Childfree women who make history: Gloria Steinem

By Victoria Fryer 

Gloria Steinem is one of my favorite female figures, but I can’t really call her a woman of history—she’s still making history. At 81, she’s still living and has been making waves since the early 1960s speaking out for women’s rights.

As many of my favorite women do, Steinem made a career out of her activism. Her first serious journalistic assignment was for Esquire magazine in 1962. She wrote about the ways in which women must make choices between marriage and careers. In addition, she’s famous for an article she wrote exposing the way Playboy Bunnies were treated at the Playboy Club.

While previous women I’ve written about, including Susan B. Anthony and Louisa May Alcott, would have been considered first-wave feminists, heavily focused on women’s right to vote, Steinem is one of the more famous second-wave feminists—women who focused on reproductive rights, criminalization of domestic violence, and more.

Before Steinem was born, her mother began suffering from a severe mental illness; as a result, Steinem spent much of her childhood caring for her. She cites this as one of the reasons she never had the urge to have a child. She was also very outspoken about feeling that women need not marry if they don’t wish too. (Incidentally, at 66, Steinem did finally get married—to Christian Bale’s father, interestingly enough.)

Much of her life was devoted to her causes. She’s written countless articles, several books, and has been involved in many political campaigns to support candidates in favor of women’s equality issues.

It’s a fair question to ask, I think, why all the women I’ve written about so far seem to be such staunch feminist advocates. I don’t necessarily think choosing not to have a child—or not to marry—is a political choice. But it is, in many ways, a political issue. Historically, women in many cultures were perceived as “less than.” Their purpose was to keep the home and rear the children.

In that sense, women choosing not to have children was a serious affront to the status quo. And often (of course not always), they chose not to have children because they wanted to be productive in other ways—like pursue careers. Or because they just didn’t want to, and they thought that should be okay.

I’m sure many of us have noticed how it seems to be a bigger deal when women say they don’t want children than when men do. I’m not saying we as women have it harder—just that it’s perceived in a different way. But things have changed a lot over the past 50 years. Women’s reproductive rights and equal pay are prominent political issues. And many women, including Gloria Steinem, worked hard for that. You can read more about Gloria Steinem on her Biography page.

Victoria Fryer is a 31-year-old writer and content strategist. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two pit bulls. You can find her on Twitter @extoria.

Gloria Steinem

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