A while back, my son Adam and I struck a deal. He could stay up late for a Harry Potter flick if he watched a documentary with me called, Gloria in Her Words. The “Gloria” of the title was, of course, Gloria Steinem. Gloria Steinem is what Maya Angelou calls a “shero” of mine. She cleared the way for my mother to go to graduate school and open up her own checking account. She is the woman responsible for the fact that medical and law school classes are almost 50 percent women.
True, there can never exactly be another Gloria Steinem. She oversaw an unprecedented social revolution that transformed the world forever. But there doesn’t seem on obvious heir ready to take the mantle of feminist leadership from Steinem. Why is that? By my count we’re on the fourth wave of feminism.
Where is this generation’s Gloria Steinem? Where is the one true, clear voice decrying the Ultrasound Bill? In 2012 seven states require a woman to undergo an ultrasound before terminating a pregnancy. And that bill was downgraded from a mandatory transvaginal ultrasound—a decidedly more painful and humiliating procedure. Where is the outrage over degrading a woman that has elected to have a legal medical procedure?
I’d like to tell you that discovering Steinem and understanding the origins of gender equality thrilled Adam. Alas, he passed most of the time playing with his Game Boy (note there is no Game Girl) until it was time to board the Hogwarts Express. But I take his disinterest as evidence of Gloria Steinem’s stunning success. Professional women, working women are the rule rather than the exception for him. He doesn’t think it’s unusual that his sister wants to become a doctor.
At one point in the documentary, Adam paused his game when archival footage of the suffrage movement caught his attention. He was shocked that women had not always been allowed to vote. His great-grandmother – who came to this country when she was barely 2 – was 30 years old when she legally cast her first vote.
Yes, we’ve come a long way, baby. When I was a child that meant that women finally had their own cigarette brand. By the time I was a teenager, we got our first national magazine. One of the documentary’s biggest hoots was to hear the male anchormen of my childhood predict the demise of Ms. Magazine and trip over the dated words: “women’s liberation.”
Ms. Magazine took off and in high schools and colleges more women were gradually added to the cannon in literature courses. Thank you, Gloria Steinem. But we’re not there yet. According to VIDA: Women in the Literary Arts, women have been notably absent on a number of literary prize shortlists this season. That might only seem reasonable to the novelist V.S. Naipaul, who thinks no woman is his literary equal. I dare him to say that in front of Toni Morrison.
When I was Adam’s age I was stumped by a riddle about a father and son who get into a car accident and need surgery. The surgeon on call takes one look at the boy and says, “I can’t operate on this child; he’s my son.”
“Why?” I asked Adam. “That’s easy,” Adam said. “The surgeon is the boy’s mother.”
Thank you, Gloria Steinem.