My Life on the Road
My Life on the Road was a roller coaster for me. I spent most of the time furiously highlighting and jotting down passages, part of the time not caring about the stories she told, and the other part feeling guilty for not caring because clearly Gloria Steinem is a woman from which I can learn so much.
Before I delve into my likely wordy review of her latest memoir, a few notes on Gloria Steinem and why we chose this book. Steinem is easily one of most recognizable faces in the modern feminist movement, and the founder of Ms. Magazine. Like us at Lady Hustle, she hoped to inspire women to be themselves, but maintain a constant desire to fight for equal rights for all. She spent almost all of her youth and adult life traveling, thanks to her father's nomadic lifestyle. This gave her the opportunity to spend time with nearly every sort of person in the U.S., and develop ideas of freedom that seemed unattainable to some.
And yes, we've heard her comment about why women might decide to support Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton. We did not like it. But everyone makes mistakes.
When I first began reading MLOTR, I couldn't turn the pages fast enough, and dreaded putting it down. A life traveling from one town to the next? How romantic! The dream. The snippets of knowledge that are so eloquently written in this book made my bleeding, feminist heart beat wildly. This was the book for me.
As the memoir progressed, however, hearing Steinem discuss her relationship with her parents was unsettling. I often had to remind myself of her age, and the time period in which she was raised. There is nothing exciting to me about an 8-year-old child not attending school; it's just sad. Her recount was certainly fascinating, but made me wonder how much of it was fact, and how much was embellished for the sake of story telling.
It wasn't long before Steinem roped me back in with facts about the pay gap and reproductive rights. Her writing had me excitedly reading paragraphs out loud to any of my poor friends who happened to be sitting near me at the time. I was inspired and engaged, not to mention fed up with injustice. I felt the passion she emanated, and absorbed it into my own feminist desires.
Unfortunately the flame Steinem's writing ignited in me was not always strong, and had a tendency to flicker and burn out. As much as I hate to admit it, some of her stories that I should have found fascinating I instead found myself rushing to get through. I hated that this was true, but reading her stories about giving a homily and the Pope forbidding such an occurrence, or working for Hillary Clinton's campaign felt like name checking, more than anything. While Steinem has had an extremely successful and interesting life, I fear that sometimes her humility was lacking in writing this memoir. Perhaps I would have enjoyed these stories more if it were about Steinem, but written by someone else.
Of course my aversion to her taking credit for her own actions and their subsequent effects made me question my judgment. Why shouldn't she be proud to claim the clearly profound impact she had on the modern feminist movement? This woman is one of the most well-known leaders of our fight for equality, but I can't stand to read her sharing stories of those times. I had to ask myself, if this were a man talking about his accomplishments, would I feel the same way? I'm honestly not sure, but I'll certainly be reading a male's autobiography to find out.
In the end, I found myself losing interest in My Life on the Road. Perhaps it was the length, perhaps it was my busy schedule, perhaps it was simply my desire to read something new. When I finally did close the electronic back cover (ebooks!), I was glad. Not because it was over, but because I had read it. And ever since, I've found myself craving more information about female leaders, and the feminist movement I hold so closely to my heart. So I suppose Steinem was successful: she motivated me to learn about more women. Their risks, their failures, their successes. Because the more I know about our history, the smoother my journey will become.
Writing this book at the age of 81 could not have been easy. Every piece of her journey was told with such detail. I can only imagine Steinem spending hours dissecting her old notebooks and journals from decades past. Every chapter brought new unbelievable recollection to her time spent on the road. I hope I have even half of her intellect when I'm her age. There's a few things we could all learn by reading My Life on the Road, but the most important was the book's overarching theme: our differences make human kind beautiful, but should not lessen our rights.