G-L-O-R-I-A - We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby
by Kathleen Parker
October 01, 2012 12:00 AM | 1378 views | 3 3 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Gloria Steinem is unmistakable. Across the room surrounded by a clutch of admirers, she is utterly ageless — sleek and svelte in black form-fitting pants and top, a gold braided belt with sparkly fleurettes draped along her slender hips.

At 78, she looks, well, fabulous.

“I suppose it’s not very feminist of us to comment on how great she looks,” says the woman next to me, apparently feeling compelled to inject the appropriate corrective.

But at a certain age, isn’t a woman happy to accept a compliment? And haven’t we come a long way, baby?

Judging by the current debate in some Republican circles, one has occasion to pause and wonder.

The purpose of the Thursday evening gathering in a private home was to celebrate “Makers: The Women Who Make America,” a multiplatform video production from PBS, AOL and Makers.com, which launched in February 2012.

The documentary chronicles the history of the women’s movement and features women who have, indeed, made things happen so that subsequent generations could do what women were not allowed to do not so long ago — to become doctors, lawyers, legislators, secretaries of state and, perhaps, even president.

Among those assembled were seven of the Makers who appear in the film, including, in addition to Steinem, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, actress Marlo “That Girl” Thomas, Rebecca Adamson (founder of First Peoples Worldwide), Karen Nussbaum (executive director of Working America and founder of 9to5), Malika Saada Saar (executive director, Human Rights Project for Girls) and Muriel Siebert (the first woman to earn a seat on the New York Stock Exchange and namesake of the investment firm Siebert & Co.).

That’s quite a lot of feminine — and feminist — power in one room. Quoting John F. Kennedy, Steinem said there hasn’t been so much talent in one place since Thomas Jefferson was alone in a room. “Except now,” she cracked, “we know Sally Hemings was probably doing the writing.”

The centerpiece of the evening was a preview of excerpts from the documentary, which is scheduled for release in February 2013, the 50th anniversary of Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique.”

In one interview, Ginsburg recalls being one of nine women in a class of 500 men at Harvard Law School. Ginsburg remembered being herded into a room with the other women where a professor asked why they were taking up seats that could be filled with men. She later transferred to Columbia University, where she finished first in her class.

Other women tell similar, barrier-breaking tales. All remind us that women really have come a long way, often, one hastens to mention, with the help of enlightened men. Ginsburg paid homage to her husband, who gave up his own successful law practice to follow her to Washington so that she could accept her place on the Supreme Court. He never felt slighted, she said, noting that he was also an excellent cook.

The film, which deserves to be a family event and is certain to spark animated conversations, provides recognition along with reminders that women’s rights didn’t just happen. They were earned by generations of women who refused to accept that they were limited by their sex. Being demure wasn’t part of the strategy. Sometimes, one of the interviewees said, you have to kick down the door.

The value of the film can’t be overstated. We have lived in a feminist world for decades, yet younger generations have no sense of the struggle. And though we are correctly horrified at the disenfranchisement of women in other parts of the world, it is useful to recall that American women’s freedoms are relatively fresh.

Steinem, her fire somewhat tempered by time and grace, noted that loss of memory is the source of oppression. For centuries, women’s stories weren’t told. Women had no place at the campfire, as she put it.

Had there been a “Makers” initiative earlier in our history, said Steinem, we might have known that Mozart had a sister, whom Mozart called “the talented one.”

We might have known that before there was Martin Luther King, there was Ella Baker, the African-American civil and human rights activist from the 1930s. That the guide and translator for Lewis and Clark was a woman who made the same trip the men did while pregnant, nursing and carrying a toddler.

The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist, Steinem insists, nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights. Here’s to memory.

Kathleen Parker is a columnist for The Washington Post
Comments-icon Post a Comment
October 05, 2012

You write about Steinem like Pitts writes about Obama. Grow up!

The values that you espouse are none that my wife supports and it only makes me love her more.
October 02, 2012
Wow! What a blast from the past. Gloria Steinem is so early 1960ish. I bet under all those stylish clothes Kathleen Parker was raving about she was wearing a Depends incontinence brief.
Harry Hagan
October 01, 2012
Oh, yes, you've come so far, Gloria and company.

Just look at the times-1962 vs. 2012. Wow!

Family, culture, and nation in shambles. Great work, gals! Before you fine folks came along, women were being held prisoners in their own homes. Just look at the TV shows at the time; Beaver, Father knows best (how benighted and oppressive!)Andy Griffith, Dick van Dyke Show. Intact, corny, sqeaky-clean (isn't that the reliable barb from the left at anything wholesome?)shows the whole family could watch (back when there were whole families).

There's a biological imperative in all women who aren't, like Betty, Erica, Gloria, Ruth, et al, misfit misanthropes, to have babies and actually raise them. They want to get married to grown up men who will, and can, provide for them and their children. It has been true and hasn't changed throughout recorded history. But since you sweet dears came along and "liberated" your oppressed sisters, men can have the milk without buying the cow, as it were. So who's really liberated here, girls? How many babies have been offed in your great cause? Tell us, Gloria, Betty, and Erica, the successes of your children. That would be a great read. Why don't you, Kathleen, tell us the other side of feminism, and the great joys of single-motherhood? About "having it all"? About dropping the kids off at some daycare where you have no idea, all too often, how your progeny are being cared for. About the pain, daily, of parting with your most prized possessions.

A simple glance around at what this nation has become, in far too many repetitions, and who's running it, tells me all I need to know about your glorious revolution. I think we all know.
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