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How Gloria Steinem Founded the Second Women’s Movement (Book Review)

If you ask people who or how the women’s movement started, some will try to be funny and answer “women.” For those who were involved in the Second Wave Feminism or the new generation that continues to follow in its footsteps, they will most likely say Gloria Steinem. The journalist used her reporting and writing skills to teach America that society’s gender politics were abstracted to form a male-approved painting. One with the rules, guidelines and final projects made entirely by men. Steinem knew women made a part of this painting, so they too had the right to be the painters not the subjects. As a “girl reporter”, Gloria Steinem reported the events that would help her become a leader of the women’s movement. “Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions” is composed of Steinem’s essays with gender and political-related topics. They range from the early 1960s to the 1980s, which create an autobiographical narration. The book was first published in 1983 followed by a second edition in 1995. It features a new preface by Steinem and the essays include notes on how the stories effected her and society. gloriasteinem The 1963 article “I Was a Playboy Bunny” begins the trailblazing life of Steinem, but also of the women’s movement in the United States. Steinem took the reporting assignment where she was hired as a Bunny, and without the company’s knowledge she exposed the horrible working conditions at the Playboy Club and the sexual demands made on the women. During her experience there, Steinem and the rest of the female workers (Bunnies) faced strict gender roles. They were the pretty faces and figures who had to obey male client’s commands and put up with their gender-targeted jokes. Some comments included, “If you’re my Bunny, can I take you home with me?” and “If little girls were blades of grass, what would little boys be?– Grasshoppers!” After the article was published, many women responded to their jobs’ working conditions. Not all women worked at the Playboy Club, but the long-standing hours, the heavy drink trays, and uncomfortable uniforms resembled that of waitresses, a common job for women in the 1960s and to this day. As a result of the article, women became a group who supported each other and would eventually become a part of the women’s movement in the late ’60s and ’70s. Although the writing piece was published more than 50 years ago, readers who experienced the women’s movement second-hand (by their moms’ or grandmothers’ storytelling) will still be familiar with the subjects presented. Steinem’s “I Was a Playboy Bunny” carries similarities with today’s working conditions and harassment from male coworkers as experienced by a new generation of women. Not only does the book offer women’s experiences, but they are zoomed in to one who chronicled the general life of hundreds of women in the 20th century. While “girl reporters” were assigned the usual wedding stories, Steinem proved men wrong about their description of her. She was able to cover presidential campaigns and tells about it in her second essay “Campaigning.” From George McGovern, Robert Kennedy, and Richard Nixon campaigns, Steinem proved she could cover serious journalistic topics like her male colleagues. Steinem’s work is done in first-person, whether journalistic pieces or essays they are used to present the news at the time, they also come off as autobiographical. Whether she is writing about herself or female public figures, the gender and racial roles are patterned throughout history since the book was first published in 1983. The book has four sections including “Learning From Experience,” “Other Basic Discoveries,” “Five Women,” and “Transforming politics.” The 1972 essay “Sisterhood” is about the author’s discovery of her view as a female and how it is similar to millions of women’s views. “Greatly simplified, they go like this: Women are human beings first, with minor differences from men that apply largely to the single act of reproduction. We share the dreams, capabilities, and weaknesses of all human beings, but our occasional pregnancies and other visible differences have been used to create an ‘inferior’ group and an elaborate division of labor.” The 1983 piece “Ruth’s Song (Because She Could Not Sing It) is about the author’s mother who was terrorized by her own psychological state of mind. Despite Ruth’s mental illness, she encouraged her two daughters to have four years of independence by attending college, which she never had. It was Ruth’s life, but her anxiety and depression prevented her from living it. Her daughter Gloria lived it: by witnessing her mother’s tragic life and stepping into her maternal role while Ruth became the child. Steinem was aware of the mental illnesses affecting many women, both mothers and daughters. “I still don’t understand why so many, many years passed before I saw my mother as a person, and before I understood that many of the forces in her life were patterns women share.” gloriasteinem During her early journalism career, Steinem was a “girl reporter” whom men considered a pretty face, the feature that – according to them- allowed her to write stories and have them published. At the falsehood of these remarks, Steinem tried to be “one of the boys” in order to be respected and receive equal treatment. In part three, the author analyzes five female public figures and how society saw them unsuccessful if they were not male-approved as sexual objects. Men did not think women could have a successful career without the help of some testosterone-fueled presence or sexual relationship. Steinem wrote of Marilyn Monroe, who was judged by men and only considered successful because of her sex appeal. Steinem reveals how little importance it was to men when Monroe tried to prove she could be an independent career person. The author explains how Monroe was ignored as the talented actress, intelligent, and equality-seeking person she was. In her 1988 book “Marilyn: Norma Jean” Steinem expanded her analysis of Monroe as a human and not the dumb-blonde character the actress was forced to play in films. Also among the five women’s true identity analysis is Jackie Kennedy. When the first lady became a widow in 1963, people and the media wanted to know what would become of her after a powerful, male figure no longer accompanied her. The same occurred when she later married Aristotle Onassis, and she was widowed again. Jackie decided to go back into publishing, something neither of her former husbands was involved with. Steinem uncovers how the media were skeptical of Jackie following her own career as a consulting editor to the Viking Press. She discovers how male journalists saw the former first lady as a respectable woman only with the presence of a man. Society was proved wrong when Jackie succeeded in her own career without the help of men. Steinem is able to recognize Jackie as an independent, successful person. “That’s the individual she is: neither Kennedy nor Onassis nor even her own glamorous public image, but a woman who remains serious, hard-working, sensitive, funny, and even slightly outrageous.” The fourth section of the book is “Transforming Politics.” Steinem traces the political history of women, which resembles the (current at-the-time) civil rights and the feminist movements of the ’60s and ’70s. In this part of the book she serves as an activist by informing readers of women’s history, and persuade both women and men to break down the gender walls with action. In the 1979 article “The International Crime of Genital Mutilation” Steinem co-wrote it with Robin Morgan, revealing the dangerous procedure as a “denial of women’s sexual freedom.” “If Men Could Menstruate” was first published in Ms. magazine. The essay humorously examines the idea of men having women’s sexual organs, which are considered to make women the weak group. Oh boy, wouldn’t life be different, Steinem analyses. The book inspires the reader to think about his or her life through Steinem’s lens in order to understands ones own. It is a lens that when zoomed out to show a broader image, it is similar to many women’s. Readers will find some connection to her whether they experienced the same life-changing events or they can relate to those continued into the 21st century. Steinem’s personal experiences was one brushstroke similar to those struggled by millions of women. These “Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions” would help women became their own vision, and take action by painting their ideal image. Society may not be as gender-biased as it was in the ’60s and ’70s, but many things have not changed. Steinem’s book reveals that both women and men still have to fight for equality. With her writings, Steinem uncovered the tragic experiences many women encountered, thus becoming a pioneer of the women’s movement.


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