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Gloria Marie Steinem (born March 25, 1934) is an American feminist, journalist, and social and political activist who became nationally recognized as a leader of, and media spokeswoman for, the women's liberation movement in the late 1960s and 1970s. A prominent writer and key counterculture era political figure, Steinem has founded many organizations and projects and has been the recipient of many awards and honors. She was a columnist for New York magazine and co-founded Ms. magazine. In 1969, she published an article, " After Black Power, Women's Liberation", which, along with her early support of abortion rights, catapulted her to national fame as a feminist leader.
In 2005, Steinem worked alongside Jane Fonda and Robin Morgan to co-found the Women's Media Center, an organization that works to amplify the voices of women in the media through advocacy, media and leadership training, and the creation of original content. Steinem currently serves on the board of the organization. She continues to involve herself in politics and media affairs as a commentator, writer, lecturer, and organizer, campaigning for candidates and reforms and publishing books and articles.
Steinem was born in Toledo, Ohio, on March 25, 1934. Her mother, Ruth (née Nuneviller), was a Presbyterian of Scottish and German descent, and her father, Leo Steinem, was the son of Jewish immigrants from Germany and Poland. The Steinems lived and traveled about in the trailer from which Leo carried out his trade as a traveling antiques dealer.
When Steinem was three years old, her mother Ruth, then aged 34, had a "nervous breakdown" that left her an invalid, trapped in delusional fantasies that occasionally turned violent. She changed "from an energetic, fun-loving, book-loving" woman into "someone who was afraid to be alone, who could not hang on to reality long enough to hold a job, and who could rarely concentrate enough to read a book." Ruth spent long periods in and out of sanatoriums for the mentally disabled. Steinem was ten years old when her parents finally separated in 1944. Her father went to California to find work, while she and her mother continued to live together in Toledo.
While her parents divorced as a result of her mother's illness, it was not a result of chauvinism on the father's part, and Steinem claims to have "understood and never blamed him for the breakup." Nevertheless, the impact of these events had a formative effect on her personality: while her father, a traveling salesman, had never provided much financial stability to the family, his exit aggravated their situation. Steinem interpreted her mother's inability to hold on to a job as evidence of general hostility towards working women. She also interpreted the general apathy of doctors towards her mother as emerging from a similar anti-woman animus. Years later, Steinem described her mother's experiences as having been pivotal to her understanding of social injustices. These perspectives convinced Steinem that women lacked social and political equality.:129–138
Steinem attended Waite High School in Toledo and Western High School in Washington, D.C., from which she graduated. She then attended Smith College, an institution with which she continues to remain engaged, and from which she graduated Phi Beta Kappa. In the late 1950s, Steinem spent two years in India as a Chester Bowles Asian Fellow. After returning to the U.S., she served as director of the Independent Research Service, an organization funded in secret by a donor which turned out to be the CIA. She worked to send non-Communist American students to the 1959 World Youth Festival. In 1960, she was hired by Warren Publishing as the first employee of Help! magazine.
Esquire magazine features editor Clay Felker gave freelance writer Steinem what she later called her first "serious assignment", regarding contraception; he didn't like her first draft and had her re-write the article. Her resulting 1962 article about the way in which women are forced to choose between a career and marriage preceded Betty Friedan's book The Feminine Mystique by one year.
In 1963, while working on an article for Huntington Hartford's Show magazine, Steinem was employed as a Playboy Bunny at the New York Playboy Club. The article featured a photo of Steinem in Bunny uniform and detailed how women were treated at those clubs. The article was published in 1963 as "A Bunny's Tale" (published in two parts, Part I and Part II.) Steinem has maintained that she is proud of the work she did publicizing the exploitative working conditions of the bunnies and especially the sexual demands made of them, which skirted the edge of the law. However, for a brief period after the article was published, Steinem was unable to land other assignments. In her words, this was "because I had now become a Bunny -- and it didn't matter why." Steinem eventually landed a job at Felker's newly founded New York magazine in 1968. Her experience as a Playboy Bunny was later made into the 1985 movie A Bunny's Tale.
In the interim, she conducted a 1964 interview with John Lennon for Cosmopolitan magazine. In 1965, she wrote for NBC-TV's weekly satirical revue, That Was The Week That Was (TW3), contributing a regular segment entitled "Surrealism in Everyday Life".
