The Revolution is not over. The Feminist Revolution that is. And the Democratic one too. In fact they’ve barely begun.
“All my years of campaigning have given me one clear message: Voting isn’t the most we can do, but it is the least. To have a democracy you have to want one.” 1
Gloria Steinem, in her inspiring memoir ‘My Life on the Road,’ regales us with tales from her travels as a feminist activist, democratic organiser and writer since the 1960’s. She credits a deeply held attitude of hope to a lifetime on the road. “Altogether, if I’d been looking at nothing but the media all these years, I would be a much more discouraged person – especially given the notion that only conflict is news, and that objectivity means being even handedly negative.” 2
From her meetings with Ghandians in India, addressing Women’s Conferences across the USA, organising for political candidates at Democratic Conventions, crisscrossing the country on book tours and engaging with the First People’s, her travels have connected her to inspiring ideas and the hope that our society’s current obsession with excess and hierarchy can be re-balanced. And it’s not just hope that have been the legacy of a life time of activism but joy, laughter and a deepening spirituality.
She tells us about discovering the Trickster from Cherokee writer, folklorist and anthropologist Rayna Green. “A common figure in native mythologies, a boundary crosser who can go anywhere. Unlike the jester and the Clown, who are at the bottom of a hierarchical pile and survive only by making the king laugh, the Trickster is free, a paradox, a breaker of boundaries who makes us laugh – and laughter lets the sacred in. In Native spiritualities there is often a belief that we cannot pray unless we’ve laughed. Because the Trickster is sometimes female and is the spirit of free space and the road, I began to feel I’d found a totem of my own.” 3
Steinem unearths worldviews in which all living things are related, layers and layers, rich and deep, circular rather than hierarchical, that inspire us to engage in our own quest to re-balance our society away from the ravages wrought by our obsession with materialism.
One great example that particularly spoke to me was her habit of asking about the vertical history of people who had lived in the places that she traveled to. This led to her discovery of Native Indian agricultural methods.
“I try out my question about original cultures. A very old and scruffy looking white guy at the back of the book store says he’s heard there are abandoned fields nearby that have an odd pattern of large bumps in the earth every few feet, like a giant rubber bath mat. They’ve been there since time immemorial and are supposed to be an Indian method of planting. I enlist the help of a Smith College Librarian. We discover the bumps are milpa, small mounds of earth on which complimentary crops were planted. Unlike linear plowing, which encourages water run off and soil erosion, the circular pattern traps rainfall. Each mound is planted with a cluster of the Three Sisters that were the staples of Indian agriculture: corn, beans and squash. The corn provided a stalk for the beans to climb, while also shading the vulnerable beans. The ground cover from the squash stabilised the soil, and the bean roots kept the soil fertile by providing nitrogen. As a final touch, marigolds and other natural pesticides were planted around each mound to keep harmful insects away. Altogether it was a system so perfect that in some Central American countries to0 poor to adopt linear plowing with machinery, artificial pesticides, and monocrops of agribusiness, the same milpa have been producing just fine for four thousand years.” 4
Towards the end of the memoir she tells us about the character ‘Spider Woman’ in the novel Ceremony by Leslie Silko. “She is the thought Woman who makes things and so brings then into being. Until then, I had imagined myself alone in believing that spiders should be the totem of writers. Both go into a space alone and spin out of their own bodies a reality that has never existed before.” 5
Gloria Steinem inspires us to spin from our own experiences, and our connections with others, a future world where equality is a reality that exists for everybody. Like all good books this one leaves you trawling through the notes pages wanting more and making lists of so many other books to read and ideas to think about.
1 – p171, 2 – pxx, 3 – p225, 4 – p235, 5 – p237
My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem, Random House, 2015