The Pioneering Feminist You Really Need To Know

We now live in a society where the majority of women consider themselves to be feminists, according to the Pew Research Center. Today, people fight in the streets and the digisphere against issues like intersectional discrimination and #MeToo sexual harassment. And though we still have a long way to go, we've come a long way too, in part thanks to feminism's humble beginnings.

The feminist movement kicked off its first wave in the mid-1800s, when women gathered at small conventions and marched in the streets for women's (and, in some cases, a universal) right to vote, according to Vox. The second wave of the movement began in the U.S. in the 1960s, an era where women taught classes on reproductive freedom and demanded liberation from gender roles via protest picket signs. One of the most prominent leaders to emerge during the second wave quickly became a household name – and even decades later, she refuses to slow down.

Gloria Steinem: journalist turned feminist icon

Gloria Steinem was in her late 20s when she began her career as a writer and journalist, according to Brittanica. It was in her writing that she began speaking out about issues that impacted women. Her first major piece was a 1962 article about sexuality and birth control for Esquire. A year later, she rose to fame after going undercover as a Playboy Bunny at New York City's Playboy Club to expose the sexist treatment of the club's employees for a Show magazine article (per Biography). She later told Interview Magazine, "Being a Playboy Bunny was like being hung on a meat hook. I had to work very hard in 3-inch heels and a costume so tight that I could hardly breathe."

By the late-1960s, Steinem was writing regularly for publications like New York Magazine, penning articles with feminist undertones that further signaled her passion for the women's liberation movement. That passion soon fueled the 1972 launch of her own magazine, Ms. Magazine, which is still published today and explores topics such as politics and women's health. In addition to her career in journalism, Steinem applied her wordsmith talents to several feminist books, including the bluntly titled "The Truth Will Set You Free, But First It Will P*ss You Off!"

Steinem co-founded several organizations

Since she began her career, Gloria Steinem has never shied away from the spotlight, earning the nickname "World's Most Famous Feminist," according to National Geographic. Steinem quickly began using her platform to empower other women through a number of organizations. One of the most notable is the National Women's Political Caucus, an organization she co-founded in 1971 that encourages women to run for political office. A year later, she also co-founded the Ms. Foundation for Women, a group that advocates primarily for women of color and low-income women.

According to Brittanica, the feminist icon has also helped in founding the Coalition of Labor Union Women, Voters for Choice, Women Against Pornography, and the Women's Media Center. She also took her passion for change overseas to co-found Direct Impact Africa, an organization that helps build businesses and schools in African communities.

Though Steinem's writing may be what she's most known for, her work alongside others in organizations may be among her most significant contributions to social and feminist causes. As she told Global Risk Insights, "In the presence of other people, you have community and different points of view. We are social animals. We need each other and it is very important not to be alone."

Gloria continues to fight to this day

Feminism has evolved over the last century, and Gloria Steinem has been there fighting the entire way. In the early 1970s, she testified in support of the Equal Rights Amendment, leading to its passage in the Senate (though, ultimately, the amendment was never ratified), according to Harper's Bazaar. In the 1980s, she continued working for women, setting up women's shelters and finding lawyers for women and girls who had been abused, even as the feminist movement lost much of its earlier power (per The Washington Post). And recently, she partnered with Meghan Markle in support of Roe v. Wade after it was overturned by the Supreme Court.

At 88 years old, Steinem continues to juggle projects that boldly disrupt the patriarchy. "The idea of retiring is as foreign to me as the idea of hunting," she said in a 2018 interview with Ms. Magazine. The pioneering feminist is trying to make the most of each day she has, telling The New York Times, "I have to keep reminding myself that even if I live to 100, which I have every intention of doing, it's not that long left. I just hope that I don't die saying: 'But! Wait!'"