My Life on the Road

By Gloria Steinem

32,853 ratings - 4.02* vote

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 movemen Gloria Steinem—writer, activist, organizer, and one of the most inspiring leaders in the world—now tells a story

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Book details

Hardcover, 276 pages
October 27th 2015 by Random House
Original Title
My Life on the Road
ISBN
0679456201 (ISBN13: 9780679456209)
Edition Language
English

Community Reviews

Esil

4 very high stars. I loved reading this book. It's a bit disorganized and chaotic, but it's full of great anecdotes, thoughtful ideas on activism and engagement, and quotable bits and pieces. I came to this book thinking of Steinem as an icon of American feminism, but someone I didn't actually know much about. The experience of reading My Life on the Road made me sit up and pay attention. And not because Steinem delivers a specific political message or because she builds herself up as a heroic figure, but because in fact she does the very opposite. She has written a down to earth book about places she's been, people she's met, and what's mattered to her over the years. She starts with a chapter describing her father, and his inability to stay put in one place. As a kid, at times she traveled with him and at other times she stayed behind with her mother. But she speaks of her father with love, understanding and respect, and a deep gratitude for his kindness. And this seems to inform her approach to activism and people throughout her life. The book consists of a few chapters loosely organized around Steinem's travels -- mostly in the US -- and the many, many people she has met and spoken to, and their stories. She describes conversations with taxi drivers, flight attendants, college students at elite colleges and college students at low income state schools,truck drivers, waitresses and many others. There's also a chapter dealing with her time on the road campaigning for different political candidates -- including a great segment of the Clinton/Obama face off. And through these stories and anecdotes, she conveys her observations about injustices she has seen, surprising connections with people, and sources of strength and change. There's an underlying joy and wonder and respect for people. There's a fearlessness about being in difficult situations, and engaging with people that I found really moving. And mostly there are many really good stories about the people she has met in her travels -- how they have touched and inspired her. In a way, this book is the opposite of what one might expect from an icon -- it's not about Steinem and her achievements, but rather about other people and how they have inspired her. Which I found very inspiring. Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for an opportunity to read an advance copy.

Debbie "DJ"

Wow, this was quite the read! Steinem starts by talking about her early upbringing, which I found not only surprising, but fascinating. From there, she is all over the map (quite literally). It's like sitting down with an old friend as she recounts important life events. Often, the events had no particular order, yet they all held my full attention. Steinem included so much in this book, it's hard to review without giving anything away. While she talks of feminism, it is current, and seen through a new lens. One quote I found interesting was this " We might have known sooner that 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."

Steinem speaks of everyone from JFK to Martin Luther King to several important figures I had never heard of. And, who knew Clarence Thomas had such an impact on women's rights? Her alliance with Black and Native American cultures also taught her a lot, and she believes whole-heartedly "talking circles." Detailing their history and how vital they are to all of us.

Steinem has definitely lifted a big life, one I thoroughly enjoyed reading about!

Diane

There are so many good stories in this book! This memoir focuses on Steinem's travels around the world, and her political and activist experiences in the United States.


When people ask me why I still have hope and energy after all these years, I always say: Because I travel. For more than four decades, I've spent at least half my time on the road.

I've never tried to write about this way of life, not even when I was reporting on people and events along the way. It just seemed to have no category. I wasn't on a Kerouac road trip, or rebelling before settling down, or even traveling for one cause. At first I was a journalist following stories, then a sometime worker in political campaigns and movements, and most consistently an itinerant feminist organizer. I became a person whose friends and hopes were as spread out as my life. It just felt natural that the one common element in that life was the road.


Steinem has had a fascinating life, and I was very engaged with her writing. Her experiences around the world usually involved talking with groups of women, hearing their tales and troubles, and seeing how the situation could be improved. I loved her stories about her travels in India, her activism on college campuses, and her role in various political campaigns. I was also surprised to learn that she dreads public speaking, despite it being a regular part of her commitments.

This is a hard book to summarize, but I mean that in a good way. It's almost as if Steinem didn't want her book lumped into a category in the same way she doesn't want women stereotyped and held back because of gender.

I listened to this on audio, read by Debra Winger, which was a delight. Highly recommended.

Favorite Quotes
"What we're told about this country is way too limited by generalities, sound bites, and even the supposedly enlightened idea that there are two sides to every question. In fact, many questions have three or seven or a dozen sides. Sometimes I think the only real division into two is between people who divide everything into two, and those who don't."

"[T]he first reason for this book is to share the most important, longest-running yet least visible part of my life ... My second purpose is to encourage you to spend some time on the road, too. By that, I mean traveling — or even living for a few days where you are — in an on-the-road state of mind, not seeking out the familiar but staying open to whatever comes along. It can begin the moment you leave your door."

