Ellen Burstyn & Gloria Steinem | WBEZ
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Death, Sex & Money

Ellen Burstyn & Gloria Steinem

Before the women's movement came around in the 1960s, Gloria Steinem thought her options for the future were limited. "I was being a freelance writer and not having any money to save, and assuming that I would be a bag lady," she tells guest host Ellen Burstyn. "I was supposed to get married and have a man to support me. But that seemed to be a kind of hard bargain."

Gloria was raised by a father who traveled across the country selling jewelry and antiques, and a writer mother who suffered from severe depression. They separated when Gloria was 10 years old, and Gloria soon became her mother's primary caregiver. The journalist and feminist icon says the circumstances she grew up in gave her the confidence to step into the world on her own—like when she traveled to India as a young woman, leaving her then-fiancé behind in the States. "I realized in later life that...I felt not so safe at home because I was a small person looking after a big one," Gloria says. "So I felt the world outside the home was safer."

Gloria broke off that early engagement—but married entrepreneur David Bale when she was 66. "By that time the women's movement had worked for 30 years to equalize the marriage laws," Gloria says. "So no longer would I lose my name and my credit rating and my legal domicile and all my civil rights, as I would have had I got married when I was supposed to. So I thought, 'Well, you know, why not? I mean I'm not going to lose.'" David died three years after they got married, after being diagnosed with brain lymphoma. Gloria says taking care of him at the end of his life forced her to live fully in the present. "He let me do over what I couldn't really do for my mother," she added. "It gave me a chance to do that over."

Gloria is 82 now. And she says she isn't yet very comfortable with the idea of death. "I'm torn because I love it here...I'm very attached," she admits. "I'm still trying to hang in there 'til I'm 100. Because just to meet my deadlines I have to do that."

Feb. 1975 cover of Ms. Magazine featuring Ellen Burstyn, Eleanor Perry and Shirley MacLaine. (Courtesy of Ellen Burstyn.)

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