Reviewed by Sue Green
Moving Beyond Words by Gloria Steinem Simon & Schuster $230 TO many women, the name Gloria Steinem is synonymous with feminism. As the women's movement gained momentum in the West in the 70s, she was at the forefront.
Ms, the magazine she helped found, and for which she remains a consulting editor, provided a forum for Steinem and like-minded women to go a step further than arguing the case for equality and women's rights. They were givens, as it dared print the stories women wanted to read, not those men and advertisers (usually synonymous) thought they should read.
'Sex, Lies and Advertising', one of the six self-contained essays in this new book, reveals the battle those crusading editors faced. It's a battle women's magazine editors still face - for those who care to fight, that is. Here is a wealth of fascinating material about the editorial demands made by advertisers, not just placement of ads and the sorts of stories on the same or adjacent pages.
These demands make women's magazines the spineless fluff they so often are. Advertisers don't want stories about health risks, depression and death, they want smiling, 'positive' women. They get them, and women readers get an unreal view of the world.
This was the story I enjoyed the most. Fascinating material, written in Steinem's lively and polished style, no-holds-barred opinions. As with two of the other stories, this expanded on a previous article. But here, too, Steinem's true colours shine through. There's a tone of self-righteousness as she describes the worthy battle of 'we, at Ms magazine'. It's a tone that pervades her writing and that is off-putting, no matter how valuable the material.
Steinem is 60 now and proud of it. Quite right too. She devotes her final essay, 'Doing Sixty' to the new freedom and attitude that have come with this milestone. But while Betty Friedan's new book, The Fountain of Age, is an inspiration to those of us unconvinced life begins at 40, let alone 60, Steinem's effort is self-indulgent and egotistical.
Steinem says each story looks at a familiar subject from a different perspective and as though women mattered. Ideologically it's a sound approach and Steinem is a professional and skilled writer, but she can't resist lecturing. In fact she doesn't try to resist; this book is not about entertaining.