A Pedestal Is as Much a Prison as Any Small Space

Gloria Steinem? Joe King? Anonymous Black Feminist?

Dear Quote Investigator: Being placed on a pedestal has a serious drawback according to the following astute metaphorical amplification:

A pedestal is a prison, like any other small space.

Would you please explore the provenance of this expression which is often attributed to the prominent feminist Gloria Steinem?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in an advertisement for a realty company written by Joe King and published in “The Yuma Daily Sun” of Yuma, Arizona in September 1974. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The man who didn’t want his wife to work has been succeeded by the man who asks about her chances of getting a raise . . .
A pedestal is as much a prison as any small space . . .
Do you feel like you’re in prison?
Kids growing up and cramped for space?
Really put your wife on a pedestal — let HER pick out a larger house.

The advertisement contained other commonplace observations:

You can’t expect a person to see eye to eye with you when you’re looking down on him . . .
You can’t spend yourself rich any more than you can drink yourself sober . . .

Thus, QI conjectures that the saying about pedestals was already in circulation with an anonymous ascription.

In March 1976 a columnist in a Dubois, Pennsylvania newspaper credited Gloria Steinem with the remark: 2

A Thought: A pedestal is as much a prison as any small space. (Gloria Steinem)

Steinem used the saying during interviews and within articles, but she disclaimed authorship as shown below via selected citations in chronological order.




In April 1977 Steinem delivered a speech in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania as reported in the “York Daily Record”. She attributed the saying to a “southern black feminist”: 3

She noted, however, that women in upper levels are better taken care of, less in danger of violence, but more restricted in those societies. Illustrating this point, she reiterated the words of a southern black feminist to white feminists. “A pedestal is a prison as much as any other small space.”

In 1979 a Springfield, Illinois newspaper wrote about a high school quiz contest. The quizmaster attributed the saying to Steinem: 4

“Who said: ‘The pedestal is as much a prison as any small space’?”
Silence.
“It was our friend Gloria Steinem,” Ms. Answers chastised.

In 1983 Steinem published an essay titled “The Stage Is Set” in “Ms. Magazine”, and she included the adage although she provided no ascription: 5

Now, rich women know that a pedestal is a prison, like any other small space. Ten years ago, a rich husband was still preferable to a career of one’s own.

In 1983 an Alaskan newspaper published a cryptogram solution. Steinem received credit although her name was misspelled as “Steinam”: 6

Answer for 2127, A pedestal is as much a prison as any small space.
Gloria Steinam

In 1985 Steinem used the expression during an interview printed in the “The Des Moines Register” of Des Moines, Iowa: 7

Q. But isn’t it true when I challenge you to be real you say we’re pure, and when I challenge you to be pure you say we’re real.

A. Where did I say we were pure? Never, I don’t want to be pure. That doesn’t sound like fun. As somebody said, a pedestal is as much a prison as any other small space. I thought that summed it up.

In 1986 “Ms. Magazine” published “The Trouble with Rich Women” by Gloria Steinem which included the saying: 8

Our suffragist foremothers had a better understanding of all this. As an anonymous black woman said to her southern white sisters: “A pedestal is as much a prison as any other small space.” Susan B. Anthony offered shelter to the runaway wives of violent men, just as she did to runaway slaves.

In conclusion, this article presents a snapshot of current research. The earliest instance appeared in a real estate advertisement in 1974, and the saying was probably circulating without attribution at that time. The expression was linked to Gloria Steinem by 1976, and she helped to popularize it by employing it several times, but she gave credit to an anonymous southern black feminist.

Image Notes; Picture of Gloria Steinem circa 1972 from the Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division; accessed via Wikimedia Commons. Picture of sculptures on pedestals from MichaelGaida at Pixabay.

(Great thanks to Stephen D. Norman Jr. whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1974 September 13, The Yuma Daily Sun, Time To Smile by Joe King (Advertisement for Paustell Realty), Quote Page 19, Column 8, Yuma, Arizona. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1976 March 11, The Courier-Express, Daisies Won’t Tell BUT I Will! by Bess K. Martin (C-E Staff Writer), Quote Page 5, Column 7, Dubois, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1977 April 12, York Daily Record, Gloria Steinem Tells Health Experts: Reproductive Freedom Called Most Basic Liberty by Kathy Duncan (Of The Daily Record), Quote Page 1, Column 5, York, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1979 May 5, The State Journal-Register, The Answer Is, Good Reflexes by Steve Slack, Quote Page 10A, Column 3, Springfield, Illinois. (GenealogyBank)
  5. 1982 July-August, Ms. Magazine, Volume 11, Number 1 and 2, The Stage Is Set by Gloria Steinem, Start Page 77, Quote Page 78, Column 1, Ms. Foundation for Education and Communication, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  6. 1983 May 10, Daily Sitka Sentinel, Kryptograms from Katlian (Answer for 2127), Quote Page 2, Column 1, Sitka, Alaska. (Newspapers_com)
  7. 1985 October 1, The Des Moines Register, The women’s movement…where it’s going, how and why: A talk with Gloria Steinem, Interviewer: Marie Wilson, Start Page 6A, Quote Page 7A, Column 5, Des Moines, Iowa. (Newspapers_com)
  8. 1986 June, Ms. Magazine, Volume 14, Number 12, The Trouble with Rich Women by Gloria Steinem, Start Page 41, Quote Page 78, Column 3, Ms. Foundation for Education and Communication, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)