“Gloria: In Her Own Words” is an hour well spent

 

At 77, Gloria Steinem is still making news.


Photo: ©Annie Leibovitz, 2010/courtesy of HBO

As we told you last week, Steinem called for a boycott of the upcoming NBC series The Playboy Club because the clubs were demeaning to women.

“Clearly The Playboy Club is not going to be accurate. It was the tackiest place on earth. It was not glamorous at all,” Steinem told Reuters in an interview promoting her HBO special Gloria: In Her Own Words.

Steinem should know, since she went underground as a Bunny in 1963 and wrote an expose of the club’s working conditions, which included a requirement for the waitresses to have a pelvic exam and test for VD, even though they were forbidden from touching customers. The article was Steinem’s first controversial piece and, as she looks back, not her proudest moment. But almost 50 years later, she’s still standing up for the women who had to endure oppressive indignities in order to pay the bills.


Jason Laure, HBO

Whether you know much about Steinem or not, Gloria: In Her Own Words is a must-see. In the hour-long look at Steinem’s life, we also get an overview of the women’s movement and its leaders — and a reminder of just how important those leaders were in giving women the fundamental rights we now take for granted.

Here’s the trailer.

Steinem, being the smart, funny and attractive person she is, was able to take the message of equality to places other feminists weren’t invited. She was invited to exclusive parties and romantically tied to some of the “most eligible” men around. But she never allowed herself to be dismissed just because she was beautiful and sexy. If anything, she worked harder to be respected for what she said instead of how she looked.

The documentary moves from Steinem’s early days to the present through news clips, photos and segments of interviews with Phil Donahue, Larry King and others interspersed with a present-day interview. She tap-dances for Barbara Walters and flirts with George Burns. She listens in horror as a female caller to The Larry King Show tells her to rot in hell. She reflects on her mother’s depression, her father’s death, her bout with breast cancer, and her surprising decision to marry at age 66.

The clips are incredible and show as much about how the world has changed as they do about Steinem herself. What seems to be missing, though, is any commentary from Steinem on the state of women’s rights today. Since “feminism” is considered to be an outmoded term by some younger women, I would have liked to hear her speak to that as well as current issues like the LGBT movement and her activism for victims of female genital mutilation.

Perhaps, though, Steinem herself preferred to keep In Her Own Words free of current opinions. As she often tells college audiences, “Don’t listen to my advice. Listen to the voice inside you and follow that.”

Gloria: In Her Own Words is airing throughout August on HBO; you can find the schedule here. Set your DVR — watching is an hour well spent — and share your thoughts in the comments.

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