In honor of International Women’s Day, I thought it’d be appropriate to write about a book I read recently by a champion of women’s rights: Gloria Steinem.
My Life on the Road is an interesting title for a book by an author who doesn’t even have a driver’s license, yet Steinem gets around more than most people.
As someone who has not yet read Steinem’s other books, including the famous Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (it’s on my list!), I worried I might not be able to appreciate Steinem’s memoir as much as her devoted followers and readers. But if anything, My Life on the Road is the perfect introduction to Steinem’s work and a book that, after reading, made me count myself as one of her followers.
Steinem was in the news last month for her answer to Bill Maher’s question of why she thought so many young women support Bernie Sanders instead of Hillary Clinton. In what seemed like an off-the-cuff response, she said, “When you’re young, you’re thinking: ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie.’” Predictably, young women weren’t having that, and many called Steinem out for it. (She later apologized, adding that she had been misinterpreted.)
While it’s important to hold public figures accountable (and I certainly disagree with Steinem’s comment), I was amazed at how seething some of the backlash was. This was a woman who not only cofounded Ms. magazine, but the National Women’s Political Caucus, the Women’s Action Alliance, the Women’s Media Center, Voters for Choice, Choice USA and more. She was arrested while protesting the South African apartheid, created the Women and AIDS Fund, and testified on behalf of the Equal Rights Amendment. So. Her heart is clearly in the right place.
But back to the book: This memoir was not the result of a woman nearing 80, enjoying her retirement and being convinced to write a fluffy life story that would no doubt sell. My Life on the Road is rich and detailed in its description of not just Steinem’s history, but recent U.S. history as well, and politics in particular. Steinem gives just enough context of the social and political landscape of her early activist years that a younger reader or anyone new to feminism could appreciate the significance of Steinem’s—and other women’s—experiences. Her stories, of course, span decades and continents, and I was amazed by Steinem’s memory, or meticulous note-taking over the years, or both.
My Life on the Road isn’t just a book about feminism or activism, though it’s very much those things, too—it’s a book about the human spirit, serendipity, the importance of listening, the meaning of home, and friendship. While she jokes that a couple of events likely aged her, Steinem’s nomadic lifestyle has clearly kept her youthful. Now 81, she’s as sharp as ever.
A few excerpts from the book:
“No wonder studies show that women’s intellectual self-esteem tends to go down as years of education go up. We have been studying our own absence. I say this as a reminder that campuses not only help create social justice movements, they need them.”“Reproductive freedom means what it says and also protects the right to have a child. A woman can’t be forced into an abortion, just as she can’t be forced out of childbirth by sterilization or anything else: the women’s movement is as devoted to the latter as the former—including the economic ability to support a child.”“…It was okay for two generations of Bush sons to inherit power from a political patriarchy even if they spent no time in the White House, but not okay for one Clinton wife to claim experience and inherit power from a husband whose full political partner she had been for twenty years. I was angry because young men in politics were treated like rising stars, but young women were treated like—well, young women.”“All my years of campaigning have given me one clear message: Voting isn’t the most we can do, but it is the least. To have a democracy, you have to want one.”