It appears that while working on her book My Life on the Road, Gloria Steinem was aiming to achieve two objectives: to highlight the significance of storytelling/listening, as the activity contributive to the cause of making this world a better place to live, and to promote the idea of women’s socio-economic empowerment, as such that has been predetermined by the objective laws of history. The author needs to be given credit for having succeeded in this particular undertaking, as well as in ensuring that many of the book’s themes and motifs appeal to the unconscious anxieties in readers – hence, the bestselling status of My Life on the Road. At the same time, however, there are a number of apparent weaknesses to Steinem’s book as well, the main of which is reflective of the author’s somewhat lessened ability to indulge in the systemic (cause-effect) type of reasoning. This paper’s sub-sequential parts will explore the validity of the above-suggested at length.
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There can be only a few doubts that My Life on the Road helps to
enhance one’s understanding of social movements. The reason for this is that being concerned with the author’s personal experiences of informal socialization with different people across the planet, the book provides a strong humanist dimension to the cause of feminism, which in turn causes readers to relate to the book’s ideas/claims on an emotional level – something that naturally results in increasing the book’s overall appeal to the audience. At the same time, in her book Steinem succeeded in representing the cause of women’s liberation as such that has been brought about by the process of more and more women all over the world beginning to experience essentially the same desire to be able to live in the gender-egalitarian society. This implies that the social movement of feminism is, in fact, historically warranted – despite the fact that in the patriarchal society a woman’s strongly feminist stance is often considered symptomatic of her mental inadequateness. According to the author, however, this does not undermine the value of the concerned social movement as a “thing in itself”. As she noted: “The accusation that feminism is bad for the family leads to understanding that it’s bad for the patriarchal variety, but good for democratic families that are the basis of democracy”. Therefore, there is nothing odd about the fact that many critics refer to My Life on the Road in terms of a powerful feminist statement.
As it was implied in the Introduction, in her book Steinem aimed to
advocate the idea that it is specifically by adopting a socially active stance in life that an individual can attain self-actualization. In its turn, this can be explained by the author’s strongly individualistic outlook on what accounts for the driving forces of history: “As in history, a potentially powerful majority is being divided by an entrenched powerful few”. At the same time, however, there appear to have been many “holistic” aspects to the author’s intent, in this respect. For example, throughout the book’s entirety, the author never ceases to apply an extensive effort into trying to convince readers that the society is a continually evolving entity of its own, which suggests that its overall agenda cannot be merely summative of the individualistic agendas of each of its members.
My Life on the Road is best defined as an autobiographical novel, which is the reason why most argumentative claims, contained in it, appear strongly reflective of the author’s own subjective perception of the surrounding social reality and the discursive significance of how the latter manifests itself. Nevertheless, Steinem did make a point in substantiating many of these claims with the references to the thematically relevant academic and non-academic sources. Chapter Seven is especially illustrative, in this respect – it features twenty-one references to the external sources (more than any other Chapter), which once again suggests that the author was indeed concerned with trying to ensure the book’s overall discursive legitimacy.
Even though My Life on the Road does contain some analytical insights into what should be deemed the societal implications of the authors “being on the road” experiences, the book’s overall biasness is quite apparent. The validity of this statement can be best illustrated regarding Steinem’s strongly anti-Catholic attitudes and her tendency to refer to all men as such that are intrinsically predisposed to oppress women: “Catholicism is hardly alone among patriarchal religions in controlling women’s bodies. Patriarchy evolved as a way of giving men control over women’s bodies and reproduction”. Obviously enough, while working on her book Steinem wanted to stir up some controversies, which in turn was supposed to help the author strengthening her reputation of a hard-core feminist. This, however, was achieved at the expense of undermining the logical integrity of the author’s way of arguing in favor of feminism.
It appears that Steinem has left quite a bit out of her book. One of the most notable indications that this is indeed the case can be considered the fact that, even though the author has gone a great length praising “social activists” because of these people’s commitment towards promoting some progressive social causes (such as opposing the Vietnam War or preserving the natural environment), she never mentioned the actual source of income, on these individuals’ part. Apparently, readers are expected to believe that “social activists” can make a living without being required to earn money in one way or another. Because in My Life on the Road, Steinem does not even briefly comment on her confirmed affiliation with the FBI and CIA during the sixties and seventies, the readers aware of the unsightly particulars of the author’s biography will be naturally driven to think critically of her ill-concealed strive towards presenting herself as nothing short of a saintly figure, completely unaffected by the thoughts of material enrichment.
What contributes towards increasing the book’s literary value more than anything is the fact My Life on the Road is written in an easy-to-understand and yet thoroughly intelligible/entertaining language – something best discussed in conjunction with Steinem’s journalistic legacy. The book’s other apparent strength has to do with the fact that while exposed to it, readers will gain a better understanding of what were the qualitative specifics of the sociopolitical climate in the US (as well as around the world) throughout the 1960s-1980s. For example, it is a well-established fact that it was not up until the nineties that the policy of “political correctness” ended up attaining a quasi-official status in America. Yet, the book’s autobiographical accounts (concerned with the author’s exploits through the sixties and seventies) help readers to understand better what has predetermined such an eventual development.
The book’s main drawback has to do with both the heavily ideologized sounding of many suggestions, found in it, and the sheer inaccurateness of some of Steinem’s historical, philosophical and cultural claims. For example, in My Life on the Road, the author positioned herself to be someone who believes in the viability of a great many feminist myths, which have long ago been proven utterly anti-scientific, such as the presumed predominance of matriarchate (as the form of governance) in pre-Colombian America: “We’ve been invited to a Lakota Sioux powwow celebrating the powerful place that women held before patriarchy arrived from Europe”. Had the author been aware of the way in which evolutionary laws affect the functioning of just about any human society (consisting of “hairless primates”), however, she would refrain from referring to matriarchy as a feasible paradigm for conducting social affairs. Another problem with the book is that Steinem seems to have tried little too hard polishing Hillary Clinton’s behind: “I knew Hillary Clinton mostly in the way we all do, as a public figure in good times and bad, one who became part of our lives and even our dreams”. So much for Steinem’s yet another claim that people should not trust the country’s mainstream politicians too much.
In light of what has been said earlier, regarding the book My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem, it will be appropriate to confirm the soundness of the paper’s initial thesis. Apparently, Steinem’s book indeed has a certain ambivalent quality to it. On one hand, it reveals what were the driving forces behind the feminist movement in the US throughout the concerned historical period. On the other hand, however, this book is clearly suggestive of the author’s preoccupation with trying to convince as many women as possible to embrace feminism – even at the expense of making them believe that men are their “natural enemies”. This, of course, should prevent most analytically-minded readers from holding My Life on the Road in, particularly high regard.
Steinem, Gloria. My Life on the Road. New York: Random House, 2016.