If you have not found the HBO documentary “Gloria: In Her Own Words” check it out (or put it in your queue for the DVD when it is ready)! I highly recommend it for a number of reasons! One is that
Gloria is a true inspiration to all who aspire to be vibrant and active well into our later years! When the documentary was filmed she was 76 years old. Her voice is almost indistinguishable from the much younger voice that you hear throughout the documentary when they show clips from notable events throughout her life. Mind you, I am not a fan of people attempting to maintain a younger appearance and I actually love the etched patterns that appear on the skin as people age. But Gloria’s appearance has changed very little, except for some really gorgeous “wisdom wrinkles” that to me reflect who she is on the inside. She comes across as calm, reflective, wise, and still firm in her analysis of women’s rightful place in the world.
A deeper reason that I recommend the documentary is because it is an excellent reminder for all of us where we started when she first appeared on the scene of political and social activism. First and foremost, the film is a reminder that indeed, we have come very far along in changing the world for the better for women, and in turn for everyone in the United States and many other countries as well. Much of the change is directly attributable in large part to Gloria Steinem. The film does not glorify her – in fact, I was a bit saddened to glimpse how tender and vulnerable Gloria has been at certain points and in response to certain events. She spoke openly about her struggle with depression several years ago. She spoke several times about things that happened that hurt her deeply, such as when she was accused of being able to do some of her work only because she was an attractive woman. [Of course, a documentary about another equally effective woman of her generation who is not considered "attractive" would reveal how often such women are derided publicly because of their "unattractive" appearance. But I digress!]
I have thought often of the amazing work that Gloria and her contemporaries have accomplished on our behalf since seeing the film. But the film also reminds me how seductive is the idea that we have accomplished so much, lulling us to complacency in the face of massive, often very subtle changes that still need to come.
For example, while I was watching one of the WNBA basketball games a couple of days ago, one of the ads that played during one of the breaks blasted the message: “It’s not women’s basketball, it’s just basketball.” What a double-edge phrase this turns out to be! I understand the well-intended sentiment behind this message .. wanting to place women’s basketball on par with the game that has been until recently only played by men. But why not acknowledge the wonderful world of women’s sports and acknowledge the great strides that have been made on behalf of women by virtue of having women’s professional sports? Should we not name women’s basketball as such to acknowledge what women are doing? An by the way, let’s call men’s basketball what it is — men’s basketball. (If you have tried to find women’s games on the TV schedule, you have noticed that the games listed as “basketball” are all men’s games, and only when you see “women’s basketball” do you know it is not men!). If and when women and men play on the same court, then it would be, to me, “just basketball!” The women’s game is different from the men’s game for many reasons, one of the most prominent being the physical structure and stature of women’s and men’s bodies. But there are other factors as well that could be debated and discussed. So in pondering this dilemma .. I could not help but yearn for the kinds of consciousness-raising discussions that helped give Gloria and her companions the energy and insight and wisdom to stay the course and work for the huge changes that they achieved.
Even though the film is about Gloria and tells much of her personal and political story, it is also a film about social change, and how much effort it takes on the part of a large network of people to bring about the change. Without her large group of close friends and supporters, Gloria’s work would not have been possible. I was especially glad to see her friendship with Bella Abzug featured in the film. One of Steinem’s well-known quotes is “I do not want to live in a world without Bella,” and the film includes Gloria’s moving tribute to Bella on the occasion of Bella’s death. As I reflect on the challenges that still lie ahead, even though I do not know Gloria personally, I want to echo this sentiment – I do not want to live in a world without Gloria Steinem! She says in the documentary that she wants to live to be 100! So here’s to Gloria’s 100th birthday and beyond, and may I live to see that day as well!