I have known Gloria Steinem for a very long time. March 25th was her birthday and she is an amazing seventy-five years old! I've admired her since my teens. There used to be a magazine called SHOW, kind of a cross between Vanity Fair and New York Magazine. In 1963, when I was a senior in high school, Gloria published a piece there called "I Was a Playboy Bunny." Describing her three weeks as an "undercover" Bunny, the piece launched her career. I remember saying something half derogatory about it -- remember I was 17 -- and my mother saying to me "You're just jealous." She was right. What a great job, what an elegant woman, offers from magazines, everything I was determined to have for myself - she'd done it. If she could get out of Toledo, I could get out of Pittsburgh. (I did.)
I've had my eye on her ever since and as she helped to lead all of us out of the wilderness I felt a special ownership since we both attended Smith College. In those years, as I became more involved in what would be called the Second Wave of Feminism, Gloria was a spearhead for most of it. In fact, I once told a colleague of hers, a well-respected writer herself, how much I admired her. Her response "The way you feel about me? That's how I feel about Gloria."
On the tenth anniversary of Ms. Magazine, which Gloria had helped to found, I produced a series for The Today Show . For one segment, a camera crew and I followed her on a day-long trip to Philadelphia to make a speech. That was when I realized that her role was larger, and more personal, than I had understood.
Here's what happened: We got on the Metroliner in Penn Station and a woman came up to us to tell Gloria how she had changed her life. We arrived in Philadelphia and, right in the station, another women did the same. So it was all through the day. At the evening event, she could barely make her way through the room as an endless stream of women approached to thank her, express admiration, just talk to her. Through all of it, woman after woman after woman, she was unfailingly courteous and engaged. Each was the only one she was talking to. None was made to feel out of place or inappropriate. I don't know about you, but that's tough for a public person to do; Gloria has done it for years. In other words, she wasn't leading Feminism, she was being Feminism.
It's been like that ever since. In the public eye or out, hugely famous or less famous, she's always been there to keep the focus where it belongs and carry us further toward equality, and it's always been about all of us, not her. It's been an honor to know her, even a little bit, and to see personally that she's not just a fine leader, she's a fine person. Happy Birthday Gloria (a little bit late). We're lucky to have you.