My Life on the Road

My Life on the Road

by Gloria Steinem


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Gloria Steinem—writer, activist, organizer, and inspiring leader—now tells a story she has never told before, a candid account of her life as a traveler, a listener, and a catalyst for change. Includes “Secrets,” a new chapter!

When people ask me why I still have hope and energy after all these years, I always say: Because I travel. Taking to the road—by which I mean letting the road take you—changed who I thought I was. The road is messy in the way that real life is messy. It leads us out of denial and into reality, out of theory and into practice, out of caution and into action, out of statistics and into stories—in short, out of our heads and into our hearts.

Gloria Steinem had an itinerant childhood. When she was a young girl, her father would pack the family in the car every fall and drive across country searching for adventure and trying to make a living. The seeds were planted: Gloria realized that growing up didn’t have to mean settling down. And so began a lifetime of travel, of activism and leadership, of listening to people whose voices and ideas would inspire change and revolution.

My Life on the Road is the moving, funny, and profound story of Gloria’s growth and also the growth of a revolutionary movement for equality—and the story of how surprising encounters on the road shaped both. From her first experience of social activism among women in India to her work as a journalist in the 1960s; from the whirlwind of political campaigns to the founding of Ms. magazine; from the historic 1977 National Women’s Conference to her travels through Indian Country—a lifetime spent on the road allowed Gloria to listen and connect deeply with people, to understand that context is everything, and to become part of a movement that would change the world.

In prose that is revealing and rich, Gloria reminds us that living in an open, observant, and “on the road” state of mind can make a difference in how we learn, what we do, and how we understand each other.

Praise for My Life on the Road

“Like Steinem herself, [My Life on the Road] is thoughtful and astonishingly humble. It is also filled with a sense of the momentous while offering deeply personal insights into what shaped her.”O: The Oprah Magazine

“A lyrical meditation on restlessness and the quest for equity . . . Part of the appeal of My Life is how Steinem, with evocative, melodic prose, conveys the air of discovery and wonder she felt during so many of her journeys. . . . The lessons imparted in Life on the Road offer more than a reminiscence. They are a beacon of hope for the future.”USA Today

“A warmly companionable look back at nearly five decades as itinerant feminist organizer and standard-bearer. If you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to sit down with Ms. Steinem for a casual dinner, this disarmingly intimate book gives a pretty good idea, mixing hard-won pragmatic lessons with more inspirational insights.”The New York Times

“Steinem rocks. My Life on the Road abounds with fresh insights and is as populist as can be.”The Boston Globe

“In person and in her writing, Steinem exudes a rare combination of calm, humility and honesty about her weaknesses that explains all she has accomplished.”Jezebel

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345408167
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/23/2016
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 33,285
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Gloria Steinem is a writer, lecturer, editor, and feminist activist. In 1972, she co-founded Ms. magazine, and she remained one of its editors for fifteen years. In 1968, she helped found New York magazine, where she was a political columnist and wrote feature articles. Her books include the bestsellers Revolution from Within, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, Moving Beyond Words, Marilyn: Norma Jeane, and As if Women Matter (published in India). Steinem has received the Penney-Missouri Journalism Award, the Front Page and Clarion awards, the National Magazine Award, the Women’s Sports Journalism Award, the Lifetime Achievement in Journalism Award from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Society of Writers Award from the United Nations, the James Weldon Johnson Award for Journalism, and many others. In 2013, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.

Read an Excerpt


My Father’s Footsteps

I come by my road habits honestly.

There were only a few months each year when my father seemed content with a house-dwelling life. Every summer, we stayed in the small house he had built across the road from a lake in rural Michigan, where he ran a dance pavilion on a pier over the water. Though there was no ocean within hundreds of miles, he had named it Ocean Beach Pier, and given it the grandiose slogan “Dancing Over the Water and Under the Stars.”

On weeknights, people came from nearby farms and summer cottages to dance to a jukebox. My father dreamed up such attractions as a living chess game, inspired by his own love of chess, with costumed teenagers moving across the squares of the dance floor. On weekends, he booked the big dance bands of the 1930s and 1940s into this remote spot. People might come from as far away as Toledo or Detroit to dance to this live music on warm moonlit nights. Of course, paying the likes of Guy Lombardo or Duke Ellington or the Andrews Sisters meant that one rainy weekend could wipe out a whole summer’s profits, so there was always a sense of gambling. I think my father loved that, too.

