Gloria Steinem is a giant in American feminism, and someone I only truly know about from secondary sources. She’s written a lot, and I had read none of it until her most recent work, My Life on the Road. Regarding her own life, it’s not comprehensive: it’s a series of vignettes from, appropriately, encounters she had while on the road. It does start with a bit of background into her fascinating childhood, which saw her family endlessly traveling from place to place, driven by her father’s insatiable wanderlust. This explains her comfort with travel and her savvy for getting the most out of it: a good first step, she recommends, is to take public transit whenever possible and not to isolate yourself in private cars either at home or away. This way you get to meet people and experience their stories.
I think my unfamiliarity with the finer details of Steinem’s work and life was a blessing coming into My Life on the Road, because much of it felt rather broad and there was an overall lack of coherence to how the stories were told, and despite this, it was all still new to me. I was happy to hear whatever she had to offer, even if the chapters seem to have only scant transitions, relying only on the organizational theme of activism as a shared through-line. Steinem discusses campaigning for Hillary Clinton in 2008, how “talking circles” are where progress is born, the Houston Women’s Conference that was a turning point in her career, the abridged life story of Cherokee leader Wilma Mankiller, and a collection of stories she was told by taxi drivers. If you’re thinking that this is a fairly broad range of topics for a short memoir, you’re not wrong. The moral that underlies all of them is to listen to people and their experiences, and respect them.
In many ways, it’s exactly the book you would expect if someone told you Gloria Steinem wrote a book about people she met while traveling as an activist. If you’re like me, and you hadn’t yet had the chance to hear her in her own words, that’s a good thing.