who you are today, there is no doubt that they have been influenced by Gloria Steinem.
“A liberated woman is one who has sex before marriage and a job after,” Steinem famously said, a notion that was completely foreign to America less than 50 years ago. Today: a liberated woman can choose to not be married, or married with no kids, or not married with many kids. Same-sex marriage is a reality. The America we live in is much brighter than it was, but travesties against women, minorities, lower-wage works, etc. still must be fought for.
Steinem fueled the American second-wave of feminism, barreling the necessity for human rights and feminism through time by working on the ground at rallies and at her writer/editor position at New York magazine. Later, she began creating organizations that continue to support these goals.
In a TIME online article from 2010, “The 25 Most Powerful Women of the Past Century,” writer Meredith Melnick correctly states “It would be hard to find an American women’s rights organization that does not owe its creation in part to Steinem.” From her own Ms. Foundation for Women, to her co-founder position at the Women’s Media Center, Voters for Choice, Choice USA.
She’s never stopped. Gloria is the epitome of onward movement. Instead of slowing down she continues to gather collective passion and move the needle forward for social change.
All of these organizations are thriving, and increasing their efforts each day. In 2008, an election notorious for its use of sexist claims against Hillary Clinton, Steinem publically pulled hard for Clinton, continuing the support that she has given to women in power for decades.
In an article for Ms. Magazine’s Winter/Spring 2014 issue, “Why the Revolution Has Just Begun,” Steinem states “At my age, in this still hierarchical time, people often ask me if I’m “passing the torch.” I explain that I’m keeping my torch, thank you very much—and I’m using it to light the torches of others.” She continues, “Only if each of us has a torch will there be enough light.”
As a writer, Gloria inspires me to find passion in my subjects, look for the untold stories, and never take my voice for granted. As a feminist, I can only thank her for her work, for creating a better world in which I and my fellow feminists can light our torches with her strength and walk together, never disregarding the past but always looking forward, aiming for what she, and I, know is possible: equality for all.
The work of the women’s movement is still happening, and we look to Steinem as an example of a strong voice for human rights. To me, she is exactly what a change agent looks like.
Written by Hannah Ticoras, Women’s Fund Intern