In 1969, she covered an abortion speak-out for New York Magazine, which was held in a church basement in the Village. Steinem had had an abortion herself in London at the age of 22. She felt what she called a "big click" at the speak-out, and later said she didn't "begin my life as an active feminist" until that day. As she recalled, "It is supposed to make us a bad person. But I must say, I never felt that. I used to sit and try and figure out how old the child would be, trying to make myself feel guilty. But I never could! I think the person who said: 'Honey, if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament' was right. Speaking for myself, I knew it was the first time I had taken responsibility for my own life. I wasn't going to let things happen to me. I was going to direct my life, and therefore it felt positive. But still, I didn't tell anyone. Because I knew that out there it wasn't ." "In later years, if I’m remembered at all it will be for inventing a phrase like 'reproductive freedom' . . . as a phrase it includes the freedom to have children or not to. So it makes it possible for us to make a coalition."
In 1972, she co-founded the feminist-themed magazine Ms. It began as a special edition of New York, and Felker funded the first issue. When the first regular issue hit the news stands in July 1972, the pilot print run of 300,000 sold out nationwide in three days. She even labeled it Spring Issue 1972 for that sole reason. It generated 26,000 subscription orders and over 20,000 reader letters within weeks. Steinem would continue to write for the magazine until it was sold in 1987. The magazine changed hands again in 2001, to the Feminist Majority Foundation; Steinem remains on the masthead as one of six founding editors and serves on the advisory board.
Political awakening and activism
Steinem actively campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment, in addition to other laws and social reforms that promoted equality between women and men, helping to strike down many long-standing sex discriminatory laws, such as those that gave men superior rights in marriage and denied women equal economic opportunities. She testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1970. She also founded and co-founded many groups, including the Women's Action Alliance, on which she served as chair of the board throughout the 1970s; the NWPC, the Coalition of Labor Union Women; the Ms. Foundation for Women; Choice USA; and Women's Media Center. From 1971 to 1975, she served on the Advisory Board of the Westbeth Playwrights Feminist Collective—one of the first NYC public based feminist theater groups.
In 1968, she signed the “War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War.
After conducting a series of celebrity interviews, Steinem eventually got a political assignment covering George McGovern's presidential campaign. In 1969, she published an article, "After Black Power, Women's Liberation" which, along with her early support of abortion rights, catapulted her to national fame as a feminist leader. Steinem brought other notable feminists to the fore and toured the country with lawyer Florynce Rae "Flo" Kennedy, child-welfare pioneer Dorothy Pitman Hughes, and National Black Feminist Organization founder Margaret Sloan-Hunter. In 1970 Gloria Steinem established herself as a leader of the Women's Movement with her impassioned Senate testimony in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment and her essay on a utopia of equality, "What It Would Be Like If Women Win", in Time magazine. While Steinem would clash with both the older generation of women's rights leaders, most prominently Betty Friedan, as well as the younger, more militant Women's Liberation activists, she would gain a large, diverse, and multi-partisan following and become, alongside Friedan, the Women's Rights Movement's most prominent and influential spokesperson and leader. In 1970 she led the New York City march of the nation-wide Women's Strike for Equality alongside Friedan and then-Congressional candidate Bella Abzug. By then an icon of the Feminist Movement, Steinem frequently appeared on news shows, television talk shows and specials, and on the covers of newspapers and magazines such as Newsweek, Time, McCall's, People, New Woman, Ms., and Parade. In the early 1970s, with Canadian broadcaster Patrick Watson, she co-hosted a celebrity interview series, Face To Face To Face on the newly founded Global Television Network in Canada.
On July 10, 1971, Steinem, along with other feminist leaders (including Betty Friedan, Fannie Lou Hamer, Myrlie Evers, and several U.S. Representatives, including Shirley Chisholm and Bella Abzug) founded the National Women's Political Caucus (NWPC). An influential co-convener of the Caucus, she delivered her memorable "Address to the Women of America":
This is no simple reform. It really is a revolution. Sex and race because they are easy and visible differences have been the primary ways of organizing human beings into superior and inferior groups and into the cheap labor on which this system still depends. We are talking about a society in which there will be no roles other than those chosen or those earned. We are really talking about humanism.
In 1972, she also played a prominent role at the Democratic National Convention where she supported Shirley Chisholm's candidacy. That year Steinem and the NWPC had successfully organized bipartisan efforts to increase the representation of women at both major party conventions. In the early 1970s Steinem became the first woman to address the National Press Club.
