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My Life on the Road Paperback – August 23, 2016
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An Amazon Best Book of November 2015: To women “of a certain age” – a euphemism the author of this book would surely abhor – the idea that Gloria Steinem is a revolutionary thinker, a wonderful writer and a practical activist is not, perhaps, news. (But there is something joyful in the rediscovery of same.) To those who didn’t know or don’t remember the Steinem story – founding Ms. Magazine, fighting for reproductive rights, waiting to marry until she was in her 60s! -- it might be a revelation. Long before Sheryl Sandberg leaned in at work, Steinem was preaching the gospel of empowered women by, among other things, travelling the country and the world listening to people, gathering stories and insights, offering support of the intellectual and emotional kind. From the very first page – in which she dedicates her book to the British doctor who ended Steinem’s pregnancy, illegally, in 1957 – to the tales of a supposedly shy woman who admitted she wanted to nail their sloppy husband’s tossed-anywhere underwear to the floor, Steinem recounts a life well-travelled in every sense. Now 81, the woman who at 40 replied to a compliment about her appearance with “this is what 40 looks like,” Steinem can still raise consciousnesses, including her own. – Sara Nelson--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“This legendary feminist makes a compelling case for traveling as listening: a way of letting strangers’ stories flow, as she puts it, ‘out of our heads and into our hearts.’”—People
“Like Steinem herself, [My Life on the Road] is thoughtful and astonishingly humble. It is also filled with a sense of the momentous while offering deeply personal insights into what shaped her.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
“[Steinem’s] new book is a lyrical meditation on restlessness and the quest for equity that has taken her from the women-only rail cars of India to myriad university campuses where she has helped generations of women and men rally their collective voices. . . . Part of the appeal of My Life is how Steinem, with evocative, melodic prose, conveys the air of discovery and wonder she felt during so many of her journeys. . . . Whatever one’s politics, such candor draws you in. And as the country continues to struggle with painful questions about race relations, reproductive rights and the plight of immigrants, the lessons imparted in Life on the Road offer more than a reminiscence. They are a beacon of hope for the future.”—USA Today
“My Life on the Road, Ms. Steinem’s first book in more than twenty years, is a warmly companionable look back at nearly five decades as itinerant feminist organizer and standard-bearer. If you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to sit down with Ms. Steinem for a casual dinner, this disarmingly intimate book gives a pretty good idea, mixing hard-won pragmatic lessons with more inspirational insights.”—The New York Times
“Steinem beautifully illustrates how her perpetual motion has shaped her professional life. . . . [She] has gained wisdom from cabdrivers and fellow airplane passengers, and gotten story tips from strangers at rural diners and truck stops. . . . Steinem’s life has been so remarkable that her memoir would have been fascinating even without a central theme, but her decision to use travel as a thematic thread was a smart one.”—The New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice)
“Steinem rocks. My Life on the Road abounds with fresh insights and is as populist as can be. . . . Honoring its title, My Life on the Road ranges around subject-wise. One minute Steinem is writing about stewardesses on the shuttle, the next women who taught Gandhi. Now she’s railing against Betty Friedan, whose focus on white middle-class feminism Steinem argues damaged the movement. Still later she’s celebrating her friendships with Native American women, whom she sees as guides into the future. . . . Go, Steinemite!”—The Boston Globe
“In person and in her writing, Steinem exudes a rare combination of calm, humility and honesty about her weaknesses that explains all she has accomplished and why she’s become the figurehead she has. . . . Her secret appears to be a surprising willingness to be open to learning from her incredibly varied audiences. . . . [This is] a memoir—but really, it’s a lens through which to see a great many people, a vessel for their stories, a mouthpiece to share them.”—Jezebel
“It’s amazing to have a lifelong heroine who is also one of my favorite writers. Gloria Steinem is a deeply revolutionary woman. She steered us through the contentious years of the women’s movement without losing her humanity or her wonderful sense of humor. She changed America in a fundamental way without being damaged by it or losing her joy. My Life on the Road is filled with beautifully told stories of the people she has spoken with and listened to, been changed by, helped organize, got radicalized by, could get lost in, could get found in. It is soul material, human and political, funny and touching, deeply spiritual. I began it again the day after I finished.”—Anne Lamott
