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?

Feminist to Follow: Seema from The Subtle Hipster

This month’s Feminist to Follow has made feminism and public health her life’s work.

Seema Bhakta is not only a storyteller and photojournalist, but a researcher and advocate for various organizations and nonprofits that support and promote women’s well-being, including MCH in Action, a student organization centered on maternal, childbirth, sexual and reproductive health.

Seema is the blogger behind The Subtle Hipster, where, in addition to highlighting news in feminism, she writes about books, adventure, food and more. Below, she shares a thoughtful essay on why blogging about feminism is important to her. Read on!

Feminist to Follow: Seema from The Subtle Hipster

Blogging about feminism is important to me because I believe the movement is not only about equal opportunities for women, but increasing the support of diversity, reducing stigma and fighting for the rights of everyone discriminated based on their ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity.

Just like everything else, I don’t think feminism is a black or white topic. It’s a spectrum and there are definitely a lot of gray areas. I’ve read articles and tweets from people who say they don’t think of themselves as feminists because they never faced inequalities in life or work. There are also the misguided folks who say, “I’m not a feminist because I don’t hate men.” Out of respect, we are all entitled to our own opinions but reality is, these stereotypes don’t touch the true meaning of feminism.

As I look back on my life, growing up in a very liberal state but in a more conservative community, I never expressed my own opinions or realized that I even had any. I always thought that these fights are not mine, that I had nothing to worry about. Ignorance, perhaps. I grew up thinking I was not a feminist because like others I never faced (or realized) the discrimination. But now that I am older and wiser, I realize that the challenges women face is universal regardless of whether I have experienced it or not. Even if I feel that I have not had to face unequal opportunities, being a feminist should mean that as a woman, I support other women in their fight for equality.

I read Yes, Please last month and loved this quote from Amy Poehler: “Good for her, not for me.” When I was in graduate school, there would be debates about what is right versus what is wrong for women in childbirth. This really frustrated me. You can give me all the data about healthy birth practices, parenting methods and breastfeeding, but at the end of the day it is the individual’s choice about what is right for them. (I recommend checking this photo campaign out, End the Mommy Wars.)

My maternal and reproductive interests broadened when I read a book in the summer called Golden Boy. It’s about an intersex adolescent who begins to question their sexuality, identity, and how to keep secrets after an incident with a childhood friend. I have always been an LGBT ally, but as the world opens up slowly about being intersex, asexual, and trans, feminism does not just benefit cis women, but anyone who struggles because of their gender and sexual identity.

Not only do gender and sexual identity play a vital role in feminism, but race and ethnicity do, too. Racism is a feminist issue, and so is social justice. Earlier this week, we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day, so I want to end with this quote:

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

If you want to read more from Seema, check out her blog, The Subtle Hipster, and follow her on Twitter. Here are some recent highlights from her blog:

Reflection on Sex and Gender | The A-Word, Stigma & Storytelling | No More: Together We Can End Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault

Check out other Feminists to Follow here.

Do you have any favorite feminist bloggers?

Feminist to Follow: Meghan from Feminist Current

There’s so much to say about feminism and all the issues women and minorities face, you could start a whole blog about it.

That’s exactly what Feminist Current founder Meghan Murphy did in 2012, and now her site—which features multiple contributors—is the most-read feminist blog in Canada. I asked Meghan if she would share her thoughts on the importance of writing about feminism, and she blew me away with her thoughtful and nuanced response. So I’m going to let her take the reigns.

Feminist to Follow: Meghan from Feminist Current

Blogging about feminism is important to me in large part because feminism is so widely misunderstood and maligned. And not only from misogynists and MRAs, but even from feminists.

The second wave was a hugely successful time for our movement, making huge strides for women in terms of issues like sexual harassment, reproductive rights, employment equity legislation and sexual assault laws. I would argue that the second wave had a bigger impact on women’s lives than any other period during the movement—yet the third wave has pretty thoroughly trashed it.

“Second wavers” is employed as an insult by many younger feminists. It’s upsetting to see women fighting themselves—I mean, do we really just want to reinvent the wheel over and over again? There are so many women and feminist struggles—successes and failures—we can learn from. The history is all there, yet we choose to believe trashing and hearsay, repeating the myth that the second wave was only about white, middle class women, and erasing all the women of colour and working class women who were central to the movement during that time (especially in Canada).

Beyond that, feminism—especially radical feminism—is pretty widely misunderstood by the general public. People either think it’s about women having power over men, like a matriarchy or something, or they think it’s about saying all women are “good” and all men are “bad,” or they think it’s just about women feeling good about themselves—that whole “anything a woman chooses to do counts as feminism” thing.

But it isn’t about any of that. It’s a political movement against patriarchy and violence against women—it’s about women’s human rights and our right to be treated with dignity and respect.

