My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

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.

Gloria Steinem

flickr/JewishWomensArchive

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.”
 Have you read My Life on the Road or Steinem’s other books? What did you think?

Must Reads: For anyone who learned about love the hard way

Uses for Boys

I’ve always loved YA fiction. It is smart, it is complex, and it is heartbreaking. Uses for Boys is all three.

This page-turner took me less than two days to read, and in that time, I found myself hoping the protagonist, Anna, wouldn’t keep making the same mistakes over and over. But like a real human being, she does. With no father to speak of and a once-loving mom who now makes herself scarce, Anna is forced to navigate much of her childhood and teen years on her own. She seeks comfort in all the wrong places, mistaking sex for love and being punished for it as a result. Uses for Boys is a raw and real book that deals with abandonment and abuse, and it highlights the story of the kind of person society tends to shame by victim-blaming.

I did a Q&A with author Erica Lorraine Scheidt about some of the most important themes and moments from the book.

And her responses were so thoughtful that I’m really excited to share them with you now. Check out our Q&A below.

Erica Lorraine Scheidt

Uses for Boys author Erica Lorraine Scheidt (Photo by Marnie Webb)

WTH: Anna’s a tragic character who can’t seem to help but make the same mistakes over and over. Why was her story so important for you to tell?

ELS: I was writing into the question of how we make our way in the world. I started thinking about a teenage girl for whom sex was a salve to loneliness. And I was curious—why is it so easy for a girl to get sexual attention, but so difficult to get other kinds of attention? I thought, and I still think, that Anna’s story is important, because we are all lonely, we all have to learn how to be in the world. Anna just had to learn out loud, with little support or direction.

Some of the sex scenes are pretty detailed for a YA novel. How did you tread the line between being realistic and not romanticizing it too much?

I started out interested in what it meant that Anna learned about sex in the moment, from her partners, and not from frank, respectful conversations with caring adults. I was specifically interested in all the mistakes she made—and even when intimacy was surprising or tender or fun for Anna, it never occurred to me that it was romanticized. I think because because her experiences were also awkward or hurtful or confusing at times.

I did know, even when writing the earliest drafts, that the book was more explicit than many YA novels. But I feel strongly that we have to have safe ways to talk about sex and sexual situations—and fiction is one of those safe ways. We need to have more than fade to black and everything works out—because how do young men and women learn to navigate consent and pleasure without having some models for what works and what doesn’t work?

One thing I found interesting and refreshing about your book is how it depicts the abortion. While it is a fragile and challenging situation, the abortion is not nearly as dramatic or traumatic as it’s so often made out to be. It was a big moment in Anna’s life, but it wasn’t a defining moment. Did you take this approach on purpose, and if so, why?

I saw the abortion as one of the few times in Anna’s young life that adults were looking out for her physical and emotional wellbeing. And I loved the idea that Anna noticed these strong, caring women in the clinic and wondered what they had, why they were different than the other women in her life. I worked in an abortion clinic when I was 18, and I was so impressed by the women who worked there—kind, strong, generous, knowledgable women who were committed to serving others. It made a profound impression on me.

Anna’s mom’s absence throughout the book is such a presence, ironically. The whole time I was reading, I wanted to know how she justified spending so much time away from her daughter. What don’t readers know about her that you do?

I’m fascinated by villains. And the idea that the villain of your story can always justify his or her actions. Anna’s mom thought she was providing for her daughter by seeking financial security. I also suspect that Anna’s mom didn’t know how to make a different kind of home for Anna. I have a lot of hope for Anna, but I also have hope that her mom will change and grow.

Your website says you’re working on a new novel. Is there anything you can share about that?

Yes, only to say that it’s been difficult. And I won’t know until it’s finished, but the project seems to be taking a new turn and I’m very excited about it.

 

Thanks to Erica for sharing her thoughts and insight. Pick up a copy of Uses for Boys here or at your local bookstore. Follow Erica Lorraine Scheidt on Twitter here.

Must Reads: For anyone who thinks they can have it all

Tanya Selvaratnam

Photo by Naomi White

Last month, I read what has easily become my new favorite non-fiction book.

The Big Lie: Motherhood, Feminism, and the Reality of the Biological Clock by Tanya Selvaratnam is the perfect combination of smarts and heart. What business does someone like me, who still shudders at the thought of having a child any time soon, have reading a book about motherhood? Ah, well, lots, actually. The information and message in this book pertain to anyone who might want to become a parent some day.

The book addresses the harmful myth that we can “have it all” and make babies when it’s most convenient—like say, after we’ve established a career and settled comfortably into adulthood. Selvaratnam packs a lot of stats and research about fertility into her book. Did you know 10 percent of the world’s population experiences fertility issues, which affect all people (rich/poor, black/white, male/female) equally? And that the initial drop in fertility among women happens as early as 25 to 29 years old? Which is not to say you should be freaking out if you are 30 or older—but you should be empowering yourself with the knowledge of such facts.

The Big Lie is not all statistics and percentages, though.

What surprised me most about it is how much Selvaratnam’s personal story with three miscarriages and a cancer discovery humanized everything I was learning throughout the book. She really gets vulnerable here, and I found myself teary-eyed and cheering Selvaratnam on along the way. That’s what really set this book apart for me.

Though I haven’t read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In yet, I think anyone who has read it (whether they agreed with it or not) is likely to enjoy The Big Lie. It touches on similar issues, but comes from a generally more relatable perspective—as in, the COO of Facebook didn’t write it.

The Big Lie

I had the chance to do a Q&A with Selvaratnam over at Neon Tommy, and she shared some wise and thoughtful words. Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

“When someone says feminism is no longer necessary, I think, Tell that to the mother raising five kids who can’t get paid as much as a man to do the same job; tell that to the woman who is treated as the aggressor when she is raped; tell that to the girl who isn’t allowed to learn how to read. It’s a Big Lie that we don’t need feminism.”

We also talked about Millennials having a harder time than earlier generations to afford children, as well as the importance of having conversations with our partners and doctors about our eventual plans for children. Tanya also had some fantastic book recommendations for anyone interested in these topics. You can read our conversation (and find out what the “big lie” is) here.

The Big Lie has already gotten a lot of attention from the press, and I hope it becomes one of those books you see popping up all over the blogosphere. Check it out for yourself, and let me know what you think!