I don’t usually read memoirs – my preference is definitely fiction, and when I do read non-fiction it’s usually in the self-help area, such as Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic or Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly. However when I saw all the great reviews start to emerge about My Life On The Road, I knew that this was a book I had to add to my list.
I didn’t actually know who Gloria Steinem was, a little embarrassingly, so I came into the memoir with only the blurb to guide my expectations. For those who don’t know who she is, Steinem is a feminist activist, journalist and spokeswoman for the women’s movement in America, starting from the ‘60s.
The story begins with Steinem narrating the story of her childhood, and where her love for the road began, travelling with her father across the country as he tried to make a living, thrown in with some adventure along the way. I love the way she talks about the road, with passion and emotion, so it becomes more than a setting for the story of her life; it is almost a character in it.
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.
From that beginning, she tells her story in a moving mix of anecdotes, small connections, large movements and life-changing moments. They’re not chronological, and this works; as a reader it feels like you stumble upon them as though you were on the road itself.
Topics range from taxi conversations, university lectures, political campaigns, Ms. magazine, women’s rights conferences and her time spent in India before her career took off. I was particularly fascinated by the insights into Native American culture; things such as their use of talking circles for decision-making rather than a hierarchy, and the presence of female elders as well as male.
This book covers so much, but I don't want to go in to detail; I'd rather you discover it yourself.
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.
Reviews of this memoir often use the word ‘humble’, and this is accurate. Steinem tells her story not as a recount of achievements, but as a lifelong journey of learning, growth, listening to others and connecting to make change. The insight into her life, and into the political and cultural environments of America during those years, has opened my eyes. Reading this book made me angry. There was a righteous anger for the injustices that occur in the world, and there was an anger at myself, for not being angry enough before. I believe all stories change you to some degree, but it probably hasn’t been since I was a teenager that I have consciously felt it.
After all, if you’ve experienced discrimination in one form, you’re more likely to recognize it in another. Also racism and sexism are intertwined … and cannot be uprooted separately.
… one of the simplest paths to deep change is for the less powerful to speak as much as they listen, and for the more powerful to listen as much as they speak.