At last, it's safe to get married (even for Ms Steinem)

'What are we to make of her belated commitment to the nuptial world? Is she mad to be a Mrs?'
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The Independent Online

Golly, Gloria, what have you done? Surely this is some matrimonial ms-take? On Sunday, Gloria Steinem, aged 66, elegant and eloquent ("Marriage makes you half a person") major-domo of the American women's movement, became a blushing Mrs David Bale. The sunrise ceremony, part Cherokee, part civil, was held in the home of the graphically named Wilma Mankiller.

Golly, Gloria, what have you done? Surely this is some matrimonial ms-take? On Sunday, Gloria Steinem, aged 66, elegant and eloquent ("Marriage makes you half a person") major-domo of the American women's movement, became a blushing Mrs David Bale. The sunrise ceremony, part Cherokee, part civil, was held in the home of the graphically named Wilma Mankiller.

According to Steinem's friend, Kathy Najimy, it was, "Very spiritual, very joyous..." She also tells us that South African Bale, five years younger than his new wife, is an anti-apartheid animal-rights activist. In addition, he is the father of the American Psycho actor Christian Bale which, according to Hollywood aficionados, very probably makes him cute too. Not that looks matter, of course.

The activist formerly known as Ms Steinem issued a statement through her publicist. "Though I've worked many years to make marriage more equal," she said, "I never expected to take advantage of it myself... I hope this proves what feminists have always said - that feminism is about the ability to choose what's right at each time of our lives..."

So what are we to make of this unabashed, if belated, commitment to the nuptial world? Especially since, unlike some feminists who become wives on the less than romantic grounds of pensions, visas and life insurance, Ms Steinem seems to be motivated by the old-fashioned prospect of long-term love? Does her change of heart say something about the alleged collapse of feminism? The mystery of marriage? Or Ms Steinem's own state of mind? Bluntly, is she mad to be a Mrs?

To take the latter first. Born in Toledo, Ohio, Gloria Steinem had a truly terrible childhood. And has risen above it magnificently. Her mother, Ruth, had numerous breakdowns. From the age of 10, when her parents divorced, Gloria alone had to care for her mother, living in a rat-infested house, "a vagabond child".

Against the odds, Steinem went to college and eventually became a successful journalist. She had good looks, blonde hair, wit, a way with words and, later, when she developed her feminist politics, they all blended into a lethal weapon. "If men could menstruate," she wrote in 1978, "they would brag about how often and how much..."

She irritated some feminists because the media fell in love with her image - aviator glasses, artificially sun-streaked hair. In 1971, Newsweek put her on its cover, more interested in her mammaries than her message. "The New Woman [with] the most incredibly perfect body." Still, her looks allowed "radical" views to be smuggled into the mainstream. She founded Ms magazine and spent years speaking, fund-raising, organising.

Then, in her forties - as she explained in Revolution from Within, a book of self esteem, eight years ago, she realised she was "in deep shit". When I interviewed her at the time, she even looked as if she was in deep shit. She'd had several illustrious lovers, including millionaire Mort Zuckerman, who was opposed to much of what she believed in. She fell in love, she said, because she wanted to be rescued: "Loving someone for what I needed instead of what he was." He, in turn, she says, had fallen in love with "inauthentic me". The basis of many an old-fashioned marriage.

Steinem analysed her problems as chronic lack of confidence, low self-esteem and an ability "to know other people's feelings better than my own". Since then, she has explained how she set out to "find herself" and build her self-respect. It sounds cringe-making but, as any marriage counsellor will say, it's one of the first steps to forging a healthy relationship. Or, to put it another way, first you learn to live happily ever after. And then you find Mr Right. And that is precisely what Ms Steinem appears to have done.

Still, if the personal is political, isn't it a risky step for a feminist to join such a traditional institution? The answer Steinem might perhaps give is that it's in the process of redesign. Marriage is becoming less hierarchical, more democratic, more a demonstration of team work, customised to suit the individuals involved. (A tribute to the potency of feminism, not a mark of its decline.) A wife no longer needs a husband for status, income or children. A wedding ring no longer turns her into her husband's chattel. In short, matrimony is even becoming safe enough for the occasional Ms to risk.

So, this may very well be a story with a happy ending - not only for Ms Steinem but also for all those blasted feminist-immune single Bridget Joneses. Hang on in there girls, there's only another thirtysomething years to go before you too finally succeed in marching downthe aisle. Grateful to have learnt by then, of course, that there's somuch more to life than broken hearts and bridegrooms.

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