But as soon as Labor Day had ended this precarious livelihood, my father moved his office into his car. In the first warm weeks of autumn, we drove to nearby country auctions, where he searched for antiques amid the household goods and farm tools. After my mother, with her better eye for antiques and her reference books, appraised them for sale, we got into the car again to sell them to roadside antique dealers anywhere within a day’s journey. I say “we” because from the age of four or so, I came into my own as the wrapper and unwrapper of china and other small items that we cushioned in newspaper and carried in cardboard boxes over country roads. Each of us had a role in the family economic unit, including my sister, nine years older than I, who in the summer sold popcorn from a professional stand my father bought her.

But once the first frost turned the lake to crystal and the air above it to steam, my father began collecting road maps from gas stations, testing the trailer hitch on our car, and talking about such faraway pleasures as thin sugary pralines from Georgia, all-you-can-drink orange juice from roadside stands in Florida, or slabs of salmon fresh from a California smokehouse.

Then one day, as if struck by a sudden whim rather than a lifelong wanderlust, he announced that it was time to put the family dog and other essentials into the house trailer that was always parked in our yard, and begin our long trek to Florida or California.

Sometimes this leave-taking happened so quickly that we packed more frying pans than plates, or left a kitchen full of dirty dishes and half-eaten food to greet us like Pompeii on our return. My father’s decision always seemed to come as a surprise, even though his fear of the siren song of home was so great that he refused to put heating or hot water into our small house. If the air of early autumn grew too chilly for us to bathe in the lake, we heated water on a potbellied stove and took turns bathing in a big washtub next to the fireplace. Since this required the chopping of wood, an insult to my father’s sybaritic soul, he had invented a wood-burning system all his own: he stuck one end of a long log into the fire and let the other protrude into the living room, then kicked it into the fireplace until the whole thing turned to ash. Even a pile of cut firewood in the yard must have seemed to him a dangerous invitation to stay in one place.

After he turned his face to the wind, my father did not like to hesitate. Only once do I remember him turning back, and even then my mother had to argue strenuously that the iron might be burning its way through the ironing board. He would buy us a new radio, new shoes, almost anything rather than retrace the road already traveled.

At the time, I didn’t question this spontaneity. It was part of the family ritual. Now I wonder if seasonal signals might be programmed into the human brain. After all, we’ve been a migratory species for nearly all our time on earth, and the idea of a settled life is very new. If birds will abandon their young rather than miss the moment to begin a flight of thousands of miles, what migratory signals might our own cells still hold? Perhaps my father—and even my mother, though she paid a far higher price for our wanderings—had chosen a life in which those signals could still be heard.

My parents also lived off the land—in their own way. We never started out with enough money to reach our destination, not even close. Instead, we took a few boxes of china, silver, and other small antiques from those country auctions, and used them to prime the process of buying, selling, and bartering our way along the southern route to California, or still farther south to Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. It was a pattern that had begun years before I was born, and my father knew every roadside dealer in antiques along the way, as a desert traveler knows each oasis. Still, some shops were always new or under new management, and it must have taken courage to drive up in our dusty car and trailer, knowing that we looked less like antique dealers than like migrants forced to sell the family heritage. If a shop owner treated us with too much disdain, my father was not above letting him think we really were selling our possessions. Then he would regain his dignity by elaborating on his triumph once he was back in the car.

Since my parents believed that travel was an education in itself, I didn’t go to school. My teenage sister enrolled in whatever high school was near our destination, but I was young enough to get away with only my love of comic books, horse stories, and Louisa May Alcott. Reading in the car was so much my personal journey that when my mother urged me to put down my book and look out the window, I would protest, “But I just looked an hour ago!” Indeed, it was road signs that taught me to read in the first place—perfect primers, when you think about it. coffee came with a steaming cup, hot dogs and hamburgers had illustrations, a bed symbolized hotel, and graphics warned of bridge or road work. There was also the magic of rhyming. A shaving cream company had placed small signs at intervals along the highway, and it was anticipating the rhyme that kept me reading:

If you

don’t know

whose signs

these are

you can’t have


very far.

Burma Shave

Later, when I read that Isak Dinesen recited English poems to her Kikuyu workers in Kenya—and they requested them over and over again, even though they didn’t understand the words—I knew exactly what they meant. Rhyming in itself is magic.

In this way, we progressed through rain and sandstorms, heat waves and cold winds, one small part of a migration of American nomads. We ate in diners where I developed a lifetime ambition to run one with blue gingham curtains and bran muffins. In the car during the day, we listened to radio serials, and at night, to my father singing popular songs to stay awake.