“Rarely do women have the opportunity to travel as Steinem has done—living a life full of radical adventure. Everywhere she goes, she carries with her the vitality of democracy, of freedom for women and men, and her profound love of justice. Now she offers us the good fortune of journeying with her. My Life on the Road is an inspiring work, a call for action. Steinem shares her life as a global freedom fighter, inviting readers to continue the journey—and the struggle.”—bell hooks
“My Life on the Road is a personal, beautiful look at the deceptively radical act of travel and how it formed one of our most important voices for human rights. By delving deeper into her own thrilling story, Steinem shows us that we all have a fighter inside us—we need only pack our bags and follow her.”—Lena Dunham
“Countless times, I had to put Gloria Steinem’s new book down and allow an explosive truth she had just revealed to roll through me. And they all arrived—page after page—in the most personal, unexpected ways. I won’t be the same person after having read My Life on the Road.”—Jane Fonda
“Gloria Steinem’s new book is a lightning rod to the head and heart: stimulating, no, shocking us to get up out of our easy chairs and do something meaningful with our lives—to hit the road. Women will read My Life on the Road, but men must.”—James Patterson
“Gloria Steinem’s lightness of being combined with her complete seriousness, her love for words and her call for actions, remind us to celebrate her as one of the most important women of our time.”—Diane von Furstenberg
From the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Steinem is the half generation between me and my mother. In the late 60's as my mother was ironing we were watching TV. The women's movement was considered radical fringe, even to my mother's peers who had built planes and careers during WWII only to be sent home afterwards. My mother watched Steinem on TV and said "she is so brave". I asked why and she said "she is so beautiful she could have had an easy life. She has chosen a hard road. It will make your life better". The absurd in the 1960s is now law of the land. It is with that in mind I read this book and appreciated the context of her travels and impact.
This is a fast conversation of a book, not a polemic. I loved it and I hope it finds a wide audience.
Thank you for your work, Gloria! My mother missed the ability to transform but retained the awful anger of the prison of home, not being permitted to use her nursing degree by my dad and her inability to tell my dad to go fly. My sister and I, both in our early 70's now worked in all types of nursing and have multiple degrees. Our spouses told us to go for it. See what a difference the movement made for our generation?
I strongly recommend this book and many books about the feminists of the 60's on. Younger women often haven't a clue how we got from the 70's to now for women. We all have battle scars. Don't get me started on Texas!!!!!!!
She wrote in the Introduction to this 2015 book, “I always thought of my road life as temporary, assuming that one day I would grow up and settle down. Now I realized that for me, the ROAD was permanent, and SETTLING DOWN was temporary. Traveling had created my nonroad life, not the other way around… Taking to the road… changed who I thought I was… As you can see, the first reason for this book is to share the most important, longest-running, yet least visible part of my life… My second purpose is to encourage you to spend some time on the road, too. By that, I mean… in an on-the-road state of mind, not seeking out the familiar but staying open to whatever comes along… My purpose here is to tempt you to explore this country… My third hope is to share stories… My last hope is to open up the road---literally. So far it’s been overwhelmingly masculine turf. Men embody adventure, women embody hearth and home, and that has pretty much been it… As you will see, this book is the story not or one or even several trips, but of decades of travel leading out from the hub of home. You might say it’s the story of a modern nomad…”
She recalls that “When I was ten or so, my parents separated. My sister was devastated, but I had never understood why two such different people were married in the first place.” (Pg. 9) She explains, “My mother had performed the miracle of creating a welcoming world for my sister and me… But her broken spirit would not help but let the darkness in---and I absorbed it during our long years together. My father and I lived together for far less time, but his faith in a friendly universe helped balance my mother’s fear of a threatening one. He gave me that gift. He let in the light.” (Pg. 23) Later, she adds, “Finally, I could see that the love of independence and possibilities that I absorbed from my father now had a purpose… For me, a mix of freedom and insecurity felt like home and allowed me to become an itinerant organizer.” (Pg. 39)