People have described Feminist Current as a kind of bridge between “popular feminism”/popular culture and a deeper feminist analysis, more closely aligned with radical and socialist feminism. I generally try to make feminist ideas and discourse relatable and clear to those who might not have a strong background in radical feminism or who have only been exposed to third wave or liberal feminism. As such, I find myself correcting misconceptions and misrepresentations of feminist ideology and goals a lot. You know, correcting the myth that anyone who opposes or is critical of pornography and prostitution is a prude or a member of the religious right, for example.

I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to stop correcting those kinds of misrepresentations because I think it is intentional, which is to say that it is has been a very successful tactic—it has scared women into staying silent on the issue, afraid that if they oppose porn or dare to question the existence of prostitution they will be labeled sex-hating, man-hating, freedom-hating prudes. People know that this tactic works; that’s why they keep doing it. The slander of feminists and the feminist movement, in general, is nothing new—it’s been going on since the first wave.

Feminism isn’t about being perfect, it isn’t about always making the right choices, it isn’t about whether or not you like fucking men or whether or not you wear Spanx—it’s about recognizing that the choices we make and that the way we behave and move around in this world is shaped by the fact that we live in a patriarchy. It’s about understanding that violence against women happens systemically, not accidentally or because there simply happens to be some men who happen to choose to rape or beat women.

We live in a world that sexualizes inequality and domination—I mean, look at the popularity of books like 50 Shades of Grey—BDSM is about domination and subordination and about playing at violence, humiliation, and torture, and we’ve learned this is “sexy.” We can’t pretend as though this isn’t totally attached to the fact that we live in a patriarchy. Acknowledging that isn’t the same as saying you can’t have fantasies or that you can’t do what you like in your bedroom. It is to say: take your blinders off, ask hard questions, don’t take anything at face value.

I blog about feminism because women are raped and beaten and murdered every day, all around the world, by men. Trafficking, prostitution, and porn are huge, multi-billion dollar industries that cause immeasurable harm to women and girls. And we tend, as a society, to think of these things as perfectly normal—as titillating or naughty—not as things that perpetuate damaging stereotypes about women and men and that hurt all women—both physically as well as psychologically and politically.

I am a writer and I am a woman and I am a feminist. I can’t not write about feminism—it’s too important, and if we can’t see why, we really aren’t paying attention.

 

If you want to read more from Meghan (and other feminist writers), follow her on Twitter and make sure to check out Feminist Current. I particularly enjoyed these recent posts:

Hi the media. Do your job. Love, feminism.
Can men be allies in the fight to end violence against women? (podcast)
NOW Magazine takes a stand; will continue to generate revenue through prostitution advertisements

Thanks, Meghan, for sharing your insight. Be sure to check out other Feminists to Follow here.

Who are some of your favorite feminist bloggers?

Feminist to Follow: Shannon from Awash With Wonder

Few bloggers these days have me latched onto their every word the way Shannon Butler does.

And when I asked the blogger behind Awash With Wonder to tell me why blogging about feminism is important to her, I should’ve known she’d respond with a blog post-length essay worthy of publication on a site that actually reimburses its contributors.

How lucky I am to have her thoughts for free.

For that reason, I’m keeping my introduction to this month’s installment of Feminist to Follow short and will let Shannon’s words show why she’s a feminist and blogger you should know. Read on…

Feminist to Follow: Shannon from Awash With Wonder

Blogging about feminism is important to me because I care about women and our role in the world.

In a recent interview with Roxane Gay, Lena Dunham is quoted as saying, “I just think feminism is my work. Everything I do, I do because I was told that as a woman, my voice deserves to heard, my rights are to be respected, and my job was to make that possible for others.”

I see feminism as my work, too.

I did not grow up wanting to be a movie star or a doctor or an astronaut. I had no clear goals. The only thing I’ve always known and that has become truer as the years passed is this: I love to be a woman and I love other women.

Even with all the bullshit women face, I have never wished I wasn’t one. I see it as a privilege to be able to befriend smart, funny, interesting women and get to experience that divine miracle that is supportive female friendship.

But do I wish there wasn’t so much bullshit? Yeah, I do – especially because there is so much of it.

Recently, a lot of women have publically asserted that they do not like catcalling. The response has not been what a rational person might think it would be. Imagine a world where people say, “We do not like this thing you’re doing; it makes us feel threatened and harassed” and the response is, “Well you should like it, it’s a compliment, stop being so ungrateful”?

Affordable birth control is still being fought for in 2014 in America. Just let that sink in. This in a country where maternity leave is either nonexistent or an absolute joke.

The response to a woman saying she was raped – which only a tiny percentage of rape victims report – is often not, “Are you okay?” but, “How much were you drinking?” or “How short was your skirt?”

Think about how many people you know who have a female boss or how many stories you hear about men having to fight to get paid the same amount as women who have the same qualifications and do the same job as them. I’ll wait.

