Sunday, March 6, 2016

"My Life on the Road," by Gloria Steinem

When I heard about feminist icon Gloria Steinem’s new book, “My Life on the Road” (Random House, 2015), I was mildly interested. After all, I have been a feminist since college at least, a subscriber to Ms. Magazine from the beginning, and an admirer of Steinem and other feminist leaders for all these years. But I didn’t immediately rush to get the book, as I thought perhaps there wouldn’t be much that was new to me. I know that sounds, and is, presumptuous, but as one who has followed feminist news and publications all these years, and even done some feminist work (mostly teaching but also some advocacy) and writing myself, on a very small scale, I thought I knew more than, as it turns out, I do. This book is packed with history (personal, national, and global) and politics, gained in a long life thoroughly lived. Steinem is perhaps the epitome of an activist and organizer, as well as, of course, a writer. She is on the road far more than she is at home, even now at the age of 81. She travels to and speaks at an incredible range of political meetings, campuses, organizations, fundraising opportunities, and much more. Despite the long flights and rides, the nights in various hotels, dorms, spare bedrooms, and sometimes on meeting room floors, and the various privations of being far from home (which she alludes to but never at length and never in a complaining tone), she takes genuine pleasure in the experiences she has, the people she meets, and the opportunities to learn as well as speak and organize. The tone of the book is conversational, although the book is clearly organized and well written. Steinem’s voice is positive, informational, enjoyable, and inspiring. Although she does describe many accomplishments of the women’s movement and many achievements helped along by her own work, she never sounds egotistical, she never boasts, and she always gives generous credit to other activists, writers, politicians, and others. And of course she points out what still needs to be done. I am humbled to read more details than I ever knew about her incredible work for the cause of women’s rights, as well as against racism and for other good causes. She believes that sexism and racism are inextricably intertwined, and never allows the fights against the two to compete. I am also, parenthetically, highly impressed by her seemingly limitless energy! And, to get back to my clueless statement about thinking there wouldn’t be much new to me: I was so wrong. I learned from almost every page. I learned so much about the women’s movement, about organizations and activism, about people in various parts of the United States and elsewhere, about Florynce Kennedy and other feminist leaders, and about Steinems’ own parents and childhood years (very humble). Steinem always praises her colleagues and others she encounters. She believes in the importance of each person’s story, and she seems to genuinely listen carefully to, enjoy and learn from the stories of taxi drivers, flight attendants, college students, and others she meets “on the road.” Among other areas about which she has learned are the history, lives, rites, and activism of Native Americans, especially Native American women such as her dear friend, the activist and leader Wilma Mankiller. Steinem obviously has a strong desire to fight for social justice, especially but not only for women, and she does so in a positive, collaborative way that seems to be very effective. I am in awe of her, and of her devoting such a huge portion of her life to this invaluable work. And I am grateful to her for her part in the changes that have come about in the lives of women and others who have lacked equality and justice. I highly, highly recommend this book.
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