In May 1975, Redstockings, a radical feminist group, raised the question of whether Steinem had continuing ties with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and whether she had been "meteorically installed" as the leader of the movement. Though she admitted to having worked for a CIA-financed foundation in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and acknowledged these ties in interviews given to the New York Times and Washington Post in 1967 in the wake of the Ramparts magazine CIA exposures (nearly two years before Steinem attended her first Redstockings or feminist meeting), Steinem in 1975 denied any continuing involvement. Steinem was also a member of Democratic Socialists of America. In 1984 Steinem was arrested along with a number of members of Congress and civil rights activists for disorderly conduct outside the South African embassy while protesting against the South African apartheid system.
Steinem co-founded the Coalition of Labor Union Women in 1974, and participated in the National Conference of Women in Houston, Texas, in 1977. She became Ms. magazine's consulting editor when it was revived in 1991, and she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1993.
Steinem played a variety of roles within the Women's Action Alliance, whose initial mission was "to stimulate and assist women at the local level to organize around specific action projects aimed at eliminating concrete manifestations of economic and social discrimination.". She chaired the board from 1971–1978.
Steinem was active in working for civil rights for African Americans, Hispanics, and other minorities, working alongside civil rights leaders like Coretta Scott King and César Chávez, and took a public stance in opposition to the Vietnam War and in favor of gay rights.
"I think the fact that I’ve become a symbol for the women’s movement is somewhat accidental. A woman member of Congress, for example, might be identified as a member of Congress; it doesn’t mean she’s any less of a feminist but she’s identified by her nearest male analog. Well, I don’t have a male analog so the press has to identify me with the movement. I suppose I could be referred to as a journalist, but because Ms. is part of a movement and not just a typical magazine, I’m more likely to be identified with the movement. There’s no other slot to put me in."
In later years, Steinem became an outspoken supporter of animal rights, writing letters to the National Institutes of Health Office of Research on Women’s Health urging the office director to end the "cruelty, fraud, and waste" of NIH-funded experiments on animals purportedly conducted in the name of advancing women’s health. She also became involved in international women's issues such as the campaign against female genital mutilation in Eastern countries and human trafficking.
Contrary to popular belief, Steinem did not coin the feminist slogan "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle." Although she helped popularize it, the phrase is actually attributable to Irina Dunn. When Time magazine published an article attributing the saying to Steinem, Steinem wrote a letter saying the phrase had been coined by Dunn.
Another phrase sometimes wrongly attributed to Steinem is, "If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament." Steinem herself attributed it to "an old Irish woman taxi driver in Boston," who she said she and Florynce Kennedy met.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Steinem had to deal with a number of personal setbacks, including the diagnosis of breast cancer in 1986 and trigeminal neuralgia in 1994.
Steinem is a member of Veteran Feminists of America, which was founded in 1992.
In 1992, Steinem co-founded Choice USA, a non-profit organization that mobilizes and provides ongoing support to a younger generation that lobbies for reproductive choice.
At the outset of the Gulf War, Steinem, along with prominent feminists Robin Morgan and Kate Millett, publicly opposed an incursion into the Middle East and asserted that ostensible goal of "defending democracy" was a pretense.
During the Clarence Thomas sexual harassment scandal, Steinem voiced strong support for Anita Hill and suggested that one day Hill herself would sit on the Supreme Court. According to two Frontline features (aired in 1995) and Ms. magazine, Steinem became an advocate for children she believed had been sexually abused by caretakers in day care centers (such as the McMartin preschool case). In 1993 she co-produced and narrated an Emmy Award winning TV documentary for HBO about child abuse, called, "Multiple Personalities: The Search for Deadly Memories."
Also in 1993, she and Rosilyn Heller co-produced an original TV movie for Lifetime, "Better Off Dead," which examined the parallel forces that both oppose abortion and support the death penalty.
In a 1998 press interview, Steinem weighed in on the Clinton impeachment hearings; when asked whether President Bill Clinton should be impeached for lying under oath, she was quoted as saying, "Clinton should be censured for lying under oath about Lewinsky in the Paula Jones deposition, perhaps also for stupidity in answering at all." The same year, Steinem defended Clinton against allegations of sexual impropriety that had been made by White House volunteer Kathleen Willey.
On September 3, 2000, at age 66, Steinem married David Bale, father of actor Christian Bale. The wedding was performed at the home of her friend Wilma Mankiller, the first female Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. Steinem and Bale were married for only three years before he died of brain lymphoma on December 30, 2003, at age 62.
