Long before Jennifer Lawrence got mad at herself for failing to negotiate pay equal to that of her male co-stars, Gloria Steinem observed that a woman has two choices: “Either she’s a feminist or a masochist.” (Republican women, Steinem likes to say, consistently fall into the “masochist” category by voting against their own self-interest.) Long before Sheryl Sandberg suggested men pick up the slack at home so women can lean in at work, Steinem pointed out, “Women aren’t going to be equal outside the home until men are equal in it.” In fact, there is little mainstream liberal feminists say today that wasn’t incisively articulated by Gloria Steinem decades ago. Steinem turned 81 this year—more the grandmother than the mother of feminism—but we haven’t outgrown her. We haven’t even finished growing into her.
When Steinem graduated from college in 1956, “feminism” in America mainly referred to the finite struggle of 19th and early 20th century suffragettes to secure the vote, a movement that was by then triumphant and defunct. What makes someone into a feminist in an age bereft of them?