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Gloria Steinem: In Her Own Words

A new documentary profiles one of the pioneers of the feminist movement

Activist Gloria Steinem speaks during a session about her HBO documentary.

Writer and activist Gloria Steinem is the subject of the new HBO documentary Gloria In Her Own Words. — Photo by: Fred Prouser/Reuters

"Feminism began to dawn on my brain belatedly in life," says Gloria Steinem in the new HBO documentary Gloria: In Her Own Words. But she made up for lost time. After going undercover as a Playboy Bunny at 28 for a magazine article, Steinem began a fabled — some say notorious — career championing women's rights.

See also: Marlo Thomas on motherhood and feminism.

The film's clips show young Steinem in action — and society's reaction. In 1971 news anchor Harry Reasoner predicts Steinem's new Ms. magazine will last "about three issues." A White House tape catches President Richard Nixon ridiculing both Steinem and the term "Ms."

"Some of those clips I had never seen," says Steinem, 77. She insists the definition of feminism remains fundamentally the same, while the flow of history dictates the specific focus: pay equity, military service...or, most divisive of all, abortion.

In the wake of the feminist movement, she says, "most cultures have concluded that it's a natural right of a person to decide what's happening inside their own bodies. If an infant can survive outside, it's a different story — but there is a growing principle that the power of the state stops at our skins."

When she revisits that young woman with the aviator glasses and the streaked hair (inspired by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's), does Steinem wish she could share some wisdom with her younger self? "I think I would tell her, 'Everything is going to be all right.'"

You may also like: Angie Dickinson on her role in the feminist movement.

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