On Hope and Lip Gloss: The Intersections of Gloria Steinem and Me
Of course it was not about the lip gloss.
In 1984, I interviewed Gloria Steinem for a profile for the Dallas Times Herald, where I was a feature writer and columnist. She was on book tour for her 1984 book,Outrageous Acts And Everyday Rebellions.
I was a fan, not just of her writing and journalism, but of her bravery and activism. She was larger than life to me and every 26-year-old woman like me, plus the millions of women and men older and younger than me who saw her as the one who helped launch the modern feminist movement.
She came into the office and I do not know why I was surprised, but Steinem carried a small purse. Queen Elizabeth carries a purse, yes, but you don’t expect one of the founders of feminism to cart a handbag to an interview. So I asked what was in her purse.
I wrote the story starting with a description of the insides of her purse, including a tube of lip balm. A few weeks later at the newspaper offices, I received a handwritten note from Steinem thanking me for the interview and saying she liked the way I started the story.
Thirty four years, four cities, six homes, three children, many jobs and two floods later, her note to me is long gone. But not the memory of her graciousness.
“I never wear lipstick,” Steinem recently told Vogue, “but I can support a lip balm.”
In addition to all that she does and is, Steinem recently launched a collaboration on a lip balm, In the Clear. It is of course a product with a mission.
According to Vogue, the product “was crafted with the social justice beauty brand The Lipstick Lobby, which has worked with the likes of Planned Parenthood and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. When the brand tapped Steinem for its next capsule collection, she chose the UnPrison Project. The nonprofit—founded by activist and author Deborah Jiang-Stein, who was born in a Virginia prison to a mother suffering from drug addiction—aims to equip incarcerated women with the tools and skill sets to live a fulfilling life after release. Since the organization was founded in 2012, it has already reached 10 percent of the total female prison population in the U.S., or 20,000 incarcerated women.”
I looked to Steinem then and now as a feminist, journalist, author and activist with integrity. But also as someone who offers hope. She calls herself a “hopeaholic.” At 84, she has so much energy for action on the issues of gender, violence, equality and human rights. Over the years I read her books and followed her advice—from afar—listening to her speeches and reading her quotes in media, marveling at her articulate thoughtfulness, always.
In 2012, Steinem was the keynote speaker at Journalism & Women Symposium, a group of international feminist journalists I have belonged to since 1995. When she was introduced to the room of more than 200 women, the speaker asked, “Does anyone in this room not know who Gloria Steinem is?”
Steinem raised her hand.
I considered it the most self-aware, humble admission I had ever witnessed. She was not about to be defined in a few sentences of introduction and she was all about moving forward and shaping her identity as she charges ahead in action.
She offered inspiration to every woman journalist in the room that day. On collaborating across generations, she said, “I’m not giving up my torch. I’m using my torch to light everybody else’s torches. I think the key to it is not to worry about what we should say to [young women], and just listen to them. Say, ‘What’s unfair in your life, and how can I help you fix it?’ The only way we know we have something to say is if someone listens to us.”
On December 15, Steinem will participate in the Take The Lead special fundraiser around the New York performance, “Gloria: A Life,”engaging in a live discussion with the audience for the second act of the play starring Christine Lahti. I am lucky to be there.
“We got this radical idea that women are human beings in the 60s,” says Steinem. She adds, “When we see someone who is a whole human being who is female, nothing can compete with that.”
As a college student in the 1970s when Steinem co-founded Ms. Magazine—which I read—I looked to the straightforward expectation she professed that women had the same rights as men, even though I did not see that around me. But Steinem demonstrated the possible and the articulation of the hope for a gender equal future.
She wrote in Outrageous Acts, the book that prompted my 1984 interview with her, “Whether the life is yours or mine, our parents’ or that of children yet to come, it’s far better to be one’s whole self than to be immortal. In a contest between the pleasure that a work has lasted and an activist wish for a world in which everyone matters, the choice is simple.”
Steinem has been sending and living the message of gender equality across many platforms for two generations. Just last year, she defended actress Emma Stone, who was criticized for what she wore on a Vanity Fair cover. She told TMZ, “Feminists can wear whatever they f****** well please.”
Outspoken, gracious, intelligent and hopeful, as a volunteer student of Steinem’s for my adult life, I am grateful for the interactions and the lessons. For whatever she carries in her pocketbook is beside the point. As she says, “Each others’ lives are our best textbooks.”
If you can’t be there? You can still have a huge impact and give the gift of attendance to a girl or young woman here. Offer her the chance to meet two feminist icons and learn more about changing the world and taking action to reach gender parity.
About the Author
Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldonwww.micheleweldon.com