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May 12, 2017
by Ruth Gordon, MA, MSW, LCSW

What Happened Gloria?

May 12, 2017 03:00 by Ruth Gordon, MA, MSW, LCSW

Gloria Steinem was a high profile member of the Women’s Movement. She was an icon of the more radical wing of NOW (National Organization for Women), which was founded by Betty Friedan in 1966.

It was, in fact, Friedan's book, The Feminine Mystique that addressed the need and desire of women to be more than appendages to their husbands and children.

In the 1960’s it was accepted that women could not obtain a credit card without their husband’s permission. Women were regularly bypassed in jury pools, as the common belief was that their only role of importance was as keepers of the home. The birth control pill, which was developed in 1957 was, initially, available only to married women and was considered a gateway to prostitution and abortion. Harvard refused to admit women as students until it merged with Radcliffe College in 1971 and, while Barnard Women were allowed to take classes at Columbia, they could not participate as full-time students until 1981.

Gloria Steinem was a journalist, she was smart, self-assured and exceptionally beautiful. In her early years as a journalist, she obtained a job as a Playboy bunny.  Her expose of sexual harassment, and meager pay led Hugh Hefner, the founder of the Playboy Club, to improve working conditions for these women.

Steinem had reported that before she joined the feminist movement (she was nearly 40), she was considered pretty. As an icon, she was described as beautiful. Steinem believes that the enthusiastic assessment of her allure was a result of the belief (especially prevalent with men) that the early “Women’s Libbers” were at least masculine man-haters and, most likely, lesbians. Gloria’s obvious sexuality and glamor made her stand out from the others.

At Steinem’s 40th birthday party a reporter (male) commented that she didn’t look 40. Her response, “This is what 40 looks like” has become a feminine mantra of self-acceptance and self-respect. She has continued a tradition in that every ten years she has a birthday party. The last one was called: “This is what 80 looks like”. Gloria is now 83 and has vetoed all forms of plastic surgery. She does concede that dealing with aging can be a disheartening task.

Gloria was anything but a hater of men. It is reported that she dated Mort Sahl, Rafer Johnson, and Mike Nichols among others. Although she eschewed the institution of marriage, she did marry David Bale (father of Christian Bale), who was 59 to her 66 in 2000. They were together until his death in 2003. In defending her decision to marry despite all she had protested against the legalities that go along with the conjugal state, Gloria pointed out that marriage laws had changed, i.e. there was more equality between the sexes. Gloria also revealed that she and David wanted to be responsible for one another.

Steinem was born to a Scottish Presbyterian mother and a Jewish father. Although Gloria was never a practicing Jew, individuals with far right leanings accused Gloria, Bella Abzug and Betty Friedan of being part of a Jewish conspiracy to destroy Christian families. The Women’s Movement, which was called the second wave of the call for gender equality (the first wave succeeded in “bestowing” the right to vote on the fairer sex) was intimidating to those who championed the status quo of white male dominance.

Gloria was a founder of Ms. magazine in 1971. Ms. was the first nationally distributed women’s magazine with a revolutionary agenda. The magazine was published on a monthly basis from 1972 to 1987. The purpose of Ms was to encourage feminine solidarity and empowerment. Ms. also supported civil rights for all. Ironically, Ms was initially funded by a man, Clay Felker.

Given Ms. Steinem’s broad-minded attitude on the right of women to be whomever they choose, her recent interview with People magazine is perplexing. Ms. Steinem states, categorically, that after the age of 70 women are not interested in sex or in being sexy. It is not known why Ms. Steinem felt she had the authority to declare this as a truism.

If Ms. Steinem were saying this about herself only, that would not even be notable. But to speak on behalf of womankind appears to be somewhat presumptuous.

There is a plethora of information available on sex and seniors. It is believed, by some, that maintaining an active sex life allows one to live longer. Reports abound on the freedom of sexual expression in later years. Men can rather easily find a willing partner with whom to share a sexual adventure. For women, there is a dearth of opportunity and availability (among other things, fewer men). In such cases, women are encouraged to masturbate.

Regardless of age, those engaged in a developing romance experience the excitement that accompanies the possibility of an erotic encounter. The largest sex organ is still the brain. If a level of acceptance of senior sensuality is embraced, there is no reason to refrain from intimate encounters. Many a love affair has been hatched in assisted living facilities.

Sex expert, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, encourages seniors to enjoy sex and orgasm. Her advice is that even if you can’t participate in intercourse the way you used to — get creative. She cautions that by all means, do not allow boredom in the bedroom. In fact, Dr. Ruth endorses a particular brand of vibrator, the eroscillator.

It has been noted that perfection of the corporal body is not a necessary element in senior sex. Sexual satisfaction has more to do with attitude, enthusiasm and know how.

There is no explanation for Ms. Steinem’s injunction against sexual pleasure for women over 70. The obvious conclusion seems to be that there is no statute of limitations on libido ( remember, it’s all in the brain). Ms. Steinem’s apparently ageist point of view, notwithstanding, researchers insist it’s worth giving sex try.


An Honest Conversation About Sex far 70. (2016, August 27). Retrieved May 10, 2017, from Lifeintheboomerlane.com

Bortz, W. M., MD. (n.d.). Sex Matters: Keeping Sex Alive for Life. Retrieved May 10, 2017, from grandtimes.com

Etherington, J. (2017, February 9). Why Shouldn't You Have A Happy Sex Life at 70? Retrieved May 10, 2017, from telegraphco.uk

Gueren, C. (2014, February 7). 3 Must-Read Sex Secrets From Women over 70. Retrieved May 10, 2017, from womenshealth.com

Hubbard, K. (2017, April 21). Gloria Steinem On Beauty: After You're 70 You have no Interest in Being Sexy. Retrieved May 10, 2017, from people.com

 McLaughlin, K. (2014, August 25). 5 Things Women Couldn't Do In the 60's. Retrieved May 10, 2017, from cnn.com.

Stein, L. (n.d.). Sex and Seniors: the 70 Year Itch. Retrieved May 10, 2017, from consumer.healthday.com

The 1960's -70's American Feminist Movement: Breaking Down Barriers. (n.d.). Retrieved May 10, 2017, from tavaana.org

About the Author

Ruth Gordon Ruth Gordon, MA/MSW/LCSW

A practical approach to problems encountered in daily life. A confidential and comfortable atmosphere in which we will use humor to help you gain perspective on current concerns. Enhance your skills for creative problem solving.

Ruth Gordon has a clinical practice in Naples, FL

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