I remember driving into the pungent smell of gas stations, where men in overalls emerged from under cars, wiping their hands on greasy rags and ushering us into a mysterious and masculine world. Inside were restrooms that were not for the queasy or faint of heart. Outside were ice chests from whose watery depths my father would pluck a Coke, drink it down in one amazing gulp, and then search for a bottle of my beloved Nehi Grape Soda so I could sip it slowly until my tongue turned purple. The attendants themselves were men of few words, yet they gave freely of their knowledge of the road and the weather, charging only for the gas they sold.

I think of them now as tribesmen along a trading route, or suppliers of caravans where the Niger enters the Sahara, or sailmakers serving the spice ships of Trivandrum. And I wonder: Were they content with their role, or was this as close to a traveling life as they could come?

I remember my father driving on desert roads made of wired-together planks, with only an occasional rattlesnake ranch or one-pump gas station to break the monotony. We stopped at ghost towns that had been emptied of every living soul, and saw sand dunes pushing against lurching buildings, sometimes shifting to reveal a brass post office box or other treasure. I placed my hands on weathered boards, trying to imagine the people they once had sheltered, while my parents followed the more reliable route of asking the locals. One town had died slowly after the first asphalt road was laid too far away. Another was emptied by fear when a series of mysterious murders were traced to the sheriff. A third was being repopulated as a stage set for a western movie starring Gary Cooper, with sagging buildings soaked in kerosene to make an impressive fire, and signs placed everywhere to warn bystanders away.

Ever challenged by rules, my father took us down the road to a slack place in the fence, and sneaked us onto the set. Perhaps assuming that we had permission from higher-ups, the crew treated us with deference. I still have a photo my father took of me standing a few feet from Gary Cooper, who is looking down at me with amusement, my head at about the height of his knee, my worried gaze fixed on the ground.

As a child who wanted too much to fit in, I worried that we would be abandoned like those towns one day, or that my father’s rule-breaking would bring down some nameless punishment. But now I wonder: Without those ghost towns that live in my imagination longer than any inhabited place, would I have known that mystery leaves a space for us when certainty does not? And would I have dared to challenge rules later in life if my father had obeyed them?

Whenever we were flush, we traded the cold concrete showers of trailer parks for taking turns at a hot bath in a motel. Afterward, we often went to some local movie palace, a grand and balconied place that was nothing like the warrens of viewing rooms today. My father was always sure that a movie and a malted could cure anything—and he wasn’t wrong. We would cross the sidewalk that sparkled with mica, enter the gilded lobby with fountains where moviegoers threw pennies for luck and future return, and leave our cares behind. In that huge dark space filled with strangers, all facing huge and glowing images, we gave ourselves up to another world.

Now I know that both the palaces and the movies were fantasies created by Hollywood in the Depression, the only adventures most people could afford. I think of them again whenever I see subway riders lost in paperback mysteries, the kind that Stephen King’s waitress mother once called her “cheap sweet vacations”—and so he writes them for her still. I think of them when I see children cramming all five senses into virtual images online, or when I pass a house topped by a satellite dish almost as big as it is, as if the most important thing were the ability to escape. The travel writer Bruce Chatwin wrote that our nomadic past lives on in our “need for distraction, our mania for the new.”1 In many languages, even the word for human being is “one who goes on migrations.” Progress itself is a word rooted in a seasonal journey. Perhaps our need to escape into media is a misplaced desire for the journey.

Most of all from my childhood travels, I remember the first breath of salt air as we neared our destination. On a California highway overlooking the Pacific or a Florida causeway that cut through the Gulf of Mexico like Moses parting the Red Sea, we would get out of our cramped car, stretch, and fill our lungs in an ontogeny of birth. Melville once said that every path leads to the sea, the source of all life. That conveys the fatefulness of it—but not the joy.

Years later, I saw a movie about a prostituted woman in Paris who saves money to take her young daughter on a vacation by the sea. As their train full of workers rounds a cliff, the shining limitless waters spread out beneath them—and suddenly all the passengers begin to laugh, throw open the windows, and toss out cigarettes, coins, lipstick: everything they thought they needed a moment before.

This was the joy I felt as a wandering child. Whenever the road presents me with its greatest gift—a moment of unity with everything around me—I still do.

Another truth of my early wanderings is harder to admit: I longed for a home. It wasn’t a specific place but a mythical neat house with conventional parents, a school I could walk to, and friends who lived nearby. My dream bore a suspicious resemblance to the life I saw in movies, but my longing for it was like a constant low-level fever. I never stopped to think that children in neat houses and conventional schools might envy me.

