“My Life on the Road” Book Review
By Ariel Tan
Gloria Steinem. Once you hear that name you think of a feminist icon, an inspiration, and an acclaimed journalist. She’s the cool aunt that travels a lot, I mean a lot, and brings back stories as souvenirs. She’s written other books before, but none of them compare to “My Life on the Road”. It’s the first book in Emma Watson’s famous book club so you know it must be great. After reading it, I can say it is.
Steinem is most notable as a leader in the late 1960s and early 1970s feminist movement. Her work has made such an impact nationally and “My Life on the Road” talks all about it. The book tells about her life as a listener and traveler. She shares about the importance and impact traveling has on her. “When people ask me why I still have hope and energy after all of these years, I always say: Because I travel. Taking to the road-by which I mean letting the road take you-changed who I thought I was.” At a young age, Steinem discovered a passion searching for adventure and eventually would travel for the rest of her life. The road has made her who she is today and the revolution for equality. Having an “on the road” state of mind can allow us to be more open-minded and free.
The book explores the places she’s been and what she’s taken away from them. Such as learning about the respect that is in the Chinese culture. Chinese women were forbidden from writing, but that did not stop them. “They wrote underground letters and poems of friendship to each other, quite consciously protesting the restrictions of their lives.” This was one of my favorite stories because these strong women understood they would face the death penalty for their crime, but defied because they saw it as their right and bond of friendship. Steinem takes these stories and turns them into something she can apply to her own stories. “My Life on the Road” is a collection of her most treasured moments in life and her eloquent responses. “As Robin Morgan wrote so wisely, “Hate generalizes, love specifies”. That’s what makes going on the road so important. It definitely specifies.” The book is not just about feminism or equality, it’s about finding adventure and letting adventure find you.
Steinem includes black and white images of her travels that gives the book a scrapbook feel. It makes it more relatable and personal to the reader. Her writing shows her perspective and makes you feel like she’s talking directly to you. She includes excerpts and quotes that she holds dear to her heart. They have a place in the story she is telling at the moment. “I’ve spent most of my life on the road, yet I’d never seen this world that wakes when others sleep.” She then gives a prose, “It’s a rainy night in Georgia and it looks like it’s rainin’ all over the world.” Some of her writing can be difficult to understand, at least for me, because she uses phrases and words I have not heard before. Such as when she discussed her pro choice activism. She talked about working with New York Magazine. This is because she is such an amazing and clever writer! But, if you go over it once or twice you can understand it better in depth.
“You’re always the person you were when you were born,” she says impatiently. “You just keep finding new ways to express it.” This really resonates with me because I feel like I have changed over the years. I wonder if I am true to myself and where I come from. But, this quote explains you’re always you except you tell it in different ways. I believe we can all relate to this because we grow as human beings and change. Change in a way that allows us to expand our world and still be who we truly are.
This book has made an impact on me for the better. I recently found myself more interested in feminism because of what I’m learning from icons like Steinem. Gloria Steinem is one of my feminist role models and I aspire to work as much as she did for what she cared for. “My Life on the Road” found my inner love for traveling and expanded it into something more. Steinem explains how ‘the road’ leads her to places she never thought she would go and allows her to learn and understand other cultures. Which I believe is very important to respect others religions, backgrounds, and sexual orientations.
In the 1970s, Gloria Steinem collaborated with Florence Kennedy to educate people on feminism on college campuses. On a general spectrum, radical political organizing. Some confused her and Kennedy to be lesbian lovers because at the time many believed feminists were all lesbians. One man confronted her about it during a presentation. She replied, “Why thank you.” When she took it as a compliment, it resonated with lesbians and made the audience laugh. She would then use a simple ‘thank you’ as a response. This taught me that acting with calmness and positivity can speak louder than anger.
Her third chapter, “Why I Don’t Drive”, is solely dedicated to the purpose of not having a driver’s license or car. She explains how she prefers calling taxi cabs instead of driving her own car. This is another way of traveling for her. She tells taxi drivers of her career and adventures in exchange for their stories. She describes each taxi driver as a different and unique character. ‘Since drivers have time and a captive audience, they can also be vectors of modern myth.” One driver, requested she would write about his story. He’s a white guy in his 20s and he says he does not read or watch television “He explains that his girlfriend was taking courses like women’s studies and black studies, so she put tape over the names of authors and told him to judge without knowing the identity of the author. He found this so disorienting that he started to count the filters that were telling him what to think.” His goal is “seeing America without being told first what he’s seeing.” He asks Steinem to write about his experiment because he was a social media addict and wants others to see how he changed his perspective.
Growing up, her father loved to take family road trips. In the first chapter, “My Father’s Footsteps, talks about her walking in her father’s path of travels and seeking adventure. “I come by my road habits honestly.” Her father prefered ‘life on the road’ over a comfortable home. Which evidently caused Steinem to have a bigger appreciation for traveling. At first, she could not comprehend why her father chose constant traveling over a nice home. She soon realized she was her father’s daughter and loved the ‘on the road’ state of mind. Her past travels across the country really influenced her future travels all around the world.
I am choosing to begin and end this article with just her name because it is so powerful and she is a force to be reckoned with. Her travels and experiences she has given us something we can hold on to as a memoir of herself and her work. Steinem’s appreciation over others’ words and writing gives the book life. Also the personal images she includes in every chapter. She respects cultures and takes from them something she can make her own. This allows her to get a better understanding. Her drive and passion for making a difference can give us the strength to follow in her footsteps. As a mixed race teenager, I’ve always felt insecure in myself and my background. “My Life on the Road” has given me a sense of clarity and purpose in this world to make a difference. That being different is what makes me who I am and how I can impact others specifically because of who I am. She was relevant back then, and she is still relevant today. Gloria Steinem.