Steinem was named the American Humanist Association's 2012 Humanist of the Year for her activism in feminism and LGBT rights.
In 2013 Steinem received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
On June 1, 2013 Steinem performed on stage at the "Chime For Change: The Sound Of Change Live" Concert at Twickenham Stadium in London, England. Chime For Change is a global campaign for girls' and women's empowerment founded by Gucci.
Also in 2013 Steinem (among others) was featured in the documentary Makers: Women Who Make America about the feminist movement.
Involvement in political campaigns
Steinem has been an influential figure in politics since the 1960s. Her involvement in presidential campaigns stretches back to her support of Adlai Stevenson in the 1952 presidential campaign.
A proponent of civil rights and fierce critic of the Vietnam War, Steinem was initially drawn to Senator Eugene McCarthy because of his "admirable record" on those issues. But in meeting and hearing him speak, she found him "cautious, uninspired, and dry.":87 Interviewing him for New York Magazine, she called his answers a "fiasco," noting that he gave "not one spontaneous reply." As the campaign progressed, Steinem became baffled at "personally vicious" attacks that McCarthy leveled against his primary opponent Robert Kennedy, even as "his real opponent, Hubert Humphrey, went free."
On a late-night radio show, Steinem garnered attention for declaring, "George McGovern is the real Eugene McCarthy." Steinem had met McGovern in 1963 on the way to an economic conference organized by John Kenneth Galbraith and had been impressed by his unpretentious manner and genuine consideration of her opinions. Five years later in 1968, Steinem was chosen to pitch the arguments to McGovern as to why he should enter the presidential race that year. He agreed, and Steinem "consecutively or simultaneously served as pamphlet writer, advance "man", fund raiser, lobbyist of delegates, errand runner, and press secretary.":95
McGovern lost the nomination in the infamous 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Steinem gave McGovern credit for standing on the platform with Humphrey in a show of unity after Humphrey had clinched the nomination, whereas McCarthy refused the same gesture. She later wrote of her astonishment at Humphrey's "refusal even to suggest to Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley that he control the rampaging police and the bloodshed in the streets.":96
By the 1972 election, the Women's Movement was rapidly expanding its political power. Steinem, along with National Organization for Women founder Betty Friedan, Congresswomen Shirley Chisholm and Bella Abzug, and others, had founded the National Women's Political Caucus in July 1971. Steinem attempted to run as a national delegate in support of Chisholm's presidential campaign.
Nevertheless, Steinem was reluctant to re-join the McGovern campaign. Though she had brought in McGovern's single largest campaign contributor in 1968, she "still had been treated like a frivolous pariah by much of McGovern's campaign staff." In April 1972, Steinem remarked that he "still doesn't understand the Women's Movement."
McGovern ultimately excised the abortion issue from the party's platform. (Recent publications show McGovern was deeply conflicted on the issue.) Actress and activist Shirley MacLaine, though privately supporting abortion rights, urged the delegates to vote against the plank. Steinem later wrote this description of the events:
“The consensus of the meeting of women delegates held by the caucus had been to fight for the minority plank on reproductive freedom; indeed our vote had supported the plank nine to one. So fight we did, with three women delegates speaking eloquently in its favor as a constitutional right. One male Right-to-Life zealot spoke against, and Shirley MacLaine also was an opposition speaker, on the grounds that this was a fundamental right but didn't belong in the platform.
We made a good showing. Clearly we would have won if McGovern's forces had left their delegates uninstructed and thus able to vote their consciences.”
Germaine Greer flatly contradicted Steinem's account. Having recently gained public notoriety for her feminist manifesto The Female Eunuch and sparring with Norman Mailer, Greer was commissioned to cover the convention for Harper's Magazine. Greer criticized Steinem's "controlled jubilation" that 38% of the delegates were women, ignoring the fact that "many delegations had merely stacked themselves with token females... The McGovern machine had already pulled the rug out from under them."
Greer leveled her most searing critique on Steinem for her capitulation on abortion rights. Greer reported, "Jacqui Ceballos called from the crowd to demand abortion rights on the Democratic platform, but Bella and Gloria stared glassily out into the room," thus killing the abortion rights platform. Greer asks, "Why had Bella and Gloria not helped Jacqui to nail him on abortion? What reticence, what loserism had afflicted them?" Steinem later recalled that the 1972 Convention was the only time Greer and Steinem ever met.
