Book review: My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

Just finished reading My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem at 70-something. A beautiful testament to her life – from her difficult childhood with a loving but somewhat looney, itinerant father and her lost-soul mother, to her many, many years traveling around the world writing for major outlets and organizing people in pursuit of women’s equality and reproductive freedom.

Beautiful stories of people she met, some of whom she developed very close relationships with, from the amazing Native woman who brought self-reliance and independence back to so many Native tribes that had lost their way, to the cab drivers and poor people and famous people and powerful people – including the then-pope – whose lives intersected with hers in some way, she gives the facts and reflects on their meanings in simple, fluid prose.

Another woman who fights for women's equality

Another woman who fights for women’s equality

My favorite parts are the ones where she speaks gently of her longing for a home when she was little and speaks tenderly about so many of the people she’s met and/or worked with. She has a clear eye and an open heart, and her book lets you know her in a way you never could from reading many of the often-harsh news stories about her battle for feminism and her long struggles to help make Ms. Magazine a force for good.

The book is a reflection on how a single courageous soul can create profound change by listening to people.

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Ghandi movie gives half a lesson

Watching the classic movie, Ghandi. Am struck by the fact that his incredibly powerful non-violent resistant efforts began in South Africa where they were highly effective because they were set up against LAWS. Yes, Indians had to carry ID cards when no one else in S. Africa did. They were required to do X and Y by law–a clear and present ruling against which they could fight.

How unlike the prejudice against single women in our society today. There are no written laws against which to stand. There are no formal regulations to contest. What single women face is only unwritten prejudices and informally sanctioned exclusions. Restricted or impossible access to loans, shame for being in need as a single mother, embarrassment at coming alone, without a "date," for a social or even a business occasion, missed opportunities because there is no man at the head of your business. The list goes on.

Even when women fought for the vote 100 years ago, both married and single women could fight alongside each other. And still the married women had the sanction of their husband's power behind them–or they risked divorce, at the time an almost impossible choice for a woman to give up the financial security (not to mention the social approbation) associated with marriage.

Elibabeth Cady Stanton was the married agitator. Susan B. Anthony was the lifetime single woman advocate. Blessedly they became closest friends. Today, the gulf between single and married is as great as it has ever been since the Victorian era and before. But the separation is more disguised because today single women have at least a greater chance of supporting themselves independently. Less room to be openly pitied–but no less room to be resented, stigmatized, ignored, or marginalized.

But then we see Ghandi turning to help his own country gain greater respect within the world community. Here is where we may take a lesson. There were no laws against being an Indian citizen. There were no laws against being strong and independent as a nation. But there was an overwhelming sense of unworthiness among the people. Ghandi said, “Poverty is the most powerful kind of violence.” So that is what Ghandi began to fight–the expectations, the systemic setup against success. That is where we can find inspiration for single working women.

Today we are creating change in the world.

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Race and gender–side by side

Watching an old PBS video. "Unforgivable Blackness" about the great boxer Jack Johnson. He was the original black fighter who transformed the game from a whites-only sport in turn-of-the-century America.

A description of Johnson’s fighting style sounds a lot like that of the former heavyweight champion Muhammed Ali. “He often fought to punish his opponents rather than knock them out, endlessly avoiding their blows and striking with swift counters.” And Ali was clearly inspired by his enthusiastic approach to fame, too.

Johnson believed in being as ostentatious and noticeable as possible. The fighter was always at odds with the attitude of his contemporary, Booker T. Washington–who thought black people should accept their place and be quietly industrious. The direct quotes from real people of the time were fascinating. Love this one about the attitude of the media of the day:
"Anything that was considered a positive trait in the white fighter was turned into a profoundly negative characteristic when exhibited by the black fighter."

Sound familiar, anybody?

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