Book Review: My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

I think one of the first reasons why I became a feminist is because of Gloria Steinem. To be honest, it wasn’t due to her tireless work on behalf of women’s rights, committed activism towards other causes, and her exceptional writing. It was because I thought she was so pretty with her long streaked hair, her mini-skirts and her trendy aviator sunglasses.

You’ll have to forgive me…I was around seven years old at the time.

Of course, I’m now a grown woman and my love and admiration for Steinem goes beyond her looks. She is so much more than a fashionable feminist (yes, we do exist). So I was overjoyed when my friend Nora gave me a copy of Steinem’s latest book My Life on the Road. I thoroughly adore Steinem’s past books like Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions and Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem. And I’ve been reading Ms. Magazine since middle school. To this day my nickname for Steinem is “Cool Auntie.”

Living a life on the road as an activist, speaker and writer came naturally to Steinem. Her father was a traveling salesman so it’s in her DNA. As a young woman Steinem spent time studying in India. Her career as a journalist had her traveling all over interviewing and covering all kinds of topics whether it be going undercover as a Playboy Bunny or interviewing the likes of Cesar Chavez. Always an activist Steinem was drawn to feminism, acting tirelessly for the rights for women whether it be access to their reproductive rights or issues they may face in the workplace. She helped create Ms. Magazine and has been a dominating force of feminism for decades, not only inspiring women around her own age but also inspiring women young enough to be her daughters and granddaughters.

“Wandering Organizer” is just one way Steinem defines herself and to me this book proves just that. Her life on the road has influenced her in a multitude of ways, especially in the world of politics. She also admits how being a wandering organizer has influenced her physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. And her travels makes for one hell of a read.

Steinem was at the 1963 March on Washington when Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream Speech.” She worked on the behalf of farm workers. She campaigned for Geraldine Ferraro in 1984.She was also a big supporter of Hillary Clinton in both 2008 and 2016.

She’s worked along with activists Florynce Kennedy, Dolores Heurta, and Wilma Mankiller. She admits her relationship with Betty Friedan was less than cordial. She joined forces with Generation X feminists like Amy Richards. And now millennial feminists are discovering Steinem and her work. Now in her 80s, Gloria is still traveling, writing and speaking.

Every essay is written in a down-to-earth, yet moving way. She is a powerful voice but one that never seems intimidating. She fully admits things weren’t always rosy on her travels. She dealt with a lot of backlash, especially from the radical right, but kept on fighting on the behalf of not just women, but society as a whole.

I found all her essays fascinating, turning each page as Steinem went on her amazing journey. Her life on the road would make for one hell of a movie. One chapter of My Life on The Road would make for one hell of the movie.

This novel is an impressive and mind blowing account of the people, places and things Steinem encountered on her travels. At times I felt like I needed an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of it all. I feel fortunate to have learned more about this brave and inspirational woman. As with Steinem’s other books My Life on the Road is a must-read for all feminists, one to be visited again and again.

Moranifesto by Caitlin Moran

It’s probably not a secret that I’m a fan of British pop culture critic, author, feminist and all-around cool British bird Caitlin Moran. Ms. Moran began writing about pop music when she was still a teenager growing up in a struggling family that lived in a council house and later hosted a TV show. Later Moran proved her feminist street cred via her funny, soul-searching, thought-provoking columns on everything from her budding sexuality as a teenager to her challenges combing marriage, child rearing and writing. She also writes about serious issues that affect women (and the men who love them) with the same aplomb she writes about pop culture. I’ve been a fan of hers ever since I picked up to of her earlier books Moranthology and How to Be a Woman. And her novel How to Build a Girl is a must read if you’ve ever been a teen-age girl (or, just human).

So when I found out Moran had released another book of essays, Moranifesto, I did a little jig in my leopard-spot flats and got myself a copy, which I can safely say is another feather in marvelous Ms. Moran’s chapeau! And it’s the perfect feminist elixir in a time of the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief, #marketplacefeminism, Brexit, the sad loss of pop culture icons like Bowie, and a host of other issues that affect women across the big pond and women who live in your neighborhood.

