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WASHINGTON, DC — JANUARY 21: Gloria Steinem attends the Women's March on Washington on January 21, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Noam Galai/WireImage)

‘We’re Meant To Be Active And Contribute To The World’: Celebrating Gloria Steinem On Her 90th Birthday

by Marianne Schnall

There is perhaps no one on the planet more synonymous with the word “feminist” than the iconic writer, activist and organizer Gloria Steinem, who celebrates her 90th birthday today. It’s fitting that Steinem’s birthday occurs during Women’s History Month, since her incredible life and career have encompassed so many trailblazing and historic moments, milestones and movements. Her list of accomplishments and accolades is enormous and ongoing, such as authoring several bestselling books, cofounding key organizations that have advanced equality and representation for women and girls—including Ms. magazine, the Ms. Foundation for Women, Women’s Media Center and the National Women's Political Caucus—and being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

I have had the treasured privilege of interviewing Steinem many times over the years, and although the wisdom she has offered is infinite, in honor of her birthday, I wanted to share a selection of her quotes on issues and beliefs that are important to her and which contain particularly resonant messages for our times.

A Trailblazer for Equality

Gloria receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 20: Gloria Steinem is presented the 2013 Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in the East Room of the White House on November 20, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Leigh Vogel/WireImage)WIREIMAGE

Steinem is renowned for being a leading voice of the women’s liberation movement of the sixties and seventies. As President Barack Obama said when awarding her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013, “Because of her work, across America and around the world, more women are afforded the respect and opportunities that they deserve.”

Steinem has worked tirelessly throughout the decades, and continues today to use her voice, writing, platforms and influence toward achieving gender equality, as well as racial equality, LGBTQ+ equality and equal rights for all marginalized communities. She told me, “Progress is not automatic—that’s what movements are for. It depends on what we do every day.”

Steinem has often pointed out how gender roles are restrictive for men as well as women and that all people should be able to embrace and express the full circle of human qualities, rather than labeling them as “masculine” or “feminine.” She said, “Change will come from girls and women and men who understand that for all of us to be human beings, instead of grouped by gender, is good for them too. Men can be included in feminist work in much the same way that white people can be included in anti-racist work once we realize that racism restricts us too. Once men realize that the gender roles are a prison for them too, then they become really valuable allies because they’re not just helping someone else, they’re freeing themselves. There is a full circle of human qualities we all have a right to.”

We Are Linked Not Ranked

One message of equality and interconnection that has deep meaning to Steinem, so much so that she co-created a bracelet bearing the phrase* with, is the idea that “we are linked, not ranked.” She explained it to me this way: “We’re on the cusp of something big, something that says we’re a circle, and not hierarchical. It’s the paradigm that was the paradigm of societies for most of human history, and still is of some, and that is the circle not the pyramid—that we are literally linked in a circle, including with nature, as well as with other human beings.”

“Viewing the world as linked not ranked is profoundly different from viewing it in a hierarchical way, which causes you to label everyone with their place in the hierarchy,” she said. “What we experience in our childhoods that comes to seem normal, or even inevitable, is that if you are placed in a hierarchy, you probably are immediately anxious about going further down and you’re striving to go further up, so your energies get placed into becoming ‘more than,’ or at least not becoming ‘less than,’ instead of becoming ‘part of.’”

The Importance of Community

Gloria in her Manhattan apartment
American feminist writer Gloria Steinem in her Manhattan apartment, New York City, March 1992. (Photo by Michael Brennan/Getty Images) GETTY IMAGES

“I hope readers will consider, especially in this age of the World Wide Web, that as miraculous as it is, we still need to be in the same room with all five senses if we are to empathize with each other,” Steinem once told me. “The most effective means we have is to talk to each other in groups. Human beings are communal creatures. If we’re by ourselves, we come to feel crazy and alone. We need to make alternate families of small groups of women who support each other, talk to each other regularly, can speak their truths and their experiences and find they’re not alone in them, that other women have them too. It makes such a huge difference. If I could have one structural wish for the women’s movement, it would be that we have a kind of Alcoholics Anonymous group structure all over the world, so that wherever you go in a different village or town, you can find the feminist equivalent of an AA group to go to once a week and to get some support and some help with seeing the politics of what’s happening to us.”

Since 1968, Steinem’s brownstone apartment in New York City has been such a place: a hub where generations of activists and movement leaders have found community and met regularly to organize, collaborate, share ideas and collectively envision a better world. To preserve Steinem’s historic apartment and archive its contents both for historical knowledge and to foster future work, Gloria’s Foundation was established. “With the work of Gloria’s Foundation, the home can remain what it always has been: a birthplace for many organizations and limitless ideas, a home base for radical community care and compassion and a living organ of the feminist movement,” the foundation states.

Women in Media

Steinem’s trailblazing work as a journalist changed the landscape of women’s media and helped advance women’s representation. As a journalist in the sixties, when newsrooms and media outlets were largely run by men—and most magazines marketed to women were limited to advice on beauty, housekeeping, fashion, finding a husband or being a good wife and mother—Steinem realized there was a need for a women-run publication that addressed feminist issues.

