I love Gloria Steinem. She’s been a feminist presence for most of my life, and has always been a reminder that equality isn’t given it must be taken. Through all the criticism and crap that has been thrown at her she remains positive. She is a dreamer and a realist. Having spent her life crisscrossing the US and parts of the globe she has learned patience, humor and understands the fundamentals needed for change.
In My Life on the Road, Steinem reveals that her life began on wheels. Her father was a wanderer and took his family out on the road for months at a time. His wanderlust wore her mother down and eventually they separated. As she sat down to write this memoir, Steinem realized that traveling was her norm, settling down at home was her exception.
As a young woman, Steinem thought she wanted a permanent home, but didn’t find one. She traveled to India after university, traveled as a journalist and then later started a publication that gave her reason to go on the road to gather more stories. Her understanding of our country comes from meeting people on their own turf, observing them in their own communities, seeing things for herself. She encourages the reader to travel with an “on-the-road” state of mind, don’t just seek out the familiar.
Steinem tells stories of taxi drivers, community organizers, campuses and friends. She has been a journalist, a magazine publisher but most importantly an activist. She began by campaigning for Eugene McCarthy, she was part of the National Women’s Political Caucus, and organized the National Women’s Conference in 1977. She evolved into an activist through relationships with women like Flo Kennedy, Bella Abzug and Wilma Mankiller. She advises us that tools like the internet are not enough. Nothing can replace being in the same space with others. In meeting one another face to face, we discover we’re not alone, we learn from one another and so we keep going toward shared goals.
During the 2008 primary Steinem wrote an NYT op-ed endorsing Clinton over Obama. In that article she wrote that she would support Obama if he became the nominee. Despite the fact that she had long argued that racism and sexism were linked, many people took her article to mean that she saw sexism as more important than racism. She was harshly criticized. In attempting to understand the criticism she realized that an on-line pull quote had taken one sentence out of the op-ed and the criticism had spiraled from there. She shared her lessons from that experience:
- It’s easy to forget that people can think you think what you don’t
- Don’t write when you’re angry and under deadline, with time to test it only on friends who know what you mean, not on strangers who don’t.
- A writer’s greatest reward is naming something unnamed that many people are feeling. A writer’s greatest punishment is being misunderstood. The same words can do both.
This book is enjoyable because Steinem is a good writer. She weaves anecdotes and stories together to tell us about her well-lived and well-traveled life. She has spent her life constantly learning. She is unafraid to expose her mistakes, and she generously shares her insights from having made them. Good stuff for tough times.