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Education of a Woman: The Life of Gloria Steinem

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From one of America's most respected critics comes an acclaimed biography of the controversial feminist. Here, Heilbrun illuminates the life and explores the many facets of Steinem's complex life, from her difficult childhood to the awakening that changed her into the most famous feminist in the world. Intimate and insightful, here is a biography that is as provocative as From one of America's most respected critics comes an acclaimed biography of the controversial feminist. Here, Heilbrun illuminates the life and explores the many facets of Steinem's complex life, from her difficult childhood to the awakening that changed her into the most famous feminist in the world. Intimate and insightful, here is a biography that is as provocative as the woman who inspired it. Photos.


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From one of America's most respected critics comes an acclaimed biography of the controversial feminist. Here, Heilbrun illuminates the life and explores the many facets of Steinem's complex life, from her difficult childhood to the awakening that changed her into the most famous feminist in the world. Intimate and insightful, here is a biography that is as provocative as From one of America's most respected critics comes an acclaimed biography of the controversial feminist. Here, Heilbrun illuminates the life and explores the many facets of Steinem's complex life, from her difficult childhood to the awakening that changed her into the most famous feminist in the world. Intimate and insightful, here is a biography that is as provocative as the woman who inspired it. Photos.

30 review for Education of a Woman: The Life of Gloria Steinem

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lizzie

    A decent if a bit rapturous biography of an enduringly important leader and social symbol. It's hard to disentangle what Gloria Steinem accomplished from who she was, how she embodied and represented feminism (or failed to represent feminism, because it's nuts to think any one person could), and how people reacted to her. Heilbrun is obviously an admirer and does a good job of painting the dilemma of leadership within progressive circles- you are condemned for going too far and not far enough, yo A decent if a bit rapturous biography of an enduringly important leader and social symbol. It's hard to disentangle what Gloria Steinem accomplished from who she was, how she embodied and represented feminism (or failed to represent feminism, because it's nuts to think any one person could), and how people reacted to her. Heilbrun is obviously an admirer and does a good job of painting the dilemma of leadership within progressive circles- you are condemned for going too far and not far enough, you can never perfectly align the idiosyncrasies of your human life and failings with the demands of uncompromising ideology, and often the very idea of leadership is rejected as oppressive even when it is most needed to accomplish progressive goals. Call it 'trashing' as Heilbrun's subjects do or call-out culture, but progressive politics eats its own. What a mess. That said, Heilbrun was reactive in how she constructed her subject, focusing inordinate amounts of time on Steinem's conventional looks and thinness, the lust she inspired in men (and women), and the details of her love affairs. In trying to portray critics (often rightly) as jealous, malicious, or sexist, she nevertheless lets these critics set the agenda. I would have appreciated more time on Steinem's leadership style, her relationships with fellow activists and staff at Ms, and more on her racial politics than 'she had lots of black friends.' I'm a millennial and so Steinem the cultural icon has been handed down to me for better and for worse as representative of a second wave feminism that had been overtaken by an 80s backlash and then problematized by the rise of intersectional feminism. The book was published in 1995, definitely prematurely in terms of what Steinem meant and continues to mean as a symbol of a certain kind of feminist politics. And indeed, my one significant adult exposure to her was watching her debate then-Melissa Harris-Lacewell in 2008 in advance of the Democratic primaries. I remember her coming off rather poorly, trotting out the same tired narrative of old-school white feminism- that black men always get to go first and it's not fair. (This is a gross simplification of the exchange, but is the impression rather that lingers in my mind until today.) Harris, in her defense of a younger and less rigid coalition of multiracial progressives, was infinitely more compelling. The younger Steinem captured by Heilbrun is much more vibrant than that exchange would have led me to imagine; Steinem is portrayed as championing a range of progressive causes and working well in tandem with women of color as well as lesbian activists before LGBT rights became mainstream for the left. Heilbrun's only acknowledgment of this tension is a throw-away comment that Steinem's personality led her to cling to simple narratives about sexism aimed to the unconverted to the detriment of her own intellectual growth and evolution. That's a fascinating chapter right there, but it's nowhere else taken up by the author. That said, it was a good reminder to sit and think of the life I would never be living now, a white single female middle class professional, had not many women fought the hard fights within my mother's lifetime to make my current choices seem normal. In that respect I am deeply grateful to this book.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Nuss

    Outstanding, thorough biography. From Carolyn Heilbrun, whose own book, "Writing a Woman's Life" is the definitive academic work on historical limitations on women's life stories, most often curtailed and twisted to fit bigoted social narratives against inherent female power and agency. Heilbrun gives a rich and full story showing how the parents and childhood cirumstances of Steinem lead her to become one of the country's greatest civil rights leaders. Outstanding, thorough biography. From Carolyn Heilbrun, whose own book, "Writing a Woman's Life" is the definitive academic work on historical limitations on women's life stories, most often curtailed and twisted to fit bigoted social narratives against inherent female power and agency. Heilbrun gives a rich and full story showing how the parents and childhood cirumstances of Steinem lead her to become one of the country's greatest civil rights leaders.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Karen Diaz