Gloria managing Ms Magazine
UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 22: Gloria Steinem, feminist leader and founder of "Ms." magazine, at her desk. (Photo by Mel Finkelstein/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)NY DAILY NEWS VIA GETTY IMAGES

In 1972, she cofounded Ms. magazine, which remains one of the most trusted sources for feminist news and information. “I’ve always been a freelance writer or a reporter, so I’ve always been concerned with media,” Steinem told me. “That’s why we started Ms. magazine—to have at least one national publication that women controlled.” As Ms. magazine puts it, “Since its earliest days, Ms. has been a brazen act of independence, demonstrating the untapped potential for journalism that centers news and analysis on women and their lives.”

In 2005, recognizing that our culture at large, and media in particular, did not sufficiently amplify the voices, stories and experiences of women and girls, Steinem cofounded Women’s Media Center with Jane Fonda and Robin Morgan, which raises the visibility, viability and decision-making power of women and girls in media and ensures that their stories get told. As Steinem put it to me, “The Women’s Media Center is an effort to make the existing media more accurate and more complete.”

“The media is where we get our ideas of what is normal, what is okay, what is possible for us, what we can become,” Steinem once explained to me. “For all the time that human beings have been on Earth, we have been sitting around a campfire telling our stories. And if one person could not tell their story, people didn’t learn from them and the circle was incomplete. The media is our campfire. A whole set of possibilities, problems, dreams and realities are just not present unless we are equally represented in the media.”

Political Engagement

As a passionate advocate for social change, gender and racial equality, the environment and other progressive issues, Steinem has been a longtime political activist, often supporting and campaigning for political candidates. In 1971, she co-founded the National Women's Political Caucus, a group that continues to work to advance the numbers of pro-equality women in elected and appointed office at a national and state level.

Steinem has always encouraged people to be civically engaged and to participate in creating the world they want, including making their voices heard on issues they care about, supporting political candidates that represent their values and voting. “If you don’t stand up for yourself politically, no one else will,” she told me. “The voting booth is still the only place that a pauper equals a billionaire, and any woman equals any man. If we organized well from the bottom up—and didn’t fall for the idea that our vote doesn’t count; an idea nurtured by those who don’t want us to use it—we could elect feminists, women of all races and some diverse men, too, who actually represent the female half of the country equally. It’s up to us.”

On the Road as an Organizer

My Life on the Road book cover
Gloria Steinem's book My Life on the Road RANDOM HOUSE

As a feminist organizer and activist, Steinem has spent much of her time traveling across the country and around the world speaking, meeting people along the way and listening to their stories—something she loves and says brings her energy and hope. Steinem once told me, “The single thing I’ve done more than anything else is to go out on the road and speak and be an organizer. It’s very satisfying. There’s no substitute for it—even the Internet can’t substitute for people being in the room together. It's endlessly interesting to be organizing and hearing possible solutions or thinking of possible solutions and how to put efforts together.” She wrote about her many journeys and experiences in her bestselling book My Life on the Road.

When I interviewed her after her book tour, she shared, “Because I’ve just been traveling much more than usual, I’ve had an intense dose of just listening to the general public, so I got an explosion of consciousness. It comes out of both anger and despair and hope and accomplishment, but it's there. It’s consciousness. It’s incredible. I’m quite stunned by it. The consciousness is incredibly high because of Black Lives Matter and anger about election financing and global warming—and none of these problems can be solved without the female half of the population, and obviously seeing it that way creates new solutions.”

Continuing Gloria’s Legacy

My hope is that we celebrate Gloria Steinem by taking inspiration from her extraordinary life of activism and following her incredible example—advocating for the causes we believe in, being our full selves, creating positive change in our own lives and communities, and joining together to build a more equal and just world.

“Change is like a house,” Steinem said. “You can’t build it from the top down, only from the bottom up. Whatever small change we make will be like a pebble in a pond; it will reverberate outward, and it will also be fun. We’re meant to be active and contribute to the world. What’s the alternative? Just sitting there and wondering, ‘Oh, if I had just done this, maybe...’ I’ve learned only one thing: no matter how hard it is to do it, it’s harder not to do it. Then you’re stuck with wondering, ‘What if I had said...? What if I had done...?’”

And if we ever find ourselves in need of courage, Steinem offers this powerful advice: “Being brave is not being unafraid but feeling the fear and doing it anyway. When you feel fear, try using it as a signal that something really important is about to happen.”

*In 2013, was proud to partner with Gloria Steinem to create the We Are Linked Not Ranked bracelet. The bracelet carries a message that has deep meaning to Gloria as it represents her vision for more unity, equality, and interconnection in the world. donates 50% of bracelet proceeds to Gloria’s Foundation. For more information, visit

To learn more about Gloria Steinem and her work and organizations, visit

For more information or to donate to her foundation, visit Gloria's Foundation.

A version of this article originally appeared at ForbesWomen.


Marianne Schnall is a widely-published interviewer and journalist and author of What Will It Take to Make a Woman President?, Leading the Way, and Dare to Be You: Inspirational Advice for Girls. She is also the founder of and What Will It Take Movements and the host of the podcast ShiftMakers.

You can find out more about her work and writings at