That’s just a small percentage of the problems women face in America. Let’s talk global.

Malala Yousafzai was shot for daring to be a girl and wanting an education.

The 200 Nigerian schoolgirls who were kidnapped by the Boko Haram have reportedly been “married off” to their kidnappers. Those girls are under thirteen and are facing a lifetime of imprisonment and sexual assault.

Reading about girl babies globally who get abandoned, aborted or denied medical care by their parents because girls aren’t valuable in their societies is numbing. The authors of Half The Sky, Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn, report: “More girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the wars of the twentieth century.”

The number of people currently sold into sexual slavery and forced labor is hard to pinpoint – trust that it’s more than you think – but everyone fighting to save those people agree that woman and girls account for more than 90% of them. I can go on.

In her book, Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay wrote, “It’s hard not to feel humorless, as a woman and a feminist, to recognize misogyny in so many forms, some great and some small, and know you’re not imagining things. It’s hard to be told to lighten up because if you lighten up any more, you’re going to float the fuck away. The problem is not that one of these things is happening; it’s that they are all happening, concurrently and constantly.”

There is so much to be concerned about. It’s hard not to believe that fighting for gender equality is too difficult, that it would be easier to just give up and accept that the world is dominated by patriarchal societies and we just have to deal with the misogyny and oppression that comes with it.

But part of being human is to hope for a better world and to believe that you may play a role in making it so. Fighting for gender equality is one of the most important things we can do to make the world a better place – not just for women but also for men.

Former chief economist of The World Bank, Lawrence Summers, believes “investment in girls’ education may well be the highest-return investment available in the developing world’” and the United Nations Development Program found that “woman’s empowerment helps raise economic productivity…and increases the chances of education for the next generation.”

Giving women the chance to excel – a freedom they have been denied for centuries – will change the world. That’s why I write about issues that affect women and the way feminism has helped to give me hope.

I am not naïve enough to believe that just because I identify as female that I’m going to like every woman or support every decision she makes. But that’s not what feminism asks of me. Feminism simply asks that I fight for every woman to live a life where she is not oppressed or disadvantaged or allowed to die because of her gender. It is not too much to ask. It is the bare minimum, actually.

 

If you want to read more of Shannon’s thoughtful, eloquent writing on feminism, you’ll enjoy these:

Let’s talk about rape culture
Does your partner need to be a feminist?
Why representation matters

Thanks so much for sharing your words, Shannon. Be sure to check out other Feminists to Follow here.

Who are some of your favorite feminist bloggers?

Feminist to Follow: Augusta Gail

The blog world could use more feminists like Augusta Gail.

The self-described grrl power princess is a Southerner who moved to Hollywood to pursue her writerly dreams, and Augusta’s blog of the same name is where she talks honestly and openly about her experiences of embracing herself through feminism. That’s why she’s this month’s featured Feminist to Follow.

Feminist to Follow: Augusta Gail

photo by Aurora Lady
 

Why do we need more bloggers like Augusta? She’s not afraid to get personal, and she’s not afraid to talk about the taboo. She curses and she’s open about her flaws, yet she can drive a point home and will make you love yourself more in the process. I admire her spitfire spirit, and I think you will, too.

Here’s Augusta in her own words:

“I wasn’t always a very good feminist; in fact, I spent much of my high school and college years completely disregarding the idea of feminism. It wasn’t until my life – and my self-esteem – hit rock bottom that I truly discovered, and embraced, feminism.

As a writer, I immediately realized that I wanted to combine my love for writing with my love of grrrl power, and create a place where girls (and guys) could find inspiration, reassurance, and share their stories. Writing about feminism is important to me because I want women to know that they’re so much more than a stereotype, or a dress size, or something to be stared at. It’s important because, every day, a teenage girl makes herself miserable trying to look a certain way and appeal to certain people. I want to encourage girls to embrace self-love and self-confidence. It’s important because, every night, women walk across parking lots with their keys clenched between their fingers, expecting to have to protect themselves.

I want to help create a world where there is no rape or violence against women – a world where yes means yes and consent is given the utmost of importance. I write about feminism in the hopes that people will join the fight for women’s rights and equality. I write about feminism because it truly changed my life, and I’m so incredibly proud to be a feminist!”

Some must-read posts from Augusta Gail:

The Story of My Selfie – On reclaiming confidence and self-love with selfies.
Feminism is SexyCan you wear sexy clothes and still be a feminist? (Yes. Here’s why.)
The Magic of Menstruation“If the thought of lady bits bleeding freaks you out, well then, you should probably keep reading.  Because, let’s be honest, you need to get over it.” ‘Nuff said.

 

Make sure you check out Augusta’s blog for every more great posts. (And if you missed the first installment of Feminist to Follow, meet Kate from Clear the Way here.) 

Who are some of your favorite feminist bloggers?