You don't need the tizzy over the latest Newsweek cover featuring a crazy-eye Michele Bachmann, which prompted charges of sexism, to know that public debate of gender issues are far from resolved. (And we won't even get into pay inequity, reproductive rights, violence against women, and all the other stuff.)
Yet because of the progress there has been, many women and men don't appreciate the road to get here. Luckily, the last film in HBO's summer documentary series is "Gloria: In Her Own Words" (9 tonight), an overview of feminist icon Gloria Steinem's near 50-year career in the women's movement.
If you're looking for an analytical piece, this isn't it. Instead, it's a basic and enlightening primer on Steinem's life; during interviews at her home in Manhattan, she reflects on the pivotal moments in her public and personal life.
The journey takes us through Steinem's Ohio childhood, her love of tap dancing, (there's a lovely scene much later where Steinem dances accompanied by a singing Barbara Walters), her regrets about her relationship with both her parents. We see her as a young journalist breaking the story of the less than glamourous work of being a Playboy Bunny, by working as one for a few months. There's her admission of having had an abortion at 22, helping to alleviate some of the shame of that act. There's her founding of Ms. Magazine, which commentators like Howard K. Smith thought would surely be a failure.
Indeed, one of the most interesting parts of "Gloria" is seeing the blatant sexism of the media as it covered the burgeoning women's movement. It's startling to see iconic anchors being both condescending and insulting with ease. I also found interesting the more personal elements of Steinem's life; her late in life, brief marriage, her Holly Golightly homage, her love of fellow activist Bella Abzug.
A surprising element is Steinem's manner; she's cool as usual, but also quite emotional, even easily wounded. It's an ironic fact that she became a movement media star in part because she's so attractive; at the same time that men feared what she was fighting for, it was easier to take because she was attractive. Despite the stereotype of a 'women's libber,' not a bit of her femininity is lost to her strength or her intelligence. (She looks dang good at 76, by the way.)
As I noted, the doc bypasses analysis, and serves more as a laudatory look at Steinem. Because of that, it skims the contributions of others in the movement, and doesn't deal with divide in feminism between the second wave and the third wave thinkers, or the controversy caused by Steinem's remarks regarding Hillary Clinton's race for president.
But that's OK. If you don't know much about Steinem or know some young people who you think should know more, get them to tune in. It's an inspiring look at the birth of a vital movement and one woman who helped make it happen.