Gloria Steinem’s most recent book, My Life on the Road, is a challenge to classify. Many call this book a memoir or an autobiography. However, it’s mostly a collection of events that Steinem happened to be around to experience, though not actively take part. So, it’s also a bit of a travelogue. But, not all these stories are Steinem’s experiences from traveling. Others, for lack of a firm grasp on genre just blanket this into feminism (is that a genre?) or even the most generic: non-fiction.
It took me many more years to realize this parable had taught me the first rule or organizing: Always ask the turtle. – Gloria Steinem
What is it exactly? Who knows. And who cares?
This book is a collection of stories. Many of them are not Steinem’s stories, but stories she heard throughout her many life experiences constantly being on the road. She discovered so many fantastic stories, she just needed to share them. Some of these people are no longer around to share these stories, or perhaps they would not consider their story impactful– but with Steinem’s words, they can be.
As Robin Morgan wrote so wisely, “Hate generalized, love specifies.” That’s what makes going on the road so important. – Gloria Steinem
Being a collection of stories, I often was confused and frustrated by the format of the book. It felt disjoined. As someone who likes knowing where we are going and the clear destination, I got bored. I didn’t always see the point, even though I appreciate the stories. So, instead, I found myself spacing out a bit. Her writing is very candid, which I appreciated. But the lack of organization and the repetitiveness of the message was irksome at times. The repetition often made me feel like I was being preached to. I know that wasn’t Steinem’s intent, but as a frequent Op-Ed journalist, I’m not surprised her words came across that way occasionally.
All that said, I really enjoyed these stories! My favorite chapter contained a collection of stories learned from talking to taxi drivers. The point Steinem is making by sharing all these stories is that you need to listen. And you need to experience the world. Nothing can be learned, grown from, or gained if you stick with only what is in front of you. There are wonderful points on travel, feminism, listening, organizing, race, and the power of friendship. This book is just a tip of the iceberg on introducing people to concepts on inclusivism, developing partnerships, and removing the barriers of sex, race, gender, religion, and others.
This was the practical organizing wisondom they taught me: If you want people to listen to you, you have to listen to them. If you hope people will change how they live, you have to know how they live. If you want people to see you, you have to sit down with them eye-to-eye. – Gloria Steinem
I read this book as part of Emma Watson’s Our Shared Shelf book group. This is a book group she founded to encourage feminist education and open dialogue around these issues. As an avid reader, I invited a number of my friends to share in this group by starting our own “chapter”. A collection of 8 women gathered in my living room to chat about this book– and also what feminism means to us. I am glad this book helped open the doors of this discussion to us. In the future, I look forward to us improving our diversity– perhaps next time some men will join us?
It was my first glimpse of how little I knew – and how much I wanted to learn. – Gloria Steinem
I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in poking their nose around inclusion-ist movements; to anyone who doesn’t know Steinem’s body of work; to anyone who just wants someone to listen.