The cover of Harper's that month read, "Womanlike, they did not want to get tough with their man, and so, womanlike, they got screwed."
In the run-up to the 2004 election, Steinem voiced fierce criticism of the Bush administration, asserting, "There has never been an administration that has been more hostile to women’s equality, to reproductive freedom as a fundamental human right, and has acted on that hostility." She went on to claim, "If he is elected in 2004, abortion will be criminalized in this country." At a Planned Parenthood event in Boston, Steinem declared Bush "a danger to health and safety," citing his antagonism to the Clean Water Act, reproductive freedom, sex education, and AIDS relief.
Steinem was an active participant in the 2008 presidential campaign. She praised both the Democratic front-runners, commenting,
Both Senators Clinton and Obama are civil rights advocates, feminists, environmentalists, and critics of the war in Iraq.... Both have resisted pandering to the right, something that sets them apart from any Republican candidate, including John McCain. Both have Washington and foreign policy experience; George W. Bush did not when he first ran for president.
Nevertheless, Steinem endorsed Senator Clinton, citing her broader experience, saying that the nation was in such bad shape it might require two terms of Clinton and two of Obama to fix it.
She made headlines for a New York Times op-ed in which she cited gender and not race as "probably the most restricting force in American life". She elaborated, "Black men were given the vote a half-century before women of any race were allowed to mark a ballot, and generally have ascended to positions of power, from the military to the boardroom, before any women." This was attacked, however, from critics saying that white women were given the vote unabridged in 1920, whereas many blacks, female or male, could not vote until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and some were lynched for trying, and that many white women advanced in the business and political worlds before black women and men.
Steinem again drew attention for, according to the New York Observer, seeming "to denigrate the importance of John McCain’s time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam". Steinem's broader argument "was that the media and the political world are too admiring of militarism in all its guises."
Steinem was vocal in criticising the media treatment of the Clinton campaign as sexist. Following McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate, Steinem penned an op-ed in which she labeled Palin an "unqualified woman" who "opposes everything most other women want and need." Steinem described her nomination speech as "divisive and deceptive", called for a more inclusive Republican Party and concluded that Palin resembled "Phyllis Schlafly, only younger."
Steinem's social and political views overlap into multiple schools of feminism. This problem is compounded by the evolution of her views over five decades of activism. Although most frequently considered a liberal feminist, Steinem has repeatedly characterized herself as a radical feminist. More importantly, she has repudiated categorization within feminism as "nonconstructive to specific problems": "I've turned up in every category. So it makes it harder for me to take the divisions with great seriousness." Nevertheless, on concrete issues, Steinem has staked firm positions.
Steinem is a staunch advocate of reproductive freedom, a term she herself coined and helped popularize. In 1969 she covered an abortion speak-out for New York Magazine, which was held in a church basement in the Village. She had an abortion herself in London at the age of 22. She felt what she called a "big click" at the speak-out, and later said she didn't "begin my life as an active feminist" until that day. As she recalled,
"It is supposed to make us a bad person. But I must say, I never felt that. I used to sit and try and figure out how old the child would be, trying to make myself feel guilty. But I never could! I think the person who said: 'Honey, if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament' was right. Speaking for myself, I knew it was the first time I had taken responsibility for my own life. I wasn't going to let things happen to me. I was going to direct my life, and therefore it felt positive. But still, I didn't tell anyone. Because I knew that out there it wasn't ."
She credited the Webster v. Reproductive Health Services hearings she covered for New York Magazine in 1989 as the event that turned her into an activist. In 2005, Steinem appeared in the documentary film I Had an Abortion by Jennifer Baumgardner and Gillian Aldrich. In the film, Steinem described the abortion she had as a young woman in London, where she lived briefly before studying in India. In the documentary My Feminism, Steinem characterized her abortion as a "pivotal and constructive experience."
