Monday, February 22, 2016

My Life on the Road - Gloria Steinem

My Life on the Road
Title: My Life on the Road
Author: Gloria Steinem
Publication Date: 10/27/15
Pages: 304
Genre: Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: Emma Watson's new book club - Our Shared Shelf
Date Completed: 1/18/16

Summary: Feminist icon Gloria Steinem reflects on her years traveling the country and the world. She shares personal anecdotes, lessons learned, and stories told. 

What I Thought: When Emma Watson announced she was starting a feminist book club, I knew I would want to join in. Feminist can be such a dirty word to some people, particularly in Christian circles. A little education on its actual intent, however, helps to remove the stigma. Feminism is about gender equality. As with any movement, there are countless variations and levels, none of which should be judged exclusively on the actions of other contingents. You would (hopefully) not judge a Southern Baptist based on the actions of a Catholic or vice versa, even if their core beliefs are basically the same. Therefore, judging all feminists based on the mythical bra burners of the 1960s. In the wise (and paraphrased) words of one of my aunts, who has been a lifelong proponent of equality for all types of people, every movement has its extremists, but they don't represent all of us.

Steinem would certainly rank as an extreme to many people. Her work and advocacy for women has been controversial, a reality of which she is well aware. Still, you cannot argue away her influence or the prominent cultural role she played in the twentieth century. She has been a strong voice in the conversation of gender equality and feminism. For a feminist book club, starting with Steinem is a pretty sensible move.

I actually had never read any of her work before. Maybe this should surprise me less considering both my age and the conservative nature of my upbringing. Moments like this, realizing my literary experience has thus far excluded a prominent voice, is always simultaneously exciting and embarrassing for me. I love the feeling of possibility in that moment, in discovering a door yet unopened (I realize there are countless numbers of literary doors yet unopened in my life, but that does not make it less exciting to suddenly see one directly in front of me). With slight trepidation and definite anticipation, I jumped in with both feet to join Steinem on the road.

The book itself is a great introduction to Steinem in a lot of ways. It's more anecdotal reflection than manifesto. It's Steinem's look back at her years traveling the country and the world speaking and meeting people of all types. Chapters are literally broken down into bullet pointed anecdotes, some poignant, some humorous, some both. Her opinions and experiences are intertwined, certainly, but this book is about the stories more than any sort of agenda. For a reader who may be hesitant to explore Steinem's work, this is a good starting place. As with any writer and/or activist, you likely won't agree with every point she makes. I don't. But I still enjoyed the book and learned from it.

It's fascinating to consider that while this is my first work actually written by Steinem herself, the echoes of her influence have long reverberated through my reading. She has influenced countless other women (and men!), directly or indirectly, who have in turn influenced me. I want to learn more about her history and work now. If anyone knows a good, relatively unbiased Steinem biography, I'd love a recommendation.

This book is certainly not going to be for everyone. I fully recognize that. Reading the work of any activist, even in memoir form, requires critical thinking skills so as to identify points of both agreement and divergence in my own beliefs. As I said at the start, feminism has shades and variations like any movement. Steinem and I do not share the same perspective on some of its nuances. Regardless, I can recognize her influence and importance in changing my world and the expectations I face within it. 

Quote I Loved: "The most reliable predictor of whether a country is violent within itself or will use military violence against another country is not poverty, natural resources, religion, or even degree of democracy. It's violence against females. It normalizes all other violence."

Rating: ★★★★☆
Will I Re-Read: Unlikely
If You Liked This Try: Daring / I Am Malala / Hard Choices

A Reduced Review: A good meeting place for those who may be new to or skeptical of Steinem's work, this memoir is far more a reflection than a manifesto. 

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