Young women today are often reminded by older generations how far women’s rights have come since the beginning of the last century, and have sometimes been accused by the very same of squandering such advances. There often seems to be a gap between the ideologies of the newest women to enter the workforce and those of their mothers. A recent article in the New York Times explored the opinions of women of different generations on the current U.S. presidential candidates, specifically Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. While younger women expressed less concern about the importance of having a female president if there were a potentially more promising male candidate, their older counterparts were eager to demonstrate the nation’s readiness for a female leader.
Though a women’s rights activist with an impressively long career and an ardent supporter of Hillary Clinton, Gloria Steinem consistently proves that feminism has no expiration date. At a time when terms like postfeminism, postracialism and postcolonialism are sometimes carelessly thrown around, Steinem’s autobiography, My Life on the Road, challenges the idea that the women’s rights movement reached its culmination in the previous century.
Steinem, who is the founder of Ms. Magazine and has spent her life as a freelance writer organizing and lobbying for women’s rights, centres her book around her love of travel, and begins by describing her unconventional parents and semi-nomadic childhood. Her most impressive skill lies in her ability to remain relatable to her readers despite the incredible range of experience she has had, discussing her own personal fears of public speaking as well as instances in which she could have done more.
Still, the sheer breadth of events and encounters that Steinem describes with such specificity sometimes verge on the unbelievable. In spite of this, her writing reads as honest and something like a series of selected entries from her own diary. Whether or not all the chance encounters, seemingly omniscient predictions made by perfect strangers, and intimate conversations with generations of America’s most famous and important figureheads really occurred in the way she describes, Steinem’s openness about her most emotional crises, from being called a “baby killer” after having an abortion and supporting reproductive rights to her absence at her own father’s death, renders her trustworthy in a way that perhaps counts more than anecdotal corroboration.
Each story in the book is succinct, often spanning only a few paragraphs, and liberal use of bullet points sometimes makes the whole project seem like more of a coffee table read even if its content is dense. A veteran storyteller, Steinem’s language is decidedly simple but not simplistic, smart but not unnecessarily intellectual. She purposefully maintains a humble tone through which she sets herself on an even plane with readers, avoiding specialized terminology and discourse that might be isolating to those unfamiliar with it. Steinem’s message is simple: every woman can and should be a feminist. She manages to extend issues surrounding the way that women are treated worldwide to other current and pressing issues like racism, climate change and LGBTQ rights, addressing simultaneously any claims that she is concerned only with “white feminism”. Her comedy is entirely situational and unforced, and she has a way of allowing events to speak for themselves, never pressing her reader to interpret things any particular way, a tactic she evinces also in her political activism in order to open up discussion with opponents.
As much as Steinem is not a politician and has expressly avoided becoming such, this book is anything but apolitical. Its release coincides in a timely manner with Hillary Clinton’s run for President of the US, and a large section of the book is an open endorsement of her candidacy. In an op-ed that she herself wrote for The New York Times, a portion of which she includes in the book, Steinem argues that gender was the largest deciding factor in Clinton’s loss in the 2008 presidential election, and she attempts to debunk a recurring idea amongst Republicans and Democrats alike that Secretary Clinton has been in politics too long to make a suitable president.
Political or not, My Life on the Road i s d efinitely worth a read and gives a lesson in paying attention to histories that often go untold. Her inclusiveness and optimism in spite of all the challenges she has faced is a reflection of the longevity of feminism in all its many incarnations and an invitation for readers to get involved in the causes that mean the most to them. Steinem herself writes, “When new people guide us, we see a new country.”