"It was the first time I witnessed the ancient and modern magic of groups in which anyone may speak in turn, everyone must listen, and consensus is more important than time. I had no idea that such talking circles had been a common form of governance for most of human history, from the Kwei and San in southern Africa, the ancestors of us all, to the First Nations on my own continent, where layers of such circles turned into the Iroquois Confederacy, the oldest continuous democracy in the world. Talking circles once existed in Europe, too, before floods, famines, and patriarchal rule replaced them with hierarchy, priests and kings. I didn't even know, as we sat in Ramnad, that a wave of talking circles and "testifying" was going on in black churches of my own country and igniting the civil rights movement. I certainly didn't guess that, a decade later, I would see consciousness-raising groups, women's talking circles, giving birth to the feminist movement. All I knew was that some deep part of me was being nourished and transformed right along with the villagers."

Diane S ☔

3.5 Grew up hearing about this amazing woman, reading MS magazine and cheering her on from afar. Yet, never knew the personal details of her life, what made her whom she is nor how she came to be such a staunch advocate for many whom had few rights. This book filled that in for me and I loved reading about her early life, somewhat surprising and how she started in her career. Her life on the road, the many people she met, her stay in India and the many well known people she has met. Little incidents and big moments. The convention in Houston that for her was life altering. What she has done and what she has accomplished is truly amazing.

Loved the candidness of her writing, the good and the bad but there was a serious lack of organization in this book and some repetitiveness. My nerdy brain had a hard time overcoming this. Still this book is very much worth reading and what bugged me may not phase you at all. We owe woman like Steinem a debt of gratitude, women who fought hard for a long time with slow or no results. But without them where would we be?

Trudi

A note about the audiobook -- I started listening to this one and it wasn't quite grabbing me. The text was falling flat for some reason and my mind wandered a little too much. Debra Winger has a lovely delivery as the reader, but the audiobook just didn't work for me this time. So I abandoned it for the hardcover -- and finished it in one sitting I became that engrossed and enthralled, moved and inspired.

In June of 2015 I was lucky enough to attend the American Library Association conference held in San Francisco that year. Not only was it a thrill to be surrounded by 20,000 librarians from all corners of the library world, but the City by the Bay had been on my bucket list for years. It was a week of great food and much adventuring (including a day trip to Alcatraz), with thankfully no earthquakes. But the absolute highlight of the entire shebang was getting to see Gloria Steinem speak in person. Let me just say that at 81 years old, this woman has lost none of her charisma, style, and magnetic presence. She is as strikingly beautiful as she has ever been, and her generosity of spirit and kindness beam from her person like the warmth of a thousand suns.



Her latest book is a compilation of memories and reflection of a life lived on the road and what it means to be an "organizer" -- of social justice movements, of rallies, of connecting others. When most people think of Steinem they think "feminist" and "speaker" and "leader" but what she's spent most of her life doing is listening and that is what has made her so good at being all of those other things. To be a great organizer, you need to first listen, and from the listening will come empathy, understanding, knowledge, and new ideas. Now into her eighth decade, Steinem continues to listen, never one to believe she has learned all there is to know, or is now someone who carries all the answers to truth and justice and gender equality.

I was surprised to learn that Steinem is a nervous public speaker, and though she has spent a life doing it, still gets butterflies before getting up in front of a group of people. I can't imagine a life on the road as she has lived it, so very untethered. I am too much of a homebody to have ever been called to such a nomadic life, but there is a part of me that wonders what I've missed in the way of human connection and adventure. When she turned 50, Steinem finally purchased a home and began to nest, and though her nomadic adventures would persist at least now she had a place to return and rest and refuel. Maybe when I turn 50 I'll do the opposite and take to the road!
It's the surprise, the unexpected, the out of control. It turns out that laughter is the only free emotion--the only one that can't be compelled. We can be made to fear. We can even be made to believe that we're in love because, if we're kept dependent and isolated for long enough, we bond in order to survive. But laughter explodes like aha! It comes when the punch line changes everything that has gone before, when two opposites collide and make a third, when we suddenly see a new reality. Einstein said he had to be very careful while shaving, because when he had an idea he laughed -- and he cut himself. Laughter is an orgasm of the mind. ~Gloria Steinem, My Life on the Road

Jacki (Julia Flyte)

