by Suzanne Braun Levine
I am really looking forward to interviewing Gloria Steinem at the Milford Readers and Writers Festival. She has played such an important role in my life for over 40 years.
I was hired at Ms. Magazine for my magazine experience, not my feminist credentials. That was clear when I showed up for work in a pink(!) version of the Career Gal uniform: tailored blouse, pencil skirt — and a girdle. My new boss Gloria Steinem and the rest of the staff were in more comfortable and less “acceptable” clothes. Which was sensible, given that the office furniture was orange crates and three-legged cast off desks.
I had a lot to learn about uniforms and defiance, but so did we all.
In those days, women wearing pants were not admitted to New York restaurants; employment ads were segregated “Help Wanted – male” and “help Wanted – female;” I couldn’t get a loan without my husband’s signature; little girls who wanted to play baseball, as I did, could only dream about the Little League. And there were no women in orchestras (which only changed once applicants auditioned behind a curtain). In fact, there were virtually no women in government, in corporate leadership, in science – or in any positions of power.
Gloria played a big role in defining feminism and changing that world. The magazine she founded became the place women went to tell their stories, get support, and mobilize. On the road and in print, she was brave, generous, funny and smart. “The truth will set you free,” she has said, “but first it will piss you off.”
The Ms. office became a safe haven for the staff too; it was a running joke when of us would return from an especially trying weekend out in the world, with relief. We called it the Thank-God-it’s-Monday Club.
Over the years, there were many breakthroughs and milestones to celebrate and heart-breaking setbacks that required us to regroup. We have come out ahead. Today we can wear just about anything we want, do any job there is (except, as Bella Abzug famously said, “sperm donor”), join the Little League and admire Serena Williams. We have fought for legislation that gives womensome measure of protection from some of the experiences – family violence, job discrimination and harassment, second class citizenship — that, as Gloria has said, “used to be called ‘life’.”
Of course, there is a lot more to do – for one thing the wage gap between men and women has hardly budged (women earn around 79 cents to every dollar earned by men)– but we are now a force to contend with; it is no longer every woman for herself. Every woman IS herself. We all have Gloria’s leadership to thank for that.
And I have Gloria’s friendship to thank for much more. Over the years, we have edited each other, celebrated and mourned together, ridden elephants in Africa together, and laughed (a lot) together. She visited my brother in the AIDS ward of San Francisco General Hospital, and last year I was at the White House when President Obama awarded her the highest civilian honor, the Congressional Medal of Freedom.
In other words, we will have a lot to talk about on October 1.