Moranifesto is divided into four distinct parts:

  1. The Twenty-first Century—Where We Live
  2. The Feminisms
  3. The Future
  4. Epilogue

In The Twenty-first Century—Where We Live, Moran examines why her utter disdain for the late Margaret Thatcher to her despair over the death of David Bowie. She muses the hatred of her printer (always a letdown for writers on a strict deadline), famous people she has annoyed and taking a rather unpleasant ride through the streets of New York City. Her chapter on her love of bacon will resonate with anyone who thinks bacon is the food of the Gods. And I adored her essay on smells that remind us of childhood—our mother’s perfume, pencil shavings, calamine lotion, puppies, lilac trees—scents that make us a wee bit nostalgic for perceived simpler times when anything and everything seemed possible.

In Feminisms Moran pokes fun at her face, which she describes part potato, part thumb and asks why we have to make everything “sexy?” She implores us to find another word for rape, her support of Hillary Clinton, giving up high heels, the most sexist TV show called “Blachman,” the type of show I hope never makes our shores, and speaking of TV, spends a day with Lena Dunham on the set of “Girls.”

And in part three, Moran looks into her crystal ball to figure out the future. In this batch of musings she claims reading is fierce yet she thinks it’s okay if her children aren’t big readers. She validates the importance of libraries. She also gets serious discussing Syria and refugees. And when she muses about women who mess things up things for the rest of us you might find yourself nodding your head in agreement.

The fourth part of Moranifesto, the epilogue, is brief, yet probably the most important part of the book. The epilogue is a letter to Moran’s daughter Lizzie. In this letter, Moran is dead (yes, a wee bit morbid). Lizzie is about the turn 13 and Moran want to share some advice Lizzie might find useful. Moran tells Lizzie “try to be nice.” Niceness will always shine and bring people to you. Also, keep in mind that when you think you are on the verge of a nervous breakdown have a cup of tea and a biscuit (British term for cookie).

Other sage wisdom, choose friends in which you can be your true self and avoid trying to fix someone or avoid someone who thinks you need fixing. Though it may difficult in our shallow culture with its fixation on women’s outer shell, make peace with your body. Make people think you are amazing conversationalist by asking them questions; what they say might prove useful one day.

And probably the most powerful piece of Moran’s letter to Lizzie can be summed up in the following sentence.

“…life divides into AMAZING ENJOYABLE TIMES and APPALLINGEXPERIENCES THAT WILL MAKE FUTURE AMAZING ANECDOTES.”

True…so true.

Throughout Moranifesto, there are essays that really got under my skin, but I can’t really share why because they are way too personal; and at times, I need to keep certain experiences close to my vest. But to give you a sneak peak, these chapters include:

  1. The Rich are Blithe
  2. Poor People are Clever
  3. Two Things Men Need to Understand About Women
  4. How I Learned About Sex
  5. Let Us Find Another Find Another Word For Rape

And some other interesting chapters I think a lot of women will find fascinating include:

  1. The Real Equality Checklist
  2. What Really Gives Me Confidence
  3. All the Lists of My Life

So my lads and lasses, grab a cuppa (cup of tea), enjoy some fish and chips (or as we call it here in Wisconsin a Friday night fish fry with French fries), ring up your mates (call your besties), and keep calm and carry on (Netflix and chill). Caitlin Moran is back and better than ever!

P.S. Moran’s sister works at a perfume shop and she let Moran smell the fragrance David Bowie wore and Moran claimed it smelled of pineapple and platinum. Well, I know what pineapple smells like, but what about platinum? What does platinum smell like? I suppose it smells cool and metallic. But this Bowie were talking about. I bet it smells warm and ever ch, ch, ch, changing to whatever we desire. For me this would smell of a special amber oil in my possession, vanilla as I pour it into some cookie batter, a match after I blow it out, the lavender growing in a mug on my window sill, freshly made bread, the pages within a book, my mother’s chicken soup, and yes, bacon.

What Will It Take to Make A Woman President?-Conversations About Women, Leadership and Power by Marianne Schnall

womanpresbookAs many of my fellow citizens know, men have been running this pop stand we call the United States since 1776. I fully expect we’ll have a lady President in my life time and it won’t be when I’m an old lady dribbling into my Depends.

However, I can’t help but wonder, “Why haven’t we had a female President? Other countries have been led by women, including Great Britain, India, the Philippines, Israel, Switzerland, Ireland, Chile, Germany, Liberia and Pakistan. What is taking the good old USA to get with the program?”

Marianne Schnall, writer and founder of the website Feminist.com, wonders this herself and now she’s asking other noteworthy people on why we haven’t had a woman President and what will it take to make this happen in her book, What Will It Take to Make A Woman President?-Conversations About Women, Leadership and Power.

