Hugging Gloria Steinem by Robert Bason

Featured Artwork: “Indirection” by Ann Calandro

Gloria Steinem visited the office where I work the other day. She came as a representative of CREDO, my favorite phone company. CREDO provides reliable long distance service and gives some of its profits to progressive causes (well over $1 million last year).

I got to speak to her – Gloria Steinem of the long hair and granny glasses, the reserved demeanor, the role model for liberated women, and…, well, you get it. I’m awed by her. Here’s a woman who was involved in moving a whole culture. I’ve met financial tycoons and others of that type, but they don’t excite me. They made a lot of money. So what? When they’re dead, they’re dead. Their rotten kids will grab their money. But, Gloria Steinem? She changed a generation. She altered the way people think.

Alright, there I am in the room. There’s Gloria Steinem, up front, saying great things. The only one I remember is: “It turns out Ma Bell is not a woman.” That mean old AT&T took away their annual gift for sex education programs to Planned Parenthood just because a handful of religious crazies got a little riled up. What little remained of my belief in corporate responsibility went skittering away.

When she finished her remarks, I approached her, introduced myself, and asked if she’d autograph my copy of her latest book – actually autograph it again, since I’d bought it at Barnes & Noble and it had already been autographed to someone else. Who would ask Gloria Steinem to autograph a book for them, then not pick it up? “Dario,” That’s who. She seemed slightly confused when I asked her to cross out “Dario” and write in “Bob.” But, she did.

Then the photographer asked if he could take our picture. She was gracious. “Of course,” she said. The president of our organization was on the other side of her, so it became a three-person “photo op.” When you get into that kind of situation before a camera, you put your arm around the person in the middle and you get real close together.

My arm automatically flew up to go around Gloria Steinem – but it froze in mid-air. Or, I should say, my brain froze my arm in mid-air. My arm said, “Hug Gloria Steinem.” My brain said, “You do not hug Gloria Steinem.” My whole motley history of hugging/not-hugging now flashed through my head.

I’m a male, raised in those bizarre halcyon days of General/President Eisenhower. My male images did not exactly go around hugging one another. In fact, they went around shooting each other. They were tough, they were rough, they were reserved; they didn’t speak much, they didn’t cry, they didn’t hug. I obediently went along. But, oh, how I wanted to hug – especially my dad. And how I wanted him to hug me.

Along came the sixties – with the great cry from Berkeley: “You’re free. You can do as you like.” I knew what I wanted. I wanted to hug. And we did. We all hugged. We hugged women. We hugged men. We got together in big groups to hug each other. We hugged trees. We went to therapy groups where we learned how to hug better. We learned how to hug minds, not just bodies.

When the seventies arrived, I began to learn about feminism. Men could be intimidating. We were intimidating with our physical size, our attitude. I began to pick up vibes. Hugging women was just not cool. In fact, for the women, it could be downright scary.

So, I began to unlearn hugging. I could still hug my wife. I could still hug my children. I could still hug a few of my closest male friends, my own age. But, I’d better not go around hugging women.

Now I work for this progressive organization which promotes very enlightened, progressive views about sexual matters. Lots of women in this organization look something like Gloria Steinem. I don’t hug much anymore at all. I’m beset by articles in every newspaper about sexual harassment. Not only do I not hug, I also keep my office door open at all times.

It all flashed through my mind – with my arm frozen in mid-air behind Gloria Steinem. I think this person is terrific. I’d like to hug her. But, she’ll think I’m simply another insensitive, overbearing, aggressive male. Better not hug her. All this, of course, went past in a twinkling. Arm frozen. Brain confused.

Then I felt an arm go around my waist. It was Gloria Steinem’s arm. It pulled me a little closer, for the photographer – the natural thing to do. My brain unlocked. My arm continued in its flight. There I was, hugging Gloria!

* * * * * * * *


I’d told our president my story about being afraid to hug Gloria Steinem. About two weeks later, as I was passing by the president’s office, the double doors flew open. Out came the president with Gloria. They’d apparently been talking business.

“Oh, Gloria,” the president said, “there’s that funny man I was telling you about who was afraid to hug you.”

I was mortified.

When Gloria looked at me, her face broke into a big smile.

“Oh, come here, honey,” she said – and threw her arms wide for a big hug.


Robert Bason, now retired, was previously an archaeologist, a Methodist minister, an assistant chancellor of the University of California, Santa Barbara, a vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, a fundraising consultant to over 200 charities, and the owner/publisher of Capra Press.  Now he writes.  Previous articles have appeared in Harvest Publications, Ancestors West, and in the compendium, The Library, edited by Steven Gilbar with an introduction by T. C. Boyle.

Ann's collages are made of paper, colored pencil, marker, ink, pastel, paint, chalk, fabric, and photographs that she takes and sometimes digitally manipulates. She creates these collages on matboard and, sometimes, on reclaimed furniture such as end tables, small dressers, and stools. She calls her art style enchanted realism, the intersection between the real and the imaginary, the possible and the impossible, and memories and dreams. You can find more of her work at:

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