She recalls, “Given my age of just over thirty, I was in between these two groups of women---one trying to integrate and the other to transform. But because of my experience, I was drawn to the more radical and younger ones. I wasn’t married and living in the suburbs. I’d always been in the workforce, but the gender ghetto in journalism was not just a glass ceiling, it was a glass box. Also India had taught me that changes grows from the bottom… and that caste or race can double or triple women’s oppression.” (Pg. 48)
She observes, “Sometimes sexual politics took petty and odd forms… I was being measured against the expectation that any feminist had to be unattractive in a conventional sense---and then described in contrast to that stereotype. The subtext was: ‘If you could get a man, why would you need equal pay?’ This grew into an accusation that I was listened to ONLY because of how I looked, and a corollary that the media had created me… it now became the explanation for everything no matter how hard I worked… The idea that whatever I had accomplished was all about looks would remain a biased and hurtful accusation even into my old age.” (Pg. 50-51)
She says of her speeches on college campuses, “I tell them they’ve done their best---now it’s up to the universe. Then I ask about current events or controversies on campus so I will know what to use as examples in my speech. After all, my job is to make their work easier after I leave than it was before I came. It’s already easy for me. I don’t have to worry about getting good grades, negotiating faculty politics, achieving tenure, publishing in scholarly journals, becoming department chair, or crossing other hurdles that those in academia have to cross. I can bring up problems and possibilities that students want brought up. I can also carry ideas from one campus to the next, in the bee-and-flower model of organizing. I’m here to make them look reasonable. After all, I’m leaving in the morning.” (Pg. 100-101)
She asserts, “controversy is a teacher. The accusation that feminism is bad for the family leads to understanding that it’s bad for the patriarchal variety, but good for democratic families that are the basis of democracy. The idea that women are ‘our own worst enemies forces us to admit that we don’t have the power to be, even if we wanted to.” (Pg. 102)
She reveals, “When someone asks me if I believe in God and I say no---I believe in people---I get a hushed silence. So I go on: If, in monotheism, God is man, man is God. Why does God look suspiciously like the ruling class? Why is Jesus, a Jewish guy from the Middle East, blond and blue-eyed? There is a relieved response of laughter, and even a few shouts of ‘Tell it!’” (Pg. 109) [Later, she says, “As a child, I went to Theosophical meetings with my mother, and to a Congregational church where I was christened.” (Pg. 217]
She comments on her relations with Betty Friedan: “I’d seen Friedan only in group meetings… and we were different ages and from different parts of a diverse movement… Friedan made clear in the media for several years that she thought Bella [Abzug], Kate Millett, I, and others were damaging the movement by supporting the issues of lesbians, welfare mothers, and others she regarded as outside the mainstream… Betty’s antipathy to Bella, me, and others would persist for years to come. For instance, all of us who started Ms. magazine … were shocked to find ourselves accused by Friedan of ‘profiteering off the movement.’ … I never responded in person or print, on the grounds that it would only feed the stereotype that women couldn’t get along, so Friedan wasn’t afraid of me and attacked more.” (Pg. 151-152)
She explains of Ms. Magazine’s ad-free status, “Ms. Magazine has discovered that very few advertisers will support a women’s magazine that doesn’t devote its editorial pages to praising the products it advertises: fashion, beauty, home decoration, and the like. To make up for the lack of ads in Ms.---and to meet requests for subscriptions from battered women’s shelters, prisons, welfare programs, and just readers who can’t afford them---we have to raise contributions.” (Pg. 196)
She concludes, “My hand, long-fingered like my father’s, rests on the desk where I do work I love; in rooms that were my first home---and probably will be my last. I’m surrounded by images of friends and chosen objects that knew someone’s touch before mine---and will know others after I am gone. I notice that my middle finger lifts and falls involuntarily, exactly as my father’s did. I recognize in myself, as I did in him, a tap of restlessness. It’s time to leave---there is so much out there to say and listen to.” (Pg. 250-251)
We may or may not ever get a full-fledged autobiography from Steinem---but this revealing and often heartfelt (particularly in the surprisingly full treatment of her father) memoir will serve as an acceptable substitute until then. Don’t expect a crash course in “Feminism 101” from this book---but for those of us highly interested in the woman behind the public persona, this book will be eagerly read.