Schnall’s quest started innocently enough. Shortly after President Obama was elected in 2008, Schnall’s then 10-year-old daughter asked, “Why haven’t we had a woman President?”

This simple inquiry put Schnall on a quest to find out why America has never had a woman President and she found some pretty big guns to ask them this very thought-provoking question.

Not surprisingly, many of the people Schnall interviews are women who have spent time in the political trenches. These people include Republicans like former US senators Kay Bailey Hutchinson and Olympia Snowe, GOP political strategist Ana Navarro, and the Governor of Oklahoma, Mary Fallin. On the Democratic side, we have current US Senators, Kirsten Gillibrand and Claire McCaskill, former Speaker of the House and current Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Vice Chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee Donna Brazile.

Other notables interviewed by Schnall include feminists both young (Jessica Valenti) and not so young (Gloria Steinem). Journalists, broadcasters and writers include Soledad O’Brien, Pat Mitchell, Maya Angelou and Melissa Harris Perry. The world of business and academics is covered by Sheryl Sandberg, and Anita Hill. Celebs like Joy Behar, Kathy Najimy and Melissa Etheridge also give us their two cents worth.

And don’t worry; this book isn’t a total estrogen fest. Schnall also includes the men by interviewing Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, Lieutenant Governor of California Gavin Newsom, and former member of the NFL and social activist Don McPherson.

Now just why haven’t we had a women president? Answers vary, but many agree that sexism still plays a major part every time women dip their toes into politics. Don’t agree with me? Well, people have actually questioned whether Hillary Clinton can be a grandmother and President at the same time. Seriously, did anybody ever question George H.W. Bush or Jimmy Carter if they could be grandfathers and President at the same time? ::Crickets chirping::

And let’s not forget that because of sexism women are often judged on their looks and their outfits, or are seen as too emotional who can’t handle the rough and tumble world of politics. Or if they can handle the rough and tumble world of politics they’re branded as cold, bitchy or bossy.

What else could be keeping a woman from becoming president? Until recently, there was a dearth of strong female political role models. Often women are not encouraged to get involved in politics, whether it’s running for office or running a campaign. Women sometimes don’t have access to the huge amount of money that men do (running for office ain’t cheap, kids). And speaking of kids, undoubtedly a majority of childcare falls on women and a lot of them may eschew politics until their children are grown.

Furthermore, our media can be brutal when covering female political candidates. The mainstream media may be considered liberal (it’s not), but it can be downright reactionary or irritatingly condescending. Years ago the New York Times did a piece on women in politics, specifically the chance of having a woman in the Oval Office. This piece was published in the Times’ “Style” section (as opposed to the news or opinion section) and was illustrated with a fancy pink purse emblazoned with the Presidential seal because we all know ladies love pink and purses!

However, at the same time we are dealing with sexism, lack of role models and political leaders, family challenges and the media, women also put up their own personal barriers. Some of us don’t believe we have what it takes to run for office. We still see power, leadership, self-promotion and ambition as unfeminine and unattractive. Hopefully, as more women gain access to higher positions in politics, business, academics, media and entertainment, these antiquated ideas will dissipate. Or as Senator Claire McCaskill puts it, “Women have to be taught that ambition is ladylike.”

We know the reasons why we haven’t had a lady President. Now what can we do about it?

Answers vary, but the interviewees offer several ideas on how to get women to run for office. They include women demanding more access, increasing our confidence and willingness to put ourselves on the line politically, and promoting women as ideal political candidates who can bring a fresh perspective to governing.

And just what are these fresh perspectives women can bring to governing? According to the interviewees women bring new perspectives and are willing to reach across the aisle to build consensus. Women are collaborative and acknowledge the importance of relationships. Now this may sound like stereotypes (I’ve worked with women who exhibited none of these traits), but don’t they sound like things desperately needed in the world of politics?

I enjoyed reading What Will It Take To Make a Woman President, and I appreciated everyone’s thoughts, ideas and opinions. I would have appreciated Schnall interviewing the average woman and man off the streets to get their input, but I also understand the importance of people who have actually been there and done that political-wise.

The year 2016 may seem a long time from now but it is a Presidential election year. And not surprisingly Hillary Clinton’s name is mentioned a lot as a potential candidate. But there are countless other women who can run for President. Is the United States ready for a President with lady parts asks What Will Take To Make a Woman President? The answer is a resounding “Yes!” And it’s only a question of when this will happen and what action steps we can take to make this a reality.