Gloria Steinem inspired generations of young women into following their dreams and never taking no for an answer. In fact, one young woman she inspired was none other than Reese Witherspoon, an actress who went on to do the equally inspiring (though in much lighter-hearted packaging) Legally Blonde. Witherspoon once told Steinem that it was because of her that she wanted to do the movie and make a role model out of her lead character of Elle Woods.
"I heard you say you should be able to dress any way you f*cking well please and be safe," Steinem recalled Witherspoon saying to her.
And it's true. Steinem's message was never one that women shouldn't dress in short skirts or low-cut blouses, only that they shouldn't feel like they have to, or not like they cannot. Steinem championed the cause of equal rights to combat long-standing discrimination against women who were believe to be unable to hold down all of the jobs that men could and who earned far less money than men for jobs that they were allowed to do. But more than that, she gave women of her generation and young a voice and a face to a strong, powerful role model.
"Politics is just unequal power-- wherever it is," Steinem stated. "You know, who does the dishes is political. So it is, in fact, the politics of commerciality, if you want to put it that way, that women's bodies are looked at-- that we're supposed to be ornaments, not instruments."
I wonder, then, what Steinem would think about those I chose to call my own role models growing up. After all, they were women I only "met" because of television, and in that way, they were objects, too. Most people looked at them, and often judged them, before ever hearing them speak-- a character's soliloquy, let alone one from their own minds and mouths. The fact that I was willing to do a little extra research and not put someone on a pedestal simply because of what she looked like helped, sure, but as Steinem says, "We need to always be looking forward to greater progress." We can't rest on our laurels because things, on the surface, seem to have improved a bit from where they once were.
"If you think of the suffragist, abolitionists, and other movements, [it] has to last about one hundred years to be really absorbed into a culture," she continued, "and we're about, you know, forty-some years into this. So I don't know how to break it to you, but I would say we have, like, sixty years to go. I'm old, but the movement is young!"