Gloria Steinem turns 80 tomorrow. Life in the Boomer Lane knows better than to assume that most people are aware of those people who have shaken up the world in ways that change us forever. So, for those of you who missed Gloria Steinem, here is a quick review: She was hot enough, as a young journalist, to go undercover as a Playboy bunny in 1963 to expose the misogynistic world of the Playboy empire. She was prolific enough to have authored several bestsellers. She was witty enough to have coined any number of memorable phrases, including “This is what 50 looks like,” on the occasion of her 50th birthday. She was creative enough to have co-founded New York Magazine and to have founded and run Ms Magazine. She was feisty enough to keep going, in spite of women who were threatened by the idea of taking their lives into their own hands and in spite of men who wanted to turn her into a sex symbol. She has accumulated countless awards, accolades, and honors over her lifetime. She has left her mark, not only on the modern women’s feminist movement, but on culture, human rights, and on our very notion of aging.
In a world that values great beauty, and is often intimidated by extraordinary intelligence, Steinem wore her legendary huge aviator glasses, let her hair do as it wished, and embraced the aging process. Yes, she wore mini-skirts and tight sweaters of the 60s and 70s and looked like a model while she did. Yet she consistently chose substance over style, and for that very reason, became a style icon to women around the planet. She answered to a far more powerful calling than the beauty with which she was born. The gift of Gloria Steinem is that she could walk into a room and have everyone stop to look at her, then open her mouth and have everyone forget what she looked like.
Steinem hasn’t stopped. In the last 30 years, since her famous “This is what 50 looks like” birthday statement, she has published, lobbied, founded national organizations, worked tirelessly toward women having a place in national media. She refuses to be defined by any notion of who or what a women should be, other than someone who uses passions and her abilities to be more than society deems her to be.
Steinem consistently walks the walk, in addition to talking the talk. She will celebrate her 80th birthday riding elephants in Botswana.
Happy birthday, Gloria. We thank you for sharing your vision of what 80 looks like.