Ms. Turns 30

A Pakistani man runs away from the blast site at Qissa Khawani bazaar in Peshawar, Pakistan, on Thursday, May 28, 2009. AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad

In an era of one-woman magazines - Oprah Winfrey, Martha Stewart, Rosie O'Donnell - Gloria Steinem made her debut on the cover of Ms. this month, 30 years after she helped found the flagship journal of the U.S. feminist movement.

"It felt odd to be on the cover of one's own magazine, not that it was totally mine," Steinem told Reuters by telephone. "But if Oprah can be on every issue, it's OK for me to be on it once in 30 years," she said with a laugh.

So even though she once pledged never to do it, Steinem was photographed for the front of the Ms. spring issue, a sexagenarian in a stylish but subdued shirt and trousers.

This is a far cry from the typical cover on O, The Oprah Magazine, which features the TV diva promoting "women's personal growth," or Rosie, which generally has a picture of talk-show hostess O'Donnell. Martha Stewart Living often has a luscious-looking dessert.

These new women's magazines deal with many of the same subjects the old ones did - beauty, health, home decor and food - surrounded by plenty of advertising. But Ms. was something quite different when it was first published in 1972 to give voice to the burgeoning women's movement.

The current, 30th-anniversary issue includes articles from the magazine's early years on such topics as consciousness raising, masturbation -- complete with a photo of fascinated young women using a speculum, mirror and flashlight to get a better look -- and a "meditation" on the vagina and female destiny.

One 1972 story titled "Click! The Housewife's Moment of Truth," articulated frustrations that fueled the women's movement.

"American women are angry," Jane O'Reilly wrote. "Not redneck-angry from screaming because we are so frustrated and unfulfilled-angry, but clicking-things-into-place-angry, because we have suddenly and shockingly perceived the basic disorder in what has been believed to be the natural order of things."

Steinem took issue with those who might find such sentiments out of date.

"I think the 'click!' still exists, it just changes form," she said. For her, one recent example was when President Bush placed Afghanistan's new minister of women's affairs, Sima Samar, in the audience at his State of the Union address, "but there has been no aid to women in Afghanistan. Click!"

Other stories take on subjects that were cutting-edge three decades ago and still polarizing now.

A 1973 story excerpt is accompanied by a chilling black-and-white coroner's photo of a woman who died after a botched abortion, the same year the 1973 Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution gives women the right to abortion.

There is also a contemporary report on the plight of Afghan women prepared by the Feminist Majority Foundation, which bought Ms. in November from a coalition of women investors who had owned the magazine since 1998.

Foundation President Eleanor Smeal said Steinem was the right choice for the cover: "She was a co-founder who stayed with it the whole 30 years," Smeal said by telephone. "This first 30 years, she's been one of the inspirations for the feminist movement."

Ms. has occasionally operated at a profit through a variety of owners. The current plan will make the magazine a non-profit venture, keeping a separate staff and board of directors from the Feminist Majority Foundation.

It will eschew most advertising, except where advertisers are solidly part of the feminist mission, Smeal said, pointing to a back-cover ad in the current issue for the National Council of Women's Organization.

Won't this doom the magazine? Not according to Steinem.

"We certainly have survived and had great impact for 30 years while losing far less money than any other serious magazine that I can think of," Steinem said.

In fact, Ms. started turning a profit, or at least breaking even, when it stopped taking advertising, Steinem said.

"The industry has turned women's magazines into catalogs that really should be given away free," Steinem said. "They're nothing but products! ... In comparative terms, Ms. has been successful and it can show a small profit again."

By Deborah Zabarenko
  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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