When I was ten or so, my parents separated. My sister was devastated, but I had never understood why two such different people were married in the first place. My mother often worried her way into depression, and my father’s habit of mortgaging the house, or otherwise going into debt without telling her, didn’t help. Also, wartime gas rationing had forced Ocean Beach Pier to close, and my father was on the road nearly full time, buying and selling jewelry and small antiques to make a living. He felt he could no longer look after my sometimes-incapacitated mother. Also, she wanted to live near my sister, who was finishing college in Massachusetts, and now I was old enough to be her companion.

We rented a house in a small town, and spent most of one school year there. It was the most conventional life we would ever lead. After my sister graduated and left for her first grown-up job, my mother and I moved to East Toledo and an ancient farmhouse where her family had once lived. As with all inferior things, this part of the city was given an adjective while the rest stole the noun. What once had been countryside was crowded with the small houses of factory workers.


Barnes & Noble Review Interview with Gloria Steinem

From her days as a freelance journalist to her decades as a feminist activist and organizer, Gloria Steinem has devoted much of her time and energy to travel. Along the way, she has befriended taxicab drivers and flight attendants, campus activists and Native American tribal leaders, absorbing and preserving their stories, changing both their lives and her own.

In her long-awaited new book, My Life on the Road, Steinem, eighty-one, describes her most meaningful encounters in chapters with titles such as "One Big Campus," "When the Political Is Personal," and "Surrealism in Everyday Life." She praises the idea of journeying as a means of discovery and urges other women to take to the road. And she writes movingly about her relationship with her father, Leo Steinem, who for years drove the family around the country while buying and selling antiques. Even as she sought to distance herself from his itinerant example, she realizes, she ended up emulating it, while also pausing, finally, to make a home of her own. Steinem and I spoke by phone about her book and the issues close to her heart. What follows is an edited version of our conversation. — Julia M. Klein

The Barnes & Noble Review: I've read that you've been thinking about this book since 1997. Can you talk about how the idea developed?

Gloria Steinem: As I think I said in the book, I realized that I was writing least about what I was doing most. I would write about particular interests or people or subjects I met along the way, but I wasn't writing anything about the process of being on the road, which I was spending at least half my time on. I began to realize how important to me it was. I confess that I didn't realize it, obvious as it seems now. This was partly because I had grown up that way.

BNR: Did you re-conceive the book over time?

GS: Of course every change in your life changes whatever you write. It was more about time — because I would work on it a month in the summer and not for eleven months.

BNR: Because in fact you were busy traveling and organizing?

GS: Exactly — I was too busy being on the road to write about being on the road.

BNR: Apparently this is your first book in twenty years.

GS: It is, except for a book I published in India [As If Women Matter, a collection of her writings].

BNR: That seems like a lot of pressure.

GS: I'm sure you could interview my editor, Kate Medina, who was in the Olympics of patience. [Laughs] I was writing short pieces, and op-eds, and all kinds of other things, but the process of putting together a book, even though the chapters are essays in a sense because they're on somewhat different subjects, just got set aside — and also got too long. I'll have lots of stories that were cut out to be put on a website [].

BNR: What made you decide against writing a chronologically organized memoir?

GS: It's not a memoir — to me, it's an "on the road" book. I mean, I don't think Jack Kerouac described his book as a memoir. It would just be impossible to do it chronologically — there's just too much. You have to depend on your memory to be selective about what's important and what's moving and what you want to say.

BNR: This form allowed you to pick what was important to you.

GS: General areas, first of all, as you can see by the chapters. For instance, when I first did an outline for the book for the editor, I did not include a chapter about my father. That kind of wrote itself as the first chapter.

BNR: I was very moved by the dedication to the doctor who referred you for an abortion. I wonder how you arrived at that.

GS: First of all, I had dedicated other books to family and friends and lovers. But I think the very fact that I had promised him that I would not tell anyone his name kept me quiet about it, even knowing that he had died long ago. (He was quite an old man at the time.)

But perhaps [the motivation was] all the opposition that we are now seeing state by state, since the right wing didn't get what it wanted in Washington, and also didn't get what it wanted by murdering eight abortion doctors, which they were surprised to find was unpopular. They have now taken to making individual clinics impossible by bizarre regulations in state legislatures. So it just came to seem to me, as it always has, whether it's the gay and lesbian and transgender movement or whether it's us talking abortion, that a key to change is just telling the truth.

