Currently Reading: My Life on the Road

A few weeks ago I saw something online about Emma Watson beginning a book club through Good Reads, and immediately wanted to be a part of it. I’d also been wanting to read Gloria Steinem’s My Life on the Road, the first scheduled read, for a while so was really excited to begin. I love that she frames her book within the long tradition of the travel narrative so rarely taken up by women. Perhaps especially because in many ways I am on my own adventure, and so want to experience all the world has to offer.

I was shocked to read that the dictionary defines as adventurer “as a person who has, enjoys, or seeks adventures” and and adventuress as “a woman who uses unscrupulous means in order to gain wealth or social position.” It’s a highly visible reminder of the subtle language that leads to inequality. Whether you already identify as a feminist, or find yourself on the fence for whatever reason, this book should be on your must-read list.

I’ve had the book for about a week, and find it difficult to put down. Not only is it densely packed with stories from Steinem’s life which are absolutely wonderful, but also full of amassing stories from her time as an organiser– including the organising of the National Women’s Conference in Houston in 1977. Her descriptions of the conference are amazing and inspiring. In her reflection she says that “before Houston, I had known that women in small groups could be courageous an loyal to each other and respect each others differences. After Houston, I’d learned that women could do this in Large numbers, across chasms of difference, and for serious purpose.”

Hopeful, energising statements like these make me excited for the future of feminism, and for equality overall. Reading her book, it’s encouraging to see how far we’ve come in some areas, but also staggering how much further we have to go. The fact that “studies show that women’s intellectual self-esteem tends to go down as years of education go up,” and that a world that sees such high levels of violence toward women around the globe has lead to “a world with fewer females than males, a first in recorded history” is staggering. As a someone in the process of getting her MA, with a plan to one day go for her PhD, the decreasing self-esteem is something I’ve already encountered, and is so common among women especially that it even has it’s own name– impostor syndrome. A world with less confident women, and especially with fewer women, means that everyone loses out.

The descriptions of her vast involvement with political campaigns of all sizes, and for both sides of the aisle seems particularly relevant today, as not only is it an election year, but with so many candidates in the race it often seems a bit overwhelming. The advice she once gave to women when on the campaign trail, resonated to much with me that I think everyone should take it to heart– “forget about party labels. Just vote on the issues and for candidates who support equality.” What a lovely message this is, and a powerful way to look past party distinctions and put the focus back on people.

I’ll stop going on about how much I love this book now, how much I find it empowering, and how much I hope it can galvanise people, both male and female, to move toward a world with greater equality. What I will keep with me long after I’ve forgotten the statistics and policy initiatives described, is the hope for a better future you can feel on every page,  the reminder that if you want people to listen to you, you have to listen to them, and most importantly, “people are people.”

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