This post was not something I intended to write. When I first thought about this series I could not name fifty-six female inventors, I am sad to say. I could think of fifty-six female role models but inventors? All too often history is just that – his story. It was not until the late 1960’s that one women opened her mouth and began a movement. She fought the system and prevailing attitudes about femininity to start a movement about women. She turned history into narratives that were also her story and the story of women everywhere. Her name is Gloria Steinem.
Many of us think about Gloria Steinem and think about burning undergarments or women marching to government offices or in public parks. We forget that while those were great marketing tools for the core subject, the theme behind everything was gender recognition. Let me say that one more time – gender recognition.
The gender equality issue came about later but at first Gloria Steinem was simply saying that women were valuable citizens of the world. She took a stand for women everywhere. A recent advertisement in a clothing company’s catalog succinctly put it this way – “Gloria Steinem: She paved the way.”
It took courage in the 1960’s to veer away from the cuteness of Annette Funicello and the sweetness of Sandra Dee. The British influx of fashion models were just starting to attract attention when the former Playboy bunny Gloria Steinem stood up and said she was as good at some things as any man, especially about deciding about her own body. The job at Playboy was actually an undercover job with very little cover involved. Steinem had been assigned the job by her editor at a local magazine. She wrote the article and was quickly deemed unemployable. After all, serious professional women did not parade around in little bitty uniforms. Serious journalistic outlets did not want a Playboy bunny and Steinem wanted to be a serious journalist. Proud of exposing how women were treated in the men-only social clubs, she refused to back down.
In the mid 1960’s Steinem garnered an interview with John Lennon as the Beetles were just becoming known in the United States and then obtained a position writing for an NBC television news satire. She finally obtained a writing job at “New York” magazine and in 1969 was assigned an “abortion speak-out” event to cover. The gathering was life-changing for Steinem and she felt for the first time that she had the responsibility to take control of her life and should be able to make all decisions related to it.
So why did I not want to write this post? Gloria Steinem invented a particular type of feminist courage that had led many women world-wide into a greater sense of self and helped take a stab at eradicating gender inequality. It would seem like she would be the ideal subject for this series, right? She is. Let me state that unequivocally that Gloria Steinem is someone to whom all women owe a big debt of gratitude. Many would never have had their stories told if not for Gloria Steinem. Many would still be prevented from being educated if the feminist movement had never begun.
I did not want to write this post because the need to do so is absurd. The true merit of Gloria Steinem was stated in that clothing company’s catalogue advertisement –“Gloria Steinem: She paved the way.” It would have been great and it should have been great … except that the clothing company pulled her page. Land’s End, a company whose bottom line profit margin is dependent on the women who shop there decided that Gloria’s contribution to women was not worth upsetting those who think differently than she does on the very issue that gave her the zeal with which to fight for women.
Land’s End not only pulled Gloria Steinem’s ad, they apologized. I think the apology upsets me more than anything else. It seems to give value to a woman’s vagina rather than acknowledge her brain. While the company does sell garments that cover a woman’s nether regions, they sell more that cover other parts of her body.
They pride themselves in appealing to all women and yet, they only want their advertisement to target those who disdain the feminist movement and gender equality. There are no laws that specify that women have the right to determine what a man does with his body. The passage of such laws regarding women that give men, often legislators, such a right is discrimination and it is illegal in the United States because it is inequality.
I personally do not shop at Land’s End. I prefer to buy clothing in person because I care about texture as well as fit and I don’t want to have to return things if I order them online and don’t like how they feel or fit. The nearest Land’s End store to me is one hundred miles away and I don’t dream about their product to the point of driving one hundred miles for it. I could claim I have not bought anything from them since they pulled the ad but that would be a lie by implication. I haven’t bought anything from them in over fifteen years.
Many have called for a boycott but I think something more must be done. I think we have to follow Gloria’s example of courage and speak out. Whether you agree with her on every issue is not the important thing. She invented a new brand of courage in discussing a thing called feminism. She did not invent feminism but she did take a stand for women. As Land’s End said, “She paved the way.” Women are worth more than just eight inches of the lower abdominal area.
We are all responsible and accountable for our actions and should be allowed to make decisions for those actions and because of them and yes, even when facing the consequences of them. Why? Because we are mature human beings of value. Because women have value. Because we have brains and dreams, and hopes that should bear fruit, not just children. Because bearing children is not the only thing women can do. This series will by May 14th have celebrated fifty-six female inventors. Women are strong and capable and no one said that louder than Gloria Steinem with her own female brand of courage. She paved the way. Now we need to walk it.