    Good biography. Dry at times. I liked the book. It was well researched, but a bit dry for my liking. I prefer bios with a bit more explanation of the subject's motives and thought process. Good biography. Dry at times. I liked the book. It was well researched, but a bit dry for my liking. I prefer bios with a bit more explanation of the subject's motives and thought process.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Susan Grodsky

    A thorough, sympathetic biography that ends in 1994, and so doesn’t cover nearly 30 years. I certainly learned a lot about Steinem. She is one of those people who is energized by contact with others. I am a natural introspect — just the opposite. I was enervated just reading about Steinem’s killer travel schedule — she was on an airplane to somewhere every single week for years. She would engage with an audience after a speech, listening for hours, long after her companions had gone to bed. Then A thorough, sympathetic biography that ends in 1994, and so doesn’t cover nearly 30 years. I certainly learned a lot about Steinem. She is one of those people who is energized by contact with others. I am a natural introspect — just the opposite. I was enervated just reading about Steinem’s killer travel schedule — she was on an airplane to somewhere every single week for years. She would engage with an audience after a speech, listening for hours, long after her companions had gone to bed. Then she would sleep in the plane the next morning. It sounds as if, for years, she was living on coffee, adrenaline, and naps grabbed whenever she allowed herself a quiet moment. Steinem and I are about as different as two people can be. But — I discerned this from a few of the photos — we both love cats. If given a fact to face moment with Steinem, I might gently remonstrate with her for leaving her cat so often. Steinem is a fantastic prose stylist. Her biographer— isn’t. Her sentences are often too long and sometimes poorly constructed. It’s work to figure out just what she is saying. The author also remarks FREQUENTLY about Steinem’s looks. She quotes, at some length, a Wall Street Journal reporter who describes Steinem’s long legs and “flat abdomen.” You start to wonder if the biographer is not jealous of her subject. Finally, although this is a biography, I expected a deeper and more cogent presentation of Steinem’s beliefs. One last point: the author frequently remarks on Steinem’s “calmness.” It may be true that Steinem is preternaturally calm. But the author has lived most of her life in New York City — ground zero for high- strung, confrontational personalities. What she describes as Steinem’s “calmness” could well be that typically Midwestern even-temperedness, that Midwestern courtesy. Midwesterners aren’t confrontational, they don’t raise their voices over minor inconveniences. It’s behavior I noticed when I lived in Grinnell, Iowa. I suspect the author has confused this regional trait with personality.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Brynn

    I really adore Heilbrun's writing about women's biographies (see "Writing a Woman's Life") but her actual work in writing a biography was terrifically lacking. Although this book gives one a good sense of Steinem's personal life, most of her activist life is left out. That seems to me to defeat the purpose of reading an activist's biography. I really adore Heilbrun's writing about women's biographies (see "Writing a Woman's Life") but her actual work in writing a biography was terrifically lacking. Although this book gives one a good sense of Steinem's personal life, most of her activist life is left out. That seems to me to defeat the purpose of reading an activist's biography.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mia

    Each year, I like to spend time reading about a heroine of mine. I wasn't thrilled with this biography-- I found it too riddled with the author's adoration of Gloria. I wish it was more impartial and contained more dialogue from Steinem herself. Either way, I admire Gloria Steinem and her life's trajectory and was glad to know a bit more about her upbringing and formative years. Each year, I like to spend time reading about a heroine of mine. I wasn't thrilled with this biography-- I found it too riddled with the author's adoration of Gloria. I wish it was more impartial and contained more dialogue from Steinem herself. Either way, I admire Gloria Steinem and her life's trajectory and was glad to know a bit more about her upbringing and formative years.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Holly

    Ugh, how could a book about such an interesting person be so slow and boring? And it was really annoying how the author kept telling us over and over how beautiful she was but how that was both a blessing and a curse. she said something about this several times in - it seemed like - ever chapter.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Gabrielle

    I couldn't get through this. It was boring.. I couldn't get through this. It was boring..

  9. 4 out of 5

    Rachael

    I stopped.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ian Muil

    Interesting but should be regarded as a psychoanalysis of Steinem and the feminist movement rather than a biography of Steinem.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Armstrong

  12. 4 out of 5

    Christine

  13. 4 out of 5

    Leann

  14. 5 out of 5

    Michele Davis

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Drobny

  16. 4 out of 5

    Tara

  17. 5 out of 5

    Betsy Gannon

  18. 5 out of 5

    Louisa Reid

  19. 5 out of 5

    Carol

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mary Musil

  21. 5 out of 5

    Teresa

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jeanne Marklin

  23. 4 out of 5

    Delia

  24. 5 out of 5

    Diana

  25. 4 out of 5

    Molly Jackson

  26. 5 out of 5

    Erica

  27. 4 out of 5

    Victoria Grace

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jenny

  29. 5 out of 5

    Reader

  30. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

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