My Life on the Road
Gloria Steinem’s My Life on the Road begins with a dedication to a doctor who gave her an abortion at 22 years old, and who urged her to “do what you want to do with your life”.
In the decades since, Steinem’s life has been rich. A second-wave feminist, a writer, a campaigner and the co-founder of Ms. – she was at the forefront of history at a time when there was enormous optimism for change.
Steinem’s memoir opens with a moving portrait of her father, an itinerant wheeler and dealer of antiques, an occasional scammer who survived for the next hoped-for deal. He was a man who encouraged Steinem to eat dessert first, who loved movies, and whose letterhead read “It’s Steinemite!” His horror of the domestic was extreme, and like so many men who suffered from this malady, he died alone.
Steinem’s mother, on the other hand, was a woman who never had the chance to live, who longed for community and never found it. The afterword provides a traditional arc to this memoir, as Steinem eventually comes to realise she can have a home and a life on the road. Both of these sections are restrained and powerful.
The pages in between are anecdotes loosely grouped around various themes. It’s the problem of a life that has been so rich: how do you order the enormity of content, from being present at seminal moments of history to sharing tales of the surreal, such as the section on taxi drivers she has met? Steinem believes in the “talking circle” – in bringing people together, in enabling a great diversity of voices to be heard, and she has done just this in her memoir.
It’s an approach that works well. Her voice is wise, entertaining and accessible. There is a generosity of spirit that propels the book forward, enough to forgive the odd page dump of detail, and the peppering of New Age adages that would normally put me on high alert.
In her introduction to My Life on the Road, Steinem says that “hopefulness” is what she misses the most whenever she is away from America. It is the best of that American brand of optimism – akin to the “Yes We Can” message of Obama’s winning campaign. This is a book that reminds us that we all have the capacity to change for the better. EF
Nero, 304pp, $29.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Dec 5, 2015 as "Gloria Steinem, My Life on the Road ". Subscribe here.