Vice has been on a hiring blitz lately, replenishing its ranks with a fresh batch of youthful talent as it prepares to launch a new daily news show. But when the program makes its debut early next year, there’ll be a surprising face peering out among the line-up of hipster anchors and hirsute reporters that have long fronted the Brooklyn-based media monolith. Meet Vice’s newest correspondent: 81-year-old Gloria Steinem.
Sources claim that the feminist icon has quietly signed on to host a regular Vice-branded segment on women’s issues for the company, traveling around the globe to look into the lives of women in countries from Iran to Ireland. “She’s hired a staff and is completely engaged in every step of the production,” says a well-placed Vice executive. “The first time she walked into our office in Williamsburg the whole place shut down. It was like Elvis had entered the building.”
Vice CEO Shane Smith reportedly offered the job to Steinem last year, shortly after she appeared in the company’s Makers series, discussing the future of feminism with a rapt Jennifer Anniston. Wary of Vice’s early incarnation, sources say, Steinem initially turned down the job.
Founded in 1994 as a fratty Montreal-based ‘zine aimed at urban lads, Vice drew feminist fire for features that asked readers to vote on who was hotter,“Monica Lewinsky or a German pot-bellied pig.” But in the past decade, as his company has matured into a global media powerhouse, co-founder, and CEO Shane Smith has steered it in a decidedly more female-friendly direction. In recent years, Vice has tackled international stories of particular concern to women, from female genital mutilation in Africa to China’s stepped-up policy of enforced abortions. Last August, it launched a new vertical named Broadly, a site that covers the world from a subversive, feminist perspective.
“I think Shane was finally able to convince her that she wouldn’t be a gimmick for us, says our C-Suite source. “And let’s face it, for someone who wants to get her message out, there aren’t many other media outlets that are better positioned to give her the audience and financial support that we can.” (Both Vice and Steinem declined to comment for this story.)
For Steinem, who started off as a writer for Esquire in the early ’60s, Vice marks the latest chapter in a tumultuous career. She first burst into public attention at 29 as the writer of a 1963 expose titled “A Bunny’s Tale,” which detailed the indignities that she suffered while working undercover as a “Bunny” at New York’s Playboy Club. The very Vice-like story, which featured a photo of the comely author in trademark bunny ears and a furry cotton-tail, made a huge splash when it appeared. But for years afterwards, Steinem found herself unable to land other assignments. “I had now become a Bunny,” she later explained. “It didn’t matter why.”
She emerged from her enforced exile to become a columnist for New York magazine, where she wrote a series of explosive stories on the burgeoning feminist movement that propelled her to international fame. In 1972, Steinem cofounded Ms. Magazine, which began as a ‘special insert’ in New York. The magazine’s first issue, funded by New York’s legendary editor, Clay Felker sold out in eight days. Under Steinem’s stewardship, Ms. became the leading voice of America’s feminist movement and a launching pad for a new generation of women writers. But when Ms. fizzled in the 1980s, Steinem kept going, publishing two bestselling books and appearing before standing-room-only crowds at colleges across the country.
In 1998, The American Society of Magazine Editors inducted Steinem in to its Hall of Fame, an honor she awkwardly shared with Playboy founder Hugh Hefner. Posing together for photographers after a star-studded ceremony, the lifelong antagonists remained cordial but didn’t exchange a single word. “It’s like a conservationist being given an award with a head of a timber company,” Steinem quipped.
Though she still occasionally writes for various outlets and websites, the restless octogenarian has turned her gaze outwards in recent years, flying around the world as an organizer and lecturer on issues of gender equality. But she continues to make news at home. In September, after the second GOP debate in California, she made headlines with a Facebook post that eviscerated Carly Fiorina for her crusade against Planned Parenthood, denouncing the former Hewlett-Packard CEO as “a liar” whose twisted version of reality was rivaled only by Sarah Palin’s.
And she’s sure to set off a new round of fireworks this month, when her new memoir, My Life on the Road, finally hits the shelves. The book, 20-years-in-the-making, is reportedly a candid snapshot of the state of the modern feminist movement. Since its contents have been strictly embargoed until publication, few people really know what’s in the book. But those who have read it say that Steinem doesn’t pull any punches, forcefully taking on a wide array of politicians, world leaders, reporters, academics and Hollywood executives for failing to deliver on the promise of Feminism.
In her only interview to date about the book, with her friend and Women’s Media Center co-founder Robin Morgan, she pressed younger listeners to look beyond their own boundaries. “Spend six weeks on the road; it will be the best education you’ll ever get.”
“She’s never lost her passion for these issues,” confides a longtime friend of Steinem’s. “She’s determined to remain relevant. She’s not about to fade into history. The Vice boys think they’re bad-ass, but once they meet Gloria they won’t know what’s hit them.”
Update: A previous version of this article suggested the Vice show would air on HBO. A spokesperson for Vice said the show is not in development for HBO.