Editor: Ms Steinem, we think it's time you wrote another book.
Gloria Steinem: Hmm. It's all been fairly extensively mined. Oh, but I do have a couple of good stories about taxi rides.
Editor: That sounds good. Maybe we could devote a chapter to taxi stories.
Gloria Steinem: And I met an interesting woman on a plane once.
Editor: Ok, it sounds like grouping it around a travelling theme might pull it all together nicely.
Gloria Steinem: Can I write about my Dad too?
Editor: That sounds good. Anything else you'd like to cover? Hillary Clinton is very topical.
Gloria Steinem: I'd like to talk about all the campaigning I've ever done and I can write about Hillary as part of that. Oh and I want to write about Native Americans as well. I've got some stories that I've been drafting over the last 10 years or so. I don't think people realise what an amazing culture they have or that the US Constitution is based on the Iroquois Confederacy.
Editor: Ok...doesn't quite fit with the travelling theme but maybe we can put that all in the second half and people won't notice. They always love what you write, you know that. It'll be terrific!

El

I want to be Gloria Steinem when I grow up.

I went to a women's college for my undergraduate degree, and while I have a lot of complaints about the particular experience I had, one thing I appreciated was the communal existence. I didn't live in a dorm, but it didn't matter - the classes were small, there was relatively open communication between the students and the professors, you could basically just walk into any professor's office and take a seat and chat for a while. The classes, for the most part, had a conversational tone to them, which means sometimes you learned without realizing you were learning. There's a magic in that.

Since I graduated, I haven't had quite the same experience in any other part of my life where groups of women get together and talk about their lives or their beliefs or how they feel just walking down the street. I work primarily with women, and yet we don't have those conversations. No one really talks about what it's like to be a woman (besides the coworker who recently is trying to get us all to buy these cami things from her friend's business because they're more comfortable than bras or something), and yet the environment is so very much female. We've all had very different experiences in life, and yet no one really talks about it, about the one thing that we all have in common in spite of our differences: the fact that we are women.

Reading Gloria Steinem's book made me miss that sense of community. She talked about things I always want to discuss with people, but others don't always want to have those talks, and still there's often this overriding "This is how it is" tone to those discussions that might come up.

At 81 years of age, Steinem is still quite the firecracker. I've always especially appreciated her because she's a relatively quiet source of strength. She may not always have been the most verbal, she gets anxious in public speaking situations, and yet she says so much that I either already agree with or hadn't quite thought out myself yet, or didn't realize I already agreed with.

In this book, she talks about her life on the road. She grew up in a nomadic environment, and for so long "on the road" was home for her. Her way of rebelling against that was wanting to one day own a home and have a stable place to land; but she found herself just as much on the road as an adult as she had been as a child. She felt comfortable there, without even realizing it, and the existence works for her. She spent time trying to reconcile that in her mind - where is home, what is home, how can one feel at home without actually being a traditional home? I love the way she discusses the various ways one can be on the road, whether traveling to other countries, within one's own country, or just within one's own town. She is a non-driver (as am I) and says that adventure begins the moment you leave your door.

I adore that.

She writes in a conversational, anecdotal tone that is very engaging and enjoyable to read. She is the friend everyone wishes they have. She's down-to-earth, but has this wealth of experience from a lifetime of traveling and learning, and sharing those experiences with other like-minded people. It makes me want to find that in my world now more than ever, in a way that I didn't even quite realize I was missing since graduation until just more recently, partly in thanks to Ms. Steinem.

So, yeah, I do want to be Gloria Steinem when I grow up. The good news is she made me feel like I already am.

Rachel Reads Ravenously

4 stars!

“You're always the person you were when you were born. You just keep finding new ways to express it.”

I've always been interested in learning more about Gloria Steinem. She was mentioned a lot in my college history courses, but never anything specifically about her was covered. This was also a book selected in Emma Watson's feminist book club, so I bought a copy and it say on my nightstand for two years. Now that I am into audiobooks on my commute, I decided to listen to this book.... on the road. See what I did there???? I know, I'm lame.

Lots of thoughtful ideas on activism. It's not a super cohesive book, much of it is out of sequence, flipping back and forth in time. I loved the stories, though. So many great quotes and moments while listening to this book. Instead of a straightforward biography, this is like having several conversations with a new friend and learning key moments of their life.

A very inspiring book for me, I wish more people had open minds and open hearts like Steinem.

“Decisions are best made by the people affected by them.”


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Jaylia3

Reading this lively memoir of the vagabond life Gloria Steinem has led--first by necessity and then because she embraced it--made me want to hit the road myself in the hope that I could have even a fraction of her experiences. The varied places and people she’s encountered in her travels give her rich, interesting perspectives on the history and zeitgeist of the times she writes about, which extend from the later years of the Great Depression until today. It makes the book a fascinating, even inspiring combination of personal story and history that’s a lot of fun to read--and because this is Gloria Steinem, readers also get an enlightening front row seat for the burgeoning women’s movement of the 1960’s-70’s and its continuing development.

