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Gloria Steinem to the rescue!

Gloria Steinem is seventy. That’s right. The feminist icon of
the vaunted aviator glasses, racy mini-skirts and streaked-blonde
hair was born on March 25, 1934. “You Oughta Be in Pictures” was a
hit pop tune of the day.

And from the moment, in 1972, that Steinem helped to launch Ms.
magazine, the nation was awash with her image. Witness typical
headlines from back then-“Gloria Steinem: Every Girl’s Dream of
Making It Big”; “Steinem: The Beautiful Byline”; “The Glorious
Triumph of Gloria Steinem.”

But while the media focused on Steinem’s glamorous persona, the
1956 Smith graduate, and expert on India (she also studied at the
University of Delhi), trained her eyes on freedom and justice for

Indeed, as a fledgling reporter, Steinem donned rabbit ears and
stiletto heels in service of her role as an undercover Bunny at a
New York Playboy Club. Her scathing 1963 expose of the insults
women suffered in the legendary bastion of “male entertainment” so
enraged Hugh Hefner that he later ordered a hit piece on the
women’s liberation movement for his Playboy magazine. “These chicks
are our natural enemies,” he reputedly railed, in a memo. “What I
want is a devastating piece, a really expert, personal demolition
job on the subject.”

A common misconception about Steinem is that her activism mainly
benefited middle-class, white women. Let the record speak. As
national treasurer of the 1970s-era “Free Angela Davis” campaign,
she was a critical link in the legal defense of the Oakland
professor then jailed for her radical politics.

Steinem wrote the major television address that black
Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm delivered in her historic 1972 bid
for the presidential nomination of the Democratic party. And Alice
Walker garnered the attention of Gloria Steinem long before The
Color Purple won her a Pulitizer Prize. It was at Steinem’s
direction that Ms., in the early 1970s, began to publish Walker and
later appointed her one of the first black editors at the

As it happens, I’m a black woman with a personal story about
Gloria Steinem. I recently found myself in her Manhattan apartment
while conducting research for a book. Plagued by a troublesome
knee, I took a misstep and dropped to the floor. As I lay in
anguish and unable to right myself, Steinem offered to escort me to
the emergency room of a nearby hospital. Envisioning an endless
wait and a killer medical bill, I declined her offer and continued
to writhe.

In desperation, I finally asked Steinem if she had a
chiropractor. She allowed that she did and began to dial. En route
to his office, at the height of morning rush hour traffic, the man
answered from his car, on a cell phone. Steinem calmly detailed the
scenario: “There’s a woman on my floor. She’s got a knee problem
and can’t stand or walk.” The practitioner recommended a maneuver
that he assured Steinem would “unlock” my knee. At this suggestion,
I whimpered that I was sure to scream (louder).

Steinem peered at me over her trademark eyeglasses and

Guided by the chiropractor, Steinem knelt beside me and then
exacted a swift, strong tug on my right leg. In short order, I was
wobbly, but standing. “Sisterhood is powerful,” I thought to

Steinem brought ice, a heating pad and then a vibrator (!) with
which she encouraged me to massage my knee. As part of her
“recovery plan” for me, Steinem advised that I was to join her
party later that evening at one of the city’s premier Indian

With the recent death of her husband and the suicide of her
biographer, the past year has been fraught with challenges for
Steinem. But she remains a force in the struggle for equality.
Peruse the media coverage after next month’s national rally in
Washington for women’s reproductive rights. You’ll be sure to find
an image of the ever active, seventy-year-old, Gloria Steinem.

Evelyn C. White is a Visiting Scholar in the Women’s Studies
Program at Mills. Her biography, Alice Walker: A Life, will be
published this fall.