BNR: You say that you always knew that you were living your mother's unlived life. I wonder whether before this you realized how much you resembled or owed to your father.

GS: It took me much longer to realize that because I spent a fair amount of time thinking I was rebelling against a peripatetic, disorganized life. It takes a while, I think, for us to look back and see the patterns in our life that resemble our childhood — not so much resemble, as [that] we have found a way to honor what's familiar and still have a way of making it more complete. So my father never had a home; I have a home that I love coming back to. I have found a way to continue something familiar without giving in to it completely.

BNR: Trying to find the right balance . . .

GS: Yes, and I've really come to think that the balance is in ourselves almost — cellular memory — because we were always, for most of human history, following the seasons, following animals, being migratory. But we were migratory with yurts and tents and families and groups. So we had both: We had a community and a campfire to sit around to tell stories, and a journey.

BNR: So your life is replicating this ancient pattern.

GS: I think so. I think that the either-or-ness of almost everything is relatively new — the idea that people are divided into two kinds of people, those who divide everything into two and those who don't. It comes from dividing human nature into masculine and feminine, which original cultures for most of human history didn't do — they didn't have "he" and "she" in their languages, they didn't have a word for nature because we are not separate from nature. It's really industrialization that made us feel that we had to settle down and get a job from someone else and stop following this natural pattern of nature.

BNR: Wasn't the book at one point supposed to be called Nomad?

GS: That was a title that Kate Medina and others at Random House liked. The problem with it is that it sounds aimless. I don't think nomads themselves are aimless, but it had an aimless connotation.

The title I preferred was America — As If Everyone Mattered, because it had irony and meaning. But after [the movement] Black Lives Matter became important, I just used the subtitle because I thought I didn't want to detract from Black Lives Matter.

BNR: What are the ways you think your nomadic life could constitute an example for other women?

GS: Well, first of all, the road has been an awfully male province. It's been thought to be too dangerous for women. If you think about the novels or stories of an on-the-road life or just the hero's journey, it's been a masculine event. Ironically, it turns out from looking at DNA that women have been more likely to travel than men, mainly because of marrying out of the group — not in matrilineal cultures, where men join the women's family, but in patrilineal cultures. So actually we are the on-the-road gender, men are the stay-at-homes, relatively speaking. But nonetheless going on the road has been seen as something that only men can do. So I wanted to give the road equally to women.

And also I think it's my answer, or one answer, to meditation or mindfulness. I totally believe in meditation and mindfulness, but I take courses and don't do it. And I think that's because the road is my form of it. It forces you to live in the present.

BNR: You write about the 1977 National Women's Conference in Houston as a key event in your life. Why was that so important?

GS: I think it was for the [women's] movement altogether because it was a huge first time — huge because it was two years in preparation, there were conferences in every state and territory; in Albany alone there were 20,000 women at a two-day conference electing delegates and issues to be talked about and decided at a national conference. It was like a constitutional convention for the female half of the country that wasn't at the first one. It brought the movement together around all the fundamental issues, including abortion, lesbian rights, and other issues that had been up to then thought to be controversial but turned out to be majority issues.

BNR: You talk about divisions in the movement. It seems as though you and Betty Friedan were at odds. I'm struck by a certain amount of ambivalence — you seem to have admired her, but you seem not to have liked her very much.

GS: You know, we only probably saw each other six times in our lives, and she wouldn't speak to me most of the time.

BNR: You also speak of your attractiveness as having been something of a burden — a handicap that kept you from being taken seriously.

GS: It's summarized in my agent sending me to Life magazine for an assignment, and the editor looking out from his desk and saying, "We don't want a pretty girl, we want a writer," and sending me home. It's not exactly a hardship, but it is a stereotype.

BNR: I was really struck by the Gay Talese anecdote. [While covering Bobby Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign, the writer Gay Talese leaned over Steinem in a taxicab and said to the novelist Saul Bellow, "You know how every year, there's a pretty girl who comes to New York and pretends to be a writer? Well, Gloria is this year's pretty girl."] That was just astonishing. I wonder if he ever apologized.

GS: No, he's just oblivious, I believe. You know, I shouldn't say that because I don't know. I don't see him that much. I've never asked him about it.

BNR: Can you talk about some of the highlights of your life on the road?

GS: Simply the whole process of the National Women's Conference was the highlight — it was huge, it was communal, it was the only time I've ever seen a racially, economically, ethnically representative movement in this country. Also, I was frightened that we couldn't bring it off, so it was harrowing in a personal way. It was full of times of being literally terrified that we would fail massively in public, and yet it was such a huge success. So it had every human emotion, and it also began to teach me that I didn't know about this land that I'd been walking around on all my life — because our studies don't start when people started here, they start when Columbus showed up.

