Open Thread: Does Feminism Really Need “the Next Gloria Steinem"?

The New York Times ran a profile of Gloria Steinem by Sarah Hepola on Friday that asked the question, “Where is the next Gloria Steinem, and why—decades after the media spotlight first focused on her—has no one emerged to take her place?”

Ignoring the fact that this piece ran in the Fashion & Style section (although seriously, NYT?!), Hepola fails to recognize that feminism has changed quite a lot over the past 40 years and, to my mind, no longer requires a telegenic leader—nor would such a leader be appropriate considering the multiple feminisms and intersectional identities we’re striving to include in the current movement. (And even if we were looking for a leader, Naomi Wolf would not make the short list.)

Personally, I agree with Latoya Peterson, who is quoted in the article:

We’ve entered a period where there isn’t a single narrative about anything. ‘Feminism’ has given way to what other women have termed ‘feminisms’—all the various ways that we seek justice and equality.

How could one person speak for all of capital-F Feminism at this point? Why would anyone want to? Of course, I can’t speak for everyone either, which is where this open thread comes in. What do you think? Does a monolithic feminism even exist anymore? Should it?

by Kelsey Wallace
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Kelsey Wallace is an editor in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter if you like TV and pictures of dogs.

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11 Comments Have Been Posted

Thank you for this. As a

Thank you for this. As a current student of Gender and Sexuality Studies, I'm actually glad that a new "Gloria Steinem" has not emerged for my generation. When one person represents a movement, it is easy for those who disagree to take the statements or career of that one person and trash them and, in connection, all of the complicated and important work of the movement itself. It is far more accurate when the many and diverse perspectives within feminism are represented as parts of a whole.

Working in media, I

Working in media, I personally prefer having a leader who is recognizable, reliable, and trusted as a person to comment on issues of the day for the women's movement. I also recognize that coalition-building is the way movements are formed and progress today, which provides for more all-encompassing progress, and I'm very supportive of this model.

However, I believe it is CRITICAL that women of all ages can identify women in the public consciousness that reflect their values and goals. The symbol of Gloria Steinem communicated to a generation of women that they could own their bodies, their rights, and their destiny. Today, I find that the women getting the most media attention are telling young women to shrink to fit into stereotypes that society has neatly prepackaged for us. I want to see more women in all areas of public life so (especially young) women have examples of the possibilities they can realize in their own lives.


Yeah, when I interviewed Chally for a podcast (<a href="/post/interview-with-chally">so so long ago!</a>) her thoughts on feminist icons have always stayed with me, especially with articles like the NYT piece that just went up. Among many smart things she said about the problems of "icons" (she is very smart! <a href="">Read her blog!</a>), she said "I just have a hard time  identifying individuals as iconic to me in a movement that really ought to be about everybody." I think it's valuable to look back on what Steinem meant as far as feminist politics--and what it meant that we had this "icon" to begin with--but don't see it as a blueprint we need to keep following.

I agree with previous posters

<p>I agree with previous posters who have voiced criticisms of the very idea of a "new Gloria Steinem." It isn't a new development that feminism is actually <em>feminisms</em>, but the idea of intersectionality is gaining ground in what I guess one might term "mainstream feminism." A single figure cannot encompass everything that feminism strives for.&nbsp;</p><p>At the same time, I think it's worth asking why feminism as such is no longer taken seriously in mainstream discourse and outlets. I think that's part of the reason why we haven't seen a "new Gloria Steinem"--<em>nobody </em>who actively, consistently declares herself to be a "feminist" is getting airtime on major news outlets. Feminism has become relegated to academia and grassroots social justice efforts. We live in a culture that considers itself "postfeminist;" sexism is perceived as a thing of the past because of the "gains" made by the second wave: namely the fact that upper-middle and upperclass white women have entered the workforce. (Other women were already there; the nostalgic myth of a bygone era when all women stayed home as housewives is just that, a myth.)&nbsp;</p><p>So how do we combat the pervasive belief in "postfeminism?"&nbsp;</p>

Speaking about Feminism . . .

It's important to remember that even when Gloria Steinem emerged as a spokesperson for feminism, it was not because she won an election in which all feminists voted. She was (1) the head of a national organization, (2) editor of a feminist magazine (3) PR savvy, intelligent, and telegenic and saw how taking on the role of feminist spokesperson could aid the movement, her products, and her career. And the media liked her because she was attractive, provocative, and available.

