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Culture | Feminism

The road to liberation Gloria Steinem’s bold feminism inspired a generation of women. What can it tell us about today’s struggles for equality?

By Sally Feldman

Feminist anger blazes through the pages of Gloria Steinem’s autobiography, My Life on the Road. Here she is, for example, explaining how she came to decide between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as the Democratic presidential candidate.

I was angry because it was okay for two generations of Bush sons to inherit power from a political patriarchy even if they spent no time in the White House, but not okay for one Clinton wife to claim experience and inherit power from a husband whose full political partner she had been for twenty years . . . I was angry about all the women candidates who put their political skills on hold to raise children – and all the male candidates who didn’t. I was angry about the human talent that was lost just because it was born into a female body, and the mediocrity that was rewarded because it was born into a male one. That unassuagable fury has fuelled her approach to life and politics throughout a career devoted to rousing the same rage in countless women and inspiring them to action. And it worked. For those of us responding to the rallying call of women’s liberation in the 1970s, Steinem was a role model, a cheerleader, a voice of passion and reason, the epitome of how women could behave and feel.

But while the last four decades have witnessed what the Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour presenter Jenni Murray calls a “genderquake” in the lives of women, how far has that elusive ambition of equal opportunities and equal treatment been achieved? How much remains to be done?

Steinem has always managed to couple her anger with an unflinching optimism, kept aflame, she maintains, by the endless campaigning: her visits to university campuses, political meetings, gatherings of women across the United States and beyond. She’s been inspired by meeting women from every background and culture – groups of native Americans, Afro-Americans, writers and poets, activists and organisers, and any number of fellow travellers who have all along shared her vision.

In My Life on the Road she extols the virtues of travelling

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New Humanist | Spring 2016

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