When she was a young child Steinem’s father ran a lakeside music venue in the summer, but once fall came he’d pack everyone in the car to spend the rest of the year driving around the country buying and then selling junk or antiques or whatever, earning enough of a profit to make it to the next town--an enterprise in which the whole family participated. Steinem thought she longed for a permanent home, but when she reached adulthood that didn’t happen. After college Steinem got a 2-year fellowship to study in India, but when she showed up at the ashram of Vinoba Bhave, one of the leaders in the land reform movement inspired by Gandhi, almost everyone was gone. Caste riots had broken out in nearby, now cordoned off villages, so the ashram residents had formed teams to slip under police barriers and travel from village to village hoping to help contain further violence. One more team wanted to go out, but they needed a women so Steinem was drafted, her first experience of traditional talking circles and modern community activism.

Working as a journalist back in the US, Steinem was dismissed by some of her male colleagues as a token “pretty girl” which helped lead her to the women’s movement and a continued life of organizing, activism, and travel. If you are expecting something dour and humorless, that’s not what you’ll find in this book. Steinem comes across as warmhearted, eager to learn from the people around her, and open to new experiences, all of which makes her wonderful company. I enjoyed learning more about mid-century politics and the growth of the women’s movement, but I also loved the personal glimpses she gives of people as diverse as Cherokee Nation chief Wilma Mankiller, who was a personal friend, and Frank Sinatra, who Steinem spent one awkward Thanksgiving dinner with--he didn’t talk much to anyone but he did let them watch while he put on an engineer’s hat and ran his toy trains around an elaborate track.

Steinem even works in interesting bits of older history, mentioning for instance that the American Constitution is partially modeled on the Iroquois Confederacy, but when Benjamin Franklin invited two Iroquois men to the Constitutional Convention to act as advisers, one of their first comments was something like--why aren’t there any women at this meeting? Good question.

Louise


The understated prose may make this seem like a light volume of reminiscences, but it demonstrates her main point: you have to listen. If you listen to everyday people, not politicians or pundits, you can see what is really going on in the world.

After introducing who she is by way of describing her father and his independent traveling spirit and her unwell mother who admired the Roosevelt’s, she shares what she has heard over the years and what she has learned from it.

Living in India for two years, Steinem came to understand Gandhian principles and started to learn to listen. She notes “talking circles” as ways to mediate and inform. She shares the fruit of her listening be it through meeting native Americans, through listening in taxis, through young people on campus who pick her up at the airport or in listening to the audiences wherever she speaks. When she spends a weekend with corporate CEOs there is little to report.

You learn about the life of an activist. She is traveling: spending 8 days at home is a record. She gets stage freight and often thinks of what she should have said later. There are great anecdotes, for instance speaking at Harvard Law School where one of the faculty rises to tell her she doesn’t understand the traditions of HLS in a manner so out of control that he proved her point; another a former truck driver who showed her the truck driving world; another a young boy, who as a child was used as a girl.

Her observations are food for thought, for instance the animosity achieving women have for Hillary Clinton may be based on their sense of an inequality in their own marriages; Some who condemn her for “not throwing the bum out” have accepted infidelity in their own marriage and want her to “punish” their husband through her punishing Bill. Another observation is that almost all abortion clinics have served a woman who protested against the clinic the the day before and went back to protesting the day after. Steinem notes that these women often have no access to birth control are frequently pregnant, they need an abortion and then feel guilty about it.

Steinem has a lot to be proud of. She was foundational, perhaps pivotal, in a movement that improved lives for women. She faced down the establishment that wouldn’t allow women in professional schools (a waste of money and time, they said), police forces, the military etc. Rape is now treated like the crime that it is and sexual harassment is no longer a joke. She doesn’t rest on those laurels. Campuses where she once pushed for a women’s study course, now have a major, but she looks to increase the number of tenured faculty.

As an interesting aside, three of the subjects of the last four biographies I've read don’t/didn’t drive. Gore Vidal and Gary Gygax (creator of Dungeons and Dragons) and Steinem. Steinem devotes a whole chapter to it noting that being free from the wheel leaves her freer to listen and observe.

I highly recommend this book, but note, it is understated. Names are not dropped and there is only one celebrity anecdote (Thanksgiving dinner at Frank Sinatra’s). There is little on the outright hostility she faced. Some readers will be disappointed that there is no tell all: Nothing on her high profile boyfriends/dates, nothing on her brief marriage to the father of a Hollywood star, no backstory about her undercover “Playboy” article. She continues to lead a full life and while the glimpse of it she gives the reader seems light, there is a lot in this short book.

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