Thursday, 19 January 2017

Review: 'My Life on the Road' by Gloria Steinem

My Life on the RoadGloria Steinem is as close to a living legend as it is possible to be. When I first started on my journey towards becoming the full blown feminist I am nowadays I knew her name and of some of her work. As the years passed, she would appear in articles and books I read at University and I'd see her on TV supporting and advocating causes I also believed in. It took until My Life on the Road, however, for me to actually sit down and get to know her. The beauty of this book, for me, lies in that I now do feel like I know more, not just about her, but about feminism, about women, about America, about freedom, about Native Americans and about struggle. I'm very grateful for this book. Thanks to Random House and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 25/10/2015
Publisher: Random House
Gloria Steinem—writer, activist, organizer, and one of the most inspiring leaders in the world—now tells a story she has never told before, a candid account of how her early years led her to live an on-the-road kind of life, traveling, listening to people, learning, and creating change. She reveals the story of her own growth in tandem with the growth of an ongoing movement for equality. This is the story at the heart of My Life on the Road.

As I said above, I am incredibly grateful to have read My Life on the Road. It's not a typical memoir, in that it lists a mountain of achievements and not-so-subtly asks for praise. Rather, it feels like having a long conversation, during a longer roadtrip, that started with the question 'Where are we going?' My Life on the Road doesn't stick to the usual route, takes random shortcuts down country lanes which lead to unexpected surprises, stops at random moments that enlighten, and doesn't require a clear destination. Steinem takes the reader all the way back to her childhood, discusses her fear of public speaking, the struggles she faced as a journalist and how her activism slowly but surely grew into becoming life- and era-defining. The memoir's emphasis, however, doesn't lie on Steinem herself. Rather, it's a book full of people. Although a life on the road sounds lonely, Steinem's life so far is full of wonderful moments, brilliant people, and shocking truths. For me, reading My Life on the Road brought a sense of freedom, in that a life doesn't have to follow a certain pattern, that activism is both small and enormous, that everyone starts somewhere with no clear idea of where they're going. And it made me excited, excited to hear more, see more, experience more. No wonder some think feminism is dangerous for young women, this combination of freedom and excitement is potent!

My Life on the Road is filled with stories, anecdotes, brief glimpses into the lives of others, and realisations. That's because at the heart of My Life on the Road is storytelling and, its often forgotten partner, listening. By reading her memoir, the reader starts out on the path that Steinem herself travels: that of a listener. With each new chapter, each new aside, Steinem broadens the reader's world by showing how her own was opened through listening. But rather than advocate the 'be silent and listen to me preach'-approach, Steinem writes of a different kind of speaking and listening, one which is communal and equal. This book showcases the power of telling your story and thereby encouraging others to do the same. Whether it's Steinem's college tours which stretched into the early hours because once people realise they are being heard they have a lot to say, or Steinem herself being the one initiated into the true power of dialogue by women on an train across India, or women like Wilma Mankiller, My Life on the Road is an ode to conversation. There are those who think feminists are knowitalls, who want to tell you how to think and refuse to listen. They should read My Life on the Road and have their eyes opened.

Steinem is a great writer, which should come as no surprise considering she makes a living of it. Although there is no clear line throughout My Life on the Road, there is definitely a journey. And Steinem is very willing to share it with you, whether it's her own embarrassment at not knowing something, her own struggle with sexism in the workplace or the feeling of euphoria at having achieved something. Rarely do memoirs give me such an actual insight into someone's mind, someone's life. Although she writes about the past, My Life is on the Road is incredibly current. When she writes about the 2008 Democratic primary between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, many of her observations sting considering the November election. Despite the eight years that have come and gone, nothing changed in how Hillary Clinton was treated. When she writes about her involvement in Native American activism, the many prejudices and obstacles she sees Native Americans struggle with are still as present as ever. Solely for this, My Life on the Road is an enlightening read because it shows that the "fight" is not a battle but a journey. Every two steps forward sees us take a step back and we don't know where exactly it is we're going. But as long as we keep venturing forward, the destination will become clearer.

I give this memoir...

5 Universes!

If I hadn't been a supporter of Steinem before, I definitely would have been one after reading My Life on the Road. It's a memoir of insight, awareness and ideas, a book that shows the power of listening, of telling stories, of continuing to explore. I will be rereading it many times, as well as doing some footnote hunting to learn more. I'd recommend this not only to those already aware of Steinem and what she stands for, but also those who don't know her and are curious.


  1. We will see. This book has been on my library TBR list and I would like to read it. I am not much of a 'women's libber', but I do consider myself pro women. So much of the movement has done more damage to certain groups of women, and I believe that ALL women are entitled to their choices. I am curious to see how Steinmen comes through. I honestly know very little about her, other than her place in the political sideline.
    This is a terrific review, and your enthusiasm has me even more curious about reading it.

    1. Thank you for your kind words and I completely understand! As a feminist who is white I try very hard to avoid the pitfalls of "white feminism" and be as intersectional as possible. As I said in my review, my favourite thing about Steinem's book is how she tells stories and makes others central to her narrative. A lot of the book is dedicated to African-American and Native American activists she has worked/works with and she is very honest about her own (initial) lack of understanding of their problems as well as the problematic origins of feminism. I do hope you give My Life on the Road a chance because it did really open my eyes in many ways! Thanks again for commenting :)