Top positive review
42 people found this helpful
on November 4, 2001
When one of my closest friends who found inspiration in Steinem's work handed me a copy of Moving Beyond Words, my first reaction was skepticism. In spite of my respect for my friend's taste in authors, I doubted that I would find anything of value in reading essays by an aging feminist. I was pleasantly surprised when I found that Steinem's essays offer affirmation through example, anecdote, explanation, as well as sharp poignancy and wit. A new phase of my life had me seriously questioning whether or not my sanity was intact; my emotional response to the ending of my 20 year marriage which had been running on empty a long time, my breaking from a 16 year affiliation with my church because of its refusal to recognize blatant discrimination, and accepting my daughter's independence as she left the nest seemed inappropriate; I wondered why I felt a surge of strength and renewal after severing each of these ties when the socially acceptable responses should have been guilt, regret and sadness.
This Steinem "refresher course" with a new twist provided the answer to my question through essays of the past introduced with reflective insights into that which inspired them and their relevance to now. Steinem's book offered me reassurance and validation as well as provided an impetus for continued growth and change.
Steinem tackles her primary subjects-- men, money and media-with spirit and candor. "The Strongest Woman in the World" is a striking essay in which Steinem beautifully illustrates the metaphoric physical versus inner strength. Women of Steinem's era--and mine-- never had a chance to express power. As Steinem points out through her example of bodybuilder Bev Francis's refusal to conform to the feminine stereotype and thus failed to be recognized for her athleticism, those who excelled were rewarded because of the image they portrayed, not the accomplishments they achieved. Steinem reminds us that the strong muscles rippling under the skin of dancers and gymnists were trained to perpetuate the illusion of fragile, weightless grace of society's view of femininity, much like the intellect hidden beneath carefully styled hair.
"Doing Sixty"--the reason the book was given to me-- is a timeless reminder that we must always be challenged to to radical and a bit outrageous. This chapter has undertones of Jenny Jones' classic poem "Warning" that has given birth to the red hat/purple dress symbol of freedom in the 2000's; in fact, Steinem's "original" poem in this chapter is almost a copy. The Steinem voice, however, is recaptured when she speaks of marriage avoidance as "death of choice," yet a more appropriate view based on her observations would be "death by choice" especially if women remain in the comfort zone of a marriage that lost its "fit" years ago. I find truth in Steinem's observation that men become more conservative with age as women become more radical, and she makes a valid case for change when she points out that "hanging on to the past brings more destruction than any other single cause." Each woman must face Steinem's "next third" of life by either accepting the challenge to emerge from the comfort zone or becoming incapacitated by the illusion of warmth under what may become a suffocating blanket.
Steinem's brief but powerful allusion to country and religion is even more relevant after 9-11 as the wave of nationalism crests. Steinem states that we must resist the destructive fiction of nationalism that becomes even more dangerous when it joins with religion. She compares the United States to a giant cupcake in the midst of starvation, and our unrealistic perception of country must be examined. Her duel message is clear; we must also examine our unrealistic views of ourselves if we are to discover--or rediscover-- our roots.
The weakness of Steinem's book lies not in the truth she reveals but in her continuing inability--or reluctance- to reach beyond a small audience. Steinem speaks directly to minorities of race, sexual orientation, and women who recognize that they have been vicimized; however, still now, as in the past, she tends to alienate those who are the strongest adversaries of feminism-- those women whose passive attitudes perpetuate sexism and discrimination. In addition, young people who are emerging into adulthood now could learn much from her rich web of experience, her intellect, and her challenge to be radical; however, her most recent books tend to hang on to the past, the antithesis of her advice to others.
The wisdom obtained from a life dedicated to overcoming the seemingly insurmountable barriers of sexism is conveyed effectively; however, I find it disappointingly ironic that the image of Gloria's ageless self graces the cover, an enviable glamor shot of sixty that is more intimidating than attractive to already insecure women like myself who are dealing with the havoc that ageism plays on the face, body, and spirit.
Steinem does do a remarkable job of setting the pace for the graying revolutionary. After reading this book, I see that the obligation of feminists of age is to cast a pebble and see how far the rings extend, and this book is a valuable tool for doing so. This seems to be Steinem's challenge to her reader-- whether "doing" sixty or sixteen.