Face of women’s movement doesn’t like to stress looks

Sunday, February 13, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:33 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 12, 2008

Gloria Steinem, whose spoken and written words have influenced history for decades, knows that how she looks has played a part in her success.

But she doesn’t like it.

“Looks are a double-edged sword: It gets you noticed first but also keeps you from being taken seriously,” Steinem said Friday.

“I personally find it very painful because you come to feel that no matter how hard you work and what you do, your accomplishments will be attributed to something that has nothing to do with your work,” she said.

An activist and writer, Steinem was in Columbia last week to accept a 2004 Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism.

She was honored for her work and leadership with women and other groups.

In an interview the day after the awards ceremony, Steinem — who was dubbed “a fox” in a recent USA Today profile — talked about how people link appearance and ability.

“It’s terribly important to know what we can do for our hearts and our heads, not just our surface,” she said.

Steinem, who is credited with being the face of the women’s rights movement for the late 20th century, said she views her achievements equally, whether large or small.

When pressed, though, she said growing up in the 1950s — and surviving it — is her best accomplishment.

“There was so little idea of social justice, no women’s movement and a small civil rights movement,” she said. “It was so dead and conservative.”

Now that she is 70, Steinem said it’s important to her to give more time to writing.

“Seventy is an age I associate with mortality, and I began to face that I don’t have much time left,” she said. “I started thinking about how much time I have left to write.”

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