Even at the time, Gloria Steinem did not represent all perspectives on feminism nor all feminists. Indeed, a significant number of feminists refused to talk to the media about feminism because the media was controlled by men and they did not trust those filters. Steinem stepped into that gap.

No one should try to speak for everyone, no matter what the topic. So I understand the reservation about having a "new Gloria Steinem." However, the reality is that the mainstream media likes to have a group of commentators that they can go to for commentary on key social issues, news events, etc. I'm a little concerned that in the absence of some key women who can speak intelligently about feminist issues (e.g. attacks on women's reproductive rights), the only voices are those who are, how can I say it, not speaking so intelligently.

Feminism has always suffered from a certain paralysis in the name of fairness, egalitarianism, and purity of ideology. There are times when feminists must also be pragmatic, or we will wind up wringing our hands as our hard-earned rights are stripped away. Steinem wasn't perfect. She didn't and doesn't always speak for me. But she did a pretty good job of keeping "a" feminist voice in the political discourse.


I absolutley agree. While I'm a big Gloria Steinem fan, there is a reason that she was chosen over others (like Betty Friedan) as the FACE of feminism. Feminism should be about breaking down hierarchies, not reinforcing structures modelled from the patriarchal structure. Why do we need a leader, or a face? Because that's how men have traditionally organized their movement groups? When we create hierarchy we are automatically creating a class and telling some women they are followers instead of leaders. I want every woman to be a leader.

Agreed on all ... so far

Is it really relevant that there should be "one" feminist leader? Given the intersectionality and diversity of today's movement, and the diverse needs of women of various age groups (For example: pre-20s and 30s-something women have concerns over reproduction. 40+ women have menopausal and aging concerns) I personally do not forsee a significant "single" leader of the movement in the near and distant future. Latoya Peterson's remarks about how we've entered a period where there isn't a single narrative about anything ... "feminism given way to what other women have termed 'feminisms,' - all the various ways that we seek justice and equality" sums things up with my own line of thinking on the matter.

I want to add that Naomi Wolf had her chances to become such a leader, and she blew them big time more often than not. Should she ever want to be one, I won't "endorse" her.

That all said ... this "feminism giving way to what other women have termed 'feminisms' ... " has weakend the movement overall, and made it endless fodder for the consistent right-wing, anti-feminist backlash bashing (That, in additon to the male voices of Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Rick Santorum, and others, includes female voices such as Ann Coulter, some members of the Independent Women's Forum, Michelle Malkin, Maggie Gallagher, Phyllis Schlafly, members of The Concerned Women of America, and others ... ) that as a society we are suffering from, because we need significant levels of dedication, committment, persistence, tenacity, activism, and indeed, intelligence to consistently make our arugments against them the most important and relevant. We need to strengthen ourselves, even as a more-diverse-than-ever movement, in order to survive and thrive making lives equal and better for men, women, transgendered, queer, everyone ... the ultimate challenge posed to us is "How can we?"

We DON'T need a new Gloria

We DON'T need a new Gloria Steinem. This is because Steinem's brand of feminism is centered on (upper) middle class white cis women. Any feminist leader these days worth their salt recognizes how wrong this is, and feminism without intersectionality gets nowhere.


No, NY Times, feminism does not need another privileged white woman repping like she knows what ALL women need. This profile is full of tired and tokenism.

We need Gloria

Why are we so fractioned?

Feminism = treating all people equally. Period. Gloria intelligently spoke for women. All women. Women of all ages, races, sexual preferences, etc. I was there in the Ms. Foundation and she *always* included (and still does) the needs of all types of women in any action.

The Ms. Foundation worked from the beginning in a "United Way" type model where it represented large overarching female issues in government and society, like equal pay, and then organized groups that tackled other targeted audience women's issues.

Thanks to the likes of Bella Abzug, Marlo Thomas, and Gloria--big women's issues were in the media constantly. Now we hear nothing about our needs at all. We so desperately need intelligent woma/en voicing our big (equal pay, equal representation in gov't and all seats of power, healthcare determined by us) needs still today.

Open Thread: Does Feminism Really Need "the Next Gloria Steinem"

Feb 7, 2013, 10:58pm UTC Math and language not so good either - yes
Ins companies, and pharmacy companies are not elected - that is because they are for him.
Dan E Dec 1, 2012, 7:55am UTC Leftists nursing student scholarship cannot run ANYTHING efficiently.
You have not quantified, in any way, in that it is a different
world over there. Kerrell Goolsby May 3, 2011, 4:
37pm UTCYou're making this up, aren't you the woman of the day?

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