Saturday, April 23, 2016

My Life on the Road

by Gloria Steinem
Random House  2015
278 pages     Memoir

Gloria Steinem's memoir My Life on the Road begs to be discussed. It is one thing to read the book on your own but it is totally another thing to read it in a book club of opinionated women. Especially women with the age diversity of my club (the youngest is 32 and the oldest is 73.) We are having babies and grandbabies, starting careers and retiring all at the same time. 

The reviewer in the Washington Post calls this iconic woman's memoir "a travel diary of the women's movement." The reviewer also says that Steinem is relentless in promoting what she believes in, and this is probably the case, but the book is also a testimony of a brilliant and incredibly curious woman, who finds interest in nearly everything she witnesses and every life she touches. She keeps moving, she keeps asking questions, and she keeps listening.

Who else could write such an engaging chapter about taxi drivers and how every time you enter a taxi cab, you are entering a unique world with a unique driver with a unique point of view? Who else could go from college campus to college campus and continue to be inspired and motivated visit after visit? Who else could weigh her options when considering whether to support Barack Obama or Hilary Clinton? Who else could have kept close to African American and Native American feminists for so many years?  Who else could still be public speaking into her 80s? 

Steinem's father was an itinerant salesman, and in the first section of the book, Steinem acknowledges that influence as she began her life on the road. Apparently she has settled down in a home now, but for most of her adult life, she was on the road. The amazing thing is that she remembered so many incidents from her life. Is she a name-dropper? Most certainly. But it isn't just aimless namedropping; Steinem has a message to deliver from every encounter; something she learned from each celebrity or politician or taxi driver, indicating that she is not overcome by celebrity.

Believe me, our book club discussion could have gone on for hours. We each had stories to tell about inequality or injustice or slights or harassment. Most of us are, or were, educators, and we are grateful that we were able to have fulfilling careers without having to deal with income inequality. The teacher's union took care of that for us. One of the young women told about a beautiful clerk in the store her husband manages.constantly harassed by a middle-aged male customer. She told the store manager to not say anything to the customer because he buys a lot of stuff and she needs the sales. Another woman told about a principal who only hired young, pretty teachers. We all talked about abortion legislation, unequal pay, lack of respect, and all the other issues that still plague women.

As I said at the beginning, share and discuss My Life on the Road. If you read it, and I highly recommend that you do, find someone to share a discussion with. Steinem loves to deal with issues in what she calls "talking circles" in which people feel secure to say things that they might not share in large gatherings. Find a talking circle to share this meaningful book by a great woman.

An excellent review in the New York Times.

By the way, a new biography of Helen Gurley Brown, called Enter Helen by Brooke Hauser, comes out this week. Here is another side of the feminist story. There was an excellent review of Enter Helen in the Wall Street Journal today. The book is on my Kindle, but I haven't gotten to it yet.

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