By Julia Torres
The White House has announced that Gloria Steinem will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her leadership and commitment to women’s rights advocacy. Since President Kennedy created the award fifty years ago, the Presidential Medal of Freedom remains the nation’s highest civilian honor. According to the White House, it is “presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” President Barack Obama, speaking about the meaning of the award, recently said that it “goes to men and women who have dedicated their own lives to enriching ours. This year’s honorees have been blessed with extraordinary talent, but what sets them apart is their gift for sharing that talent with the world.”
Gloria Steinem has used her extraordinary talent and has worked tirelessly for over four decades to achieve these same values of peace, cooperation, and progression in the field of human rights. She has become the face of the Second Wave of Feminism that began in the 1960s. Throughout her lifetime, she has spoken in countless rallies, meetings, articles, and even on the Senate floor during the debates over the Equal Rights Amendment in 1970. In Glamour magazine, Christine Stansell, a University of Chicago history professor, said Steinem “was to the women’s movement what Martin Luther King Jr. was to civil rights: the galvanizer.” For over forty years, Steinem has never wavered in her advocacy for women’s rights in the work place, in the social sphere, and in women’s health.
After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Smith College in 1956, Steinem began her work in India on a Chester Bowles Fellowship. As her articles, appearances, and website testify, Steinem is passionate about equality, particularly in gender, race, and the prevention of domestic abuse for women and children. These ideals and interests ring clear in her achievements and awards.
Steinem is perhaps best known for her role as the cofounder of Ms. magazine, a magazine that redefined the expectations and boundaries of women’s magazines and is still committed to reporting female issues and the female voice. An avid writer, Steinem has shared her message not only in her numerous articles in Esquire, The New York Times Magazine, and other women’s magazines, but also in her bestselling books Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, Moving Beyond Words, and Marilyn: Norma Jean, on the life of Marilyn Monroe.
Among her many outreach projects, Steinem has helped found several organizations aimed to help women reach their political potential, such as the National Women’s Political Caucus. She has led the way in education by designing nonsexist, multiracial, educational initiatives through her Women’s Action Alliance as well as many other organizations. She is also a leader in pro-choice activism and has founded many organizations around her support for abortion and contraceptive rights.
Steinem has received numerous awards for both her writing and her message. From the Society of Writers Award from the United Nations to the National Gay Rights Advocate Award to the Ceres Medal from the United Nations, Steinem has shown that she is dedicated to advancing her desire for equality in all people. Biography magazine listed her as one of the 25 most influential women in America, and, in 1993, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York.
Steinem is one of five women to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom this year, a testament to her work and women’s growing and valuable presence on the national and global stage.
Julia Torres is a senior at Saint Joseph’s University majoring in English. She became a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2013. Saint Joseph’s is home to the Phi of Pennsylvania chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.