‘Mrs America’: Did Gloria Steinem really work for the CIA?
Who was the real Gloria Marie Steinem? A seasoned journalist for New York magazine, it was an article she wrote in 1969 that brought her national fame
A feminist, journalist and socio-political activist, Gloria Steinem is the antithesis of Phyllis Schlafly in ‘Mrs. America’. Played by Rose Byrne, her character walks and talks like the independent, fierce, and fearless woman who co-founded the all-women-run Ms Magazine and the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971.
In a 2012 New York Times article, Steinem was called “young and white and pretty and she looked great on magazine covers,” and while Rose imitates her bohemian style with those classic oversized glasses and signature long tresses, there's more to her than meets the eye.
Who was the real Gloria Marie Steinem? A seasoned journalist for New York magazine, it was an article she wrote in 1969, "After Black Power, Women's Liberation", that brought her national fame. In 1972, Steinem became the first woman to speak at the National Press Club and in 1978, she wrote another jaw-dropping article named, "If Men Could Menstruate".
Dealing with struggles, her childhood shaped her personality and was a major factor in her inclination towards women empowerment. At 10, her parents divorced under the stress of her mother's illness and while she never blamed them, her mother's inability to hold on to a job made her see the hostility towards working women in the real world and helped understand the social injustice and gender bias.
In her 2015 autobiography, 'My Life on the Road', she describes how she chose an illegal abortion at 22 and moved to India to marry her ex-fiancé. Her experiences drew her in favor of the abortion-rights advocacy, glimpses of which are shown in the series, particularly when Byrne-as-Steinem tells the doctor, “You will never tell anyone my name. And you will do what you want to do with your life.”
But, her ties with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) are not widely known in the world. A radical feminist group, Redstockings published a report that Steinem and others put together on the Vienna Youth Festival and its attendees for the Independent Research Service in May 1975.
Earlier, in the 1950s and early 1960s, she had admitted her involvement with the CIA-financed foundation in interviews, she denied any connection with them later in 1967 in the wake of Ramparts magazine CIA exposures. She was said to be the leader of the Independent Research Service when it was being funded by the CIA and in 2004, a 1975 classified report was made public, which noted Steinem's CIA ties.
Much later, in her book, she acknowledged it saying, "In my experience [the CIA] was completely different from its image; it was liberal, nonviolent and honorable." In fact, her visit to India is also said to be a stint given to her by the CIA. A report claims that she spent "two years in India spying for the CIA" and received a Chester Bowles Student Fellowship to cover her expenses to “study” in India.
Moreover, in 1978, Steinem put a book called “Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman” on the cover of Ms. Magazine and it has been labeled as an act in support of the CIA since then as it is believed the so-called “Black Feminist” movement was created and manipulated by the CIA. While most people were drawn to her by her pretty face and celebrity status, there's much more to how she climbed the ladder of success.