Activist Gloria Steinem, 86, was the first person I thought of when news broke that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died at the age of 87. The following day, I spoke with Steinem. We began with our grief and gratitude for the extraordinary feminist fighter, nicknamed “Notorious RBG.”
“I was fighting on the ground,” Steinem told me, “but it was Ruth passing laws.”
“How do you keep going?” I asked Steinem.
“I just don’t throw in the towel.”
“Because that was never an option for me.”
Both Gloria Steinem and Ruth Bader Ginsburg are incredible female icons who have embodied this spirit of perseverance their whole lives. RBG’s death makes us reflect on the past and express our respect and deep gratitude for her work. However, her death has also caused turmoil, calling into question the future of SCOTUS, the rights of women, and many other issues.
With Ginsburg’s passing, Roe v. Wade is in peril and our nation is in crisis. Daily Twitter topics include hashtags: #WhiteSupremacy, #KidsInCages, #Misogyny, #BlackLivesMatter, #LGBTQ, #TimesUp, #GunControl, #Covid19. Tragically, the list seems endless and all are urgent. Many of us feel zapped of energy but want to create positive change that affects the outcome of the upcoming election.
Gloria Steinem opened up to me about the small moments of inspiration that are the source of her power. At one of Steinem’s book signings “an elegant Black woman wearing a red suit” waited in line. When her turn came, she told Steinem a story about the first time she’d read Ms. Magazine. It was in prison for prostitution. After reading Ms., she asked for law books — there was already a law book library in the men’s prison.
Upon receiving the requested law books, the woman began helping fellow female prisoners with their child custody cases. Then, she told Steinem that after finishing her prison term, she apprenticed at a women’s law firm. “And now I’m a lawyer,” she told Steinem. “I thought you might like to know.”
For Steinem, those are the kinds of moments that keep her going. She recently posted on twitter about our duty to honor RBG’s life and legacy:
We each can honor Ruth Bader Ginsburg by asking ourselves, “What would Ruth do?” Using this as a guide in our own lives will keep her with us. We can also honor what she said so recently: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” — @GloriaSteinem Sept. 19, 2020
When you want change, consult experts. Learn to listen and listen to learn. If you’re looking to immerse yourself in Steinem’s power and presence, look no further than “The Glorias.”
“The Glorias,” is the latest project by filmmaker and Tony Award-winner Julie Taymor. Taymor adapted Steinem’s book My Life on the Road. Additional options for streaming include documentaries: “RBG“ and “Equal Means Equal,” and feature film, “On the Basis of Sex,” which stars Felicity Jones as Ginsburg.
“I’m devastated,” Taymor told me. “It’s impossible to think of Ruth Bader Ginsburg without her connection to Gloria. Both were fighting across color lines and advocating equality for all.”
Taymor’s film “The Glorias,” premiered at Sundance this year but then came Covid-19. With theaters closed, it is now available on Amazon Prime. Watching it lifted my mood immensely. I found myself smiling throughout much of it. The same thing happened when I watched it again.
Taymor enlisted four strong actresses of different ages. Ryan Kiera Armstrong plays six-year-old Gloria. There’s a tender scene where little Gloria and a friend are walking. The friend takes Gloria’s hand to show her how to tap dance on the smooth floor in her family’s barbershop. When the girls go inside to play, they’re thankfully oblivious to the jaws dropping and eyes popping in the roomful of brown faces. We’re talking 80 years ago—so, the audience gets right away that they had never seen a white girl in their shop before.
The movie has a continuing thread of buses traveling along roads throughout America. In each bus ride all of “the Glorias” can converse with each other.
Speaking about the experience of making the film, Taymor told me, “When I first introduced Gloria to the four talking to each other and sharing dreams forward and reflections back, she was like, ‘How did you know I do that?’ She gave me total artistic freedom on the film. I wanted to show that Steinem’s life on the road began in childhood.”
The six-year-old and her older sister are riding in cars, peeking out of windows from the backseat. Her charismatic father Leo (Timothy Hutton) is a dreamer. They love his enthusiasm each time he took the family on what he called, “adventures.” But Steinem’s mother, Ruth (Enid Graham), grew weary. She wanted stability, the girls in school, enough money to live on. But Leo was drawn to traveling —town to town, job to job. He left. Gloria’s older sister split for college. Pre-teen Gloria (Lulu Wilson) becomes the sole caretaker for her mentally fragile mother.
The signature Taymor psychedelic flourishes show Gloria’s internal life. There’s a swirling Wizard of Oz plight when a twister tornado picks her up out of a talk show seat and sends her flying past everything she can’t stand. These excursions, although startling at first, are magical. This is where Taymor shines.
Steinem had a lifelong friendship with Wilma Mankiller, the first woman Chief of the Cherokee Nation. The scenes of their close bond, depicted by actresses Julianne Moore and Kimberly Guerrero are some of best in the film.
In another brilliant tribute to the iconic journalist and activist, Christine Lahti, Steinem’s long-term friend, starred in an amazing interactive theatrical event, Gloria: A Life, based on Steinem’s book of the same name. A filmed performance will become available online October 10 through 25.
Taymor animated the cover of the first issue of Ms. magazine. Hindu Goddess Kali uses all eight arms to multitask. Her eight hands hold an iron, steering wheel, mirror, phone, clock, outside rake, egg in a frying pan, and typewriter. There’s a baby growing in her belly and a pet cat at her feet. It’s an effective way to show all of the unpaid work women do, as well as make a statement on reclaiming female empowerment and agency.
Gloria Steinem and Ruth Bader Ginsberg are both powerful female icons. They are beacons of strength and perseverance in advocacy and fighting the good fight. In these difficult and strange times, hope can be found by immersing ourselves in their lives and journeys.
Cover Image: Main photo, left column top: screen projection of Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes poster; Bottom left: Christine Lahti and Fedna Jacquet in theatrical performance of “Gloria: A Life” by Joan Marcus; Top right: Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pittman Hughes at the Ms Foundation by Dorri Olds; Bottom right: “The Glorias” Alicia Vikander and Lorraine Toussaint.