OUTRAGEOUS ACTS AND EVERYDAY REBELLIONS
The world didn't lose a great journalist when Gloria Steinem focused her energies on feminist activism--but because she was a working journalist (and, from 1968, political columnist for first-person-prone New York magazine), the light bulb goes on right here. This first collection of her writings (also, her first book) leads off with autobiographical comments: on the speaking she's done instead of writing, and how difficult ("a major hurdle in my life") and ultimately rewarding it was (kudos on both scores to her black lecture partners); on her earlier writing career, or the frustrations of frivolous, "girl reporter" assignments; on her first stabs at "telling the truth in public" and other outcomes of a "growing consciousness." From the pre-feminist writing, she includes only "I Was a Playboy Bunny"--a 1963 "exposÃ‰" of the crippling grind, the miserable pay, the sexual harassment (said a co-worker: "If you can type, what the hell do you want to be a Bunny for?")--and the first parts of a section of campaign reports, 1965-72. It's there, in 1968, that the "Feminist Realization" (born of covering women's meetings) hits home--eliciting the kind of protest that would quickly become a groundswell: "Six months ago I would have been honored by McGovern's invitation to a 'serious' (i.e., male and therefore grownup) political meeting, but full of doubt about whether I could contribute in a 'serious' (male) way. . . . I couldn't admit that any power relationship in life is political: therefore politics for women may be who's doing the dishes, or who's getting paid half the wages that a man would get for the same job, or who's expected to take the roles of service and support everywhere, including in political campaigns." A dozen pages later, after the 1972 Democratic Convention (Chisholm for president, Farenthold for V.P.): "Women are never again going to be mindless coffee-makers, or mindless policy-makers. . . ." That sense of being in at the creation is diluted by the non-chronological arrangement of the pieces in the remaining two-thirds of the book--pieces that are essentially feminist polemics whether the subject is food (women's smaller share or "Erotica vs. Pornography," (good) Jackie Kennedy or the (bad) heroine of Sophie's Choice. A partial exception is "Ruth's Song (Because She Could Not Sing It)," Steinem's previously unpublished memoir of her mentally-disturbed mother--whom she regards as a victim but also celebrates as a life-force. Still, her particular talent has been for perceiving the feminist angle, in her own writing and for Ms., and spreading that recognition. If some of the ideas here sound hackneyed, she has honest claim to them.