Along with Susan Brownmiller and Catharine MacKinnon, Steinem has been a vehement critic of pornography, which she distinguishes from erotica: "Erotica is as different from pornography as love is from rape, as dignity is from humiliation, as partnership is from slavery, as pleasure is from pain." Steinem's argument hinges on the distinction between reciprocity versus domination. She writes, "Blatant or subtle, pornography involves no equal power or mutuality. In fact, much of the tension and drama comes from the clear idea that one person is dominating the other." On the issue of same-sex pornography, Steinem asserts, "Whatever the gender of the participants, all pornography including male-male gay pornography is an imitation of the male-female, conqueror-victim paradigm, and almost all of it actually portrays or implies enslaved women and master." Steinem also cites "snuff films" as a serious threat to women.:219
Steinem wrote the definitive article on female genital mutilation that brought the practice into the American public's consciousness in 1979.:292 The article reports on the "75 million women suffering with the results of genital mutilation." According to Steinem, "The real reasons for genital mutilation can only be understood in the context of the patriarchy: men must control women's bodies as the means of production, and thus repress the independent power of women's sexuality." Steinem's article contains the basic arguments that would be developed by philosopher Martha Nussbaum.
On male circumcision, she commented, "These patriarchal controls limit men’s sexuality too... That’s why men are asked symbolically to submit the sexual part of themselves and their sons to patriarchal authority, which seems to be the origin of male circumcision, a practice that, even as advocates admit, is medically unnecessary 90% of the time. Speaking for myself, I stand with many brothers in eliminating that practice too."
In a 2,200-word essay published in Time magazine on August 31, 1970, "What Would It Be Like If Women Win", Steinem wrote about gay marriage in the context of the "Utopian" future she envisioned:
What will exist is a variety of alternative life-styles. Since the population explosion dictates that childbearing be kept to a minimum, parents-and-children will be only one of many "families": couples, age groups, working groups, mixed communes, blood-related clans, class groups, creative groups. Single women will have the right to stay single without ridicule, without the attitudes now betrayed by "spinster" and "bachelor." Lesbians or homosexuals will no longer be denied legally binding marriages, complete with mutual-support agreements and inheritance rights. Paradoxically, the number of homosexuals may get smaller. With fewer over-possessive mothers and fewer fathers who hold up an impossibly cruel or perfectionist idea of manhood, boys will be less likely to be denied or reject their identity as males.
Although Steinem did not mention or advocate gay marriage in any published works or interviews for more than three decades, she again expressed support for same-sex marriage in the early 2000s, stating in 2004 that "he idea that sexuality is only okay if it ends in reproduction oppresses women—whose health depends on separating sexuality from reproduction—as well as gay men and lesbians." Steinem is also a signatory of the 2008 manifesto, "Beyond Same-Sex Marriage: A New Strategic Vision For All Our Families and Relationships", which advocates extending legal rights and privileges to a wide range of relationships, households, and families.
In 1977, Steinem expressed disapproval that the heavily publicized sex reassignment surgery of tennis player Renée Richards had been characterized as "a frightening instance of what feminism could lead to" or as "living proof that feminism isn't necessary." Steinem wrote, "At a minimum, it was a diversion from the widespread problems of sexual inequality." She wrote that, while she supported the right of individuals to identify as they choose, she claimed that, in many cases, transsexuals "surgically mutilate their own bodies" in order to conform to a gender role that is inexorably tied to physical body parts. She concluded that "feminists are right to feel uncomfortable about the need for and uses of transsexualism." The article concluded with what became one of Steinem's most famous quotes: "If the shoe doesn't fit, must we change the foot?" Although clearly meant in the context of transsexuality, the quote is frequently mistaken as a general statement about feminism.:206–210
On October 2, 2013, Steinem clarified her remarks on transsexualism in an op-ed to the Advocate, writing that critics failed to consider that her 1977 essay was “written in the context of global protests against routine surgical assaults, called female genital mutilation by some survivors.” Steinem later in the piece expressed unequivocal support for transgender people, saying that transgender people “including those who have transitioned, are living out real, authentic lives. Those lives should be celebrated, not questioned.” She also apologized for any pain her words might have caused.
Steinem has repeatedly voiced her disapproval of the obscurantism and abstractions some claim to be prevalent in feminist academic theorizing. She said, "Nobody cares about feminist academic writing. That's careerism. These poor women in academia have to talk this silly language that nobody can understand in order to be accepted...But I recognize the fact that we have this ridiculous system of tenure, that the whole thrust of academia is one that values education, in my opinion, in inverse ratio to its usefulness—and what you write in inverse relationship to its understandability." Steinem later singled out deconstructionists like Judith Butler for criticism: "I always wanted to put a sign up on the road to Yale saying, 'Beware: Deconstruction Ahead'. Academics are forced to write in language no one can understand so that they get tenure. They have to say 'discourse', not 'talk'. Knowledge that is not accessible is not helpful. It becomes aerialised."