Former Columbia University English professor Heilbrun (Hamlet's Mother and Other Women, 1990, etc.) turns her considerable writing and analytical skills to understanding an icon of the women's movement. Heilbrun begins with an introduction that acknowledges the inevitable biases of the biographer; the more a biographer claims to be neutral, she writes, the more suspect he or she becomes. That said, Heilbrun clearly states that she is a fan of her subject (who cooperated with the project), whom she sees as ``the epitome of female beauty and the quintessence of female revolution.'' Balance can be provided by others, she writesand in Steinem's case, many have been more than happy to fill her detractors' shoes. Heilbrun eventually discusses the hostility and derision Steinem has drawn from all sides of the political and social worldthe fear she's inspired in conservative men, the jealousy in less attractive and intelligent womenbut she begins with Steinem's family: Her early feminist paternal grandmother; her obese, peripatetic, irresponsible, and charming father; her well-meaning but frankly insane motherall these and more contributed to the making of the complex adult Steinem. From her unconventional and impoverished youth in Toledo, Ohio, Steinem went on to the privileged world of Smith College and then to India, where she firmed up her understanding of the need for social and racial equality. Her realization that women were underprivileged in a unique and insidious way would not come until many years, causes, and men later, in the late '60s; but when she did discover it, she would adopt it with her characteristic wholeheartedness. Steinem's feminism, like her well-known project Ms. magazine, was criticized for being too glossy and bourgeois by some, too radical by others. But while Heilbrun admits Steinem's numerous errors in judgment, she argues convincingly that what is never in doubt is Steinem's sincerity. Unapologetically one-sidedand nobody could ask for a more eloquent, lucid, or intelligent advocate.
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