walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

_My Life on the Road_, Gloria Steinem

Steinem has been such an important figure in the world for my entire life, it is a little odd reading her memoir. It's a great memoir. She has a friendly voice, without being verbose or overly chatty. She touches upon the meta-decisions of what to put in a/this memoir and why, without it feeling like she's avoiding engaging with the material.

It is easy to fill in the parts of another person's life that we have no knowledge, direct or otherwise, of with assumptions based on our own experience and the experience of other people we know well. I think anyone who has a decent smattering of experience through time and/or travel or a wide network of diverse kin knows this is a mistake, often a serious mistake, but it is how our brains work. So the book presents many layers of shock right from the beginning. It's hard to imagine growing up driving around in a car with one's parents and sister. The reader might think, but what about school? And that question is answered, but not really in the way you might expect. This was unschooling at its more extreme end. It does put a whole new spin on statements she later makes about how she didn't learn about something-or-other or they don't teach that in school. Well, over and above the fact that every school in this country does things a little differently, and then that changes from year to year and Steinem can't be considered a youthful person by any stretch any more -- she didn't really go to school. So how would she know? I assume it is an expression that she picked up.

She doesn't feel sorry for herself for having parents who clearly suffered from significant mental health issues. It's not clear she really grasps that her father did -- she may still be filing his oddities under that catchall heading, "eccentricity". When she expresses her anguish over not being with him when he dies, it's also completely unclear how much of that experience she has unpacked (my answer? Probably not a lot, either that or she declined to share, which is her prerogative).

She also tends not to blame anyone for, really, much of anything. She gets in her digs -- and more power to her! -- but she delivers the payload and moves on. Reading this book helps answer a basic question I've had about people who engage in community organizing on a national scale. How on earth do these people maintain a home life? In Steinem's case, she didn't bother for a really long time.

In answer to related questions you might have, nope, didn't file taxes for a long time, either, didn't save for retirement, etc. She's a really representative character of the mid 20th century in a lot of ways.

All that said, I really loved the book and the book did nothing to tarnish my sense of her as one of my heroes. It gave me a lot of detail on what her life had been like, and her perspective on the many, many, many other activists and organizers she has worked with. That was really wonderful actually -- even if you have no interest in Steinem, Steinem's connectedness to the larger community of activism and organizing is just amazing.

We had to delay book group discussion due to weather, so I may come back next month and edit this.
Tags: book review

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