I just love Gloria Steinem! I was given more reasons to love her last night, after watching the new HBO documentary Gloria: In Her Own Words. Gloria is the prime example of “the personal is political.” Throughout the film she offers very personal anecdotes from her life. Through her intimate accounts with the viewer, it’s almost like having a conversation, as well as a history lesson, with her in your living room.At one point she describes realizing that personal struggles should not have to be a secret. This is the foundation of the film and one of her many inspiring messages for viewers.
When it begins, the documentary plunges into the world of the 1960s. It opens with archived clips of women marching for their rights contrasted with audio of sexist news anchors. This is especially important for my generation, as we’ve grown up in a world where we don't see this anymore. We have the legal right to abortions, we can have the same jobs as men, and there are no bars that discriminate against women. The film dually appeals to those being introduced to Gloria Steinem as well as for those who remember every news clip being aired. At one point Gloria provides this message to the younger generation: “It’s not important that they know who I am, but that they know who they are.” While I agree with the second part, I think it is important that people know who she is and I’m glad that I now know more about her.
The film goes chronologically, tracing Steinem’s beginnings as a journalist and her initial frustrations within the field. Her boss would proposition her daily, and she recalls having “no words for sexual harassment.” It was just something accepted as the norm. She also recalls people’s assumption that would plague her; that she was only getting assignments and moving ahead in her career because she was pretty. There are images and clips from her infamous 1963 undercover Playboy bunny expose. This was the assignment that unfortunately furthered the assumption that she wasn’t serious and only a pretty face, but it was also another spark towards Steinem’s feminist consciousness. She summarizes the whole experience as like being “hung on a meat hook.” The costume was so tight it would have given a man cleavage, she explains, and the whole experience was both humiliating and difficult beyond belief.
More and more as the film went on I kept thinking there was so much I hadn’t known before! It was great to see all of the news clips. The clips with all of the women marching, fighting, and the bits of Gloria’s speeches were inspiring. While the clips of the sexist news anchors, whom did everything in their power to try to stop the women’s movement, were completely ridiculous. Most of the stuff they said made me laugh because it was so shocking. I kept turning to my mom with my jaw to the floor. They said that on the news?! The whole film was a testament to Gloria’s strength and resilience in the face of all that most of all.
While her struggles were recalled, there were also her joys and victories. There were clips from amazing Gloria speeches with words such as, “We are the women that our parents warned us about, and we are proud!” That definitely gave me chills. It was also fascinating to hear about the beginnings of Ms. Magazine from her, even though I knew most of the story already. (They didn’t expect it to last six months and the magazine is still going strong almost 40 years later!)There were also fun tidbits, such as the real reason she’s always had blonde highlights (There’s a Breakfast at Tiffany’s connection!) and the purpose behind her huge frames. I also had never seen her tap dance, so that was particularly wonderful and fun.
At the beginning of the film Gloria recalls not having the definition for feminism when she was starting out as a journalist. I can remember a time when I didn’t have a definition for feminism either. Gloria posted a question on Twitter last night asking, “What do you want the future of feminism to look like?” To simplify my answer, I want everyone to be born with feminism. It won’t be a discovery or a call to action anymore, because the equality in society will just be. As Gloria hypothesizes, when that happens we won’t need a definition or word for it anymore. But until then, I walked away from this film feeling even more proud to call myself a feminist and more inspired to put Gloria’s words into action.