The most memorable times are when there's a moment of intense understanding or discovery. It can happen in a room, in a lecture, with somebody just standing up and asking a question or responding or telling their story, and the whole room suddenly being taken to a new level of understanding. It can happen just on the street with talking to someone. It's the instantaneous moments of "Ah ha," of learning, of perception, of mind expansion, connection.

BNR: Which still happen for you?

GS: Yes, oh, absolutely.

BNR: You don't write much about your personal highs and lows — your marriage [to the late David Bale], for instance, or other relationships.

GS: I purposely didn't talk about that. I said that in the introduction so people wouldn't be expecting that. That would take up a whole book in itself.

BNR: Are we going to get that book?

GS: I don't know. It's almost not fair to write about something that was privately experienced by someone else, too.

BNR: Where do you think the country is now in terms of feminism?

GS: The women's movement, the civil rights movement, the gay and lesbian movement — all the social justice movements have won majority support, which is a huge step from a few decades ago. But the very fact that we have majority support has created a backlash. It's quite literal when you think about the racial composition of the country — in very short order we're no longer going to be a majority white or European American country. And this has caused a big backlash, so that the same groups are now against immigration, against abortion, against sex education and contraception because, as they often cheerfully tell you, the white race is committing suicide.

So two things are happening: We are about to be profoundly changed, and in a good way, and much more free, and [with] much more representation of the world, many more ideas of shared rights for everyone. And, at the same time, there is a backlash against it.

BNR: Are we becoming more polarized?

GS: No, we're not polarized, because polarization implies two poles. We have the majority in consciousness, but the right wing probably has a disproportionate amount of both money and positions of power.

BNR: Is that a fault in our democracy?

GS: It is. It's the fault of the way we finance our campaigns. It's the fault of the way we vote, because we make it more difficult to vote than any democracy in the world.

BNR: How do you see gender playing out in this presidential campaign?

GS: I'm sure that we will continue to see Hillary Clinton's hair and clothing covered in a way that the male candidates don't get covered.

BNR: You say in the book's dedication that you've done the best you could with your life. How do you assess what you've accomplished?

GS: I don't look at it that way. Ithink we need to make each day resemble the best we can, the most we can, the ends we want to achieve — listening as much as we talk, especially if we're people who are more powerful in some situations, or if we're less powerful, talking as much as we listen. Kindness is one of the most important qualities on earth. Doing what we care about so much that we forget what time it is when we're doing it. Laughing, which is crucial. Being our authentic selves, and in community at the same time. If we do that each day, then we'll have advanced those causes in the future.

BNR: So it's all about becoming?

GS: It's all about experience in the present. It's true I live in the future too much, but I try not to because we can only experience all five senses in the present.

BNR: So that's a tension in your life.

GS: Between future plans and a "what if" state of mind, and a "right now" state of mind.

BNR: Can you talk about the role that Ms. magazine [which Steinem co-founded and where she remains a consulting editor] played in the movement, and might still play?

GS: It's still the only magazine in the country that's owned and controlled by women. It remains a major source of information and fiction and poetry that have disappeared from other women's magazines. I'm grateful to the Feminist Majority [Foundation] for keeping it prospering.

BNR: What's next for you, after the book tour?

GS: I'm introducing a series of documentary reports about violence against women in different countries around the world, including this one, for VICE Media.

BNR: Anything else you'd like to add?

GS: Bookstores are great community centers. We've lost a lot of them. The ones that are left are often the truest community centers. I love them because anybody can come in, whether they have the money to buy a book or not. I've never failed to learn from what people have to say there. It's the place people come for new ideas and help and understanding. Librarians saved my life as a child.

BNR: As a child, you didn't go to school, at least not full time.

GS: I would go till it got cold, and then my father, who didn't like the cold weather, would suddenly decide it was the moment to leave. And we would start working our way to Florida or California.

BNR: So you would read books in the car.

GS: In retrospect, what was at least as important was that I was escaping the brainwashing — I didn't read Dick-and-Jane books, I missed a lot of education about hierarchy, about race and class, and what's acceptable and what isn't.

BNR: So your life on the road was something of a benefit?

GS: At the time I didn't think so, naturally — I wanted to be like other kids. But, looking back on it, I think it was an advantage.

December 4, 2015

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