books, Reading, Women Writers

“My Life on the Road” by Gloria Steinem

“It’s said that the biggest determinant of our lives is whether we see the world as welcoming or hostile. Each becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”


It’s no surprise (dear goodness, at least I hope not) that I am a feminist. This year of reading women and focusing only on their voices, their stories, has been an outgrowth of that feminism and an effort to use one of my greatest passions – reading – to unpack that term and to explore what it means in my life and my world. I have deliberately chosen not to focus on “women’s texts” and strictly feminist tomes, and I have done so partially because I fear putting those parameters around my reading could be infuriating, anxiety-provoking, and depressing. More importantly, though, I have chosen to cast my net as widely as I can – both in context and content – because that is how feminism resonates with me. What I want is not simply the words of those few women whose work is dedicated to this fight, whose overt efforts are laudable while being exceptional. Feminism, to me, is about women sharing their voices and their stories in everyday life all over the world. It is about seeing and sharing the strength of women, about recognizing and publicizing their words and their wisdom, about reminding ourselves and each other that a strong woman with a story to tell is not an exception.

All that being said, Gloria Steinem is an exceptional woman, a key member of that vocal few who spend their lives fighting for the rest of us; but she is also a vibrant, real, and personable figure and an “everywoman” writer, someone whose own words I wanted to experience first hand. Her most recent book, “My Life on the Road”, seemed the perfect fit for this project, for my journey, and in this particular political moment in my country.

Gloria’s writing (dare I call her Gloria?) is infinitely approachable. Her focus in this book really was about sharing her life as a journey, focusing on how her nomadic, traveling spirit opened her up to the people and interactions that shape her.

“Taking to the road – by which I mean letting the road take you – changed who I thought I was. The road is messy in the way that real life is messy. It leads us out of denial and into reality, out of theory and into practice, out of caution and into action, out of statistics and into stories – in short, out of our heads and into our hearts.”

Her stories are warm and inviting, strong and humble, eloquent and plain-spoken. Every few pages there are delicious nuggets, sentences of precision and pith, that made the reading  ultimately a hopeful and heartening experience. What follows are just a few of those morsels, may they entice you to seek out more – not just from Gloria, but from silver-tongued and gilded-penned women around the world.

“The reasons [the sex barrier isn’t taken seriously] are as pervasive as the air we breathe: because sexism is still confused with nature as racism once was; because anything that affects males is seen as more serious than anything that affects ‘only’ the female half of the human race; because children are still raised mostly by women (to put it mildly) so men especially tend to feel they are regressing to childhood when dealing with a powerful woman; because racism stereotyped black men as more ‘masculine’ for so long that some white men find their presence to be masculinity-affirming (as long as there aren’t too many of them0: and because there is still no ‘right’ way to be a woman in public power without being considered a you-know-what.”

“[R]eproductive 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 just seems lopsided because the opponents of safe and legal abortion have focused there.”

“Despite all their faults, campaigns are based on the fact that every vote counts, and therefore every person counts. As freestanding societies, they are more open than academia, more idealistic than corporations, more unifying than religions, and more accessible than government itself. Campaign season is the only time of public debate about what we want for the future. It can change consciousness even more than who gets elected. In short, campaigns may be the closest thing we have to democracy itself.”


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