Learning beyond books: My Life on the Road

Shucheesmita Simonti:

“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, our of caution and into action, out of statistics and into stories- in short, out of our heads and into our hearts.”

Many of us who opted for the not-so-easy path of feminist activism, we continuously strive to sustain our values and be better as activists, as change-makers, by being more active, by taking up projects that we hope will create a difference, by producing articles/artworks/films, etc. It is important to try and read as much feminist literature as possible, however, only reading is not enough. If we wish to truly broaden our perspective, we need to take a humble approach and make the whole world our library. Last year, I happened to spot Gloria Steinem’s “My Life on the Road” in a bookstore and decided to read it. And I am glad I did, for I could not agree less about the importance of paying attention to our surroundings, to people around us, to travel and to be humble enough to keep our mind open- for we can learn something valuable from anyone.

In the book, Steinem talks about her journeys across her country and journeys across continents. She vividly talks about encounters and incidents that shaped her activism and course of action over the years and shares what she has learned from her experiences. She encourages the readers to not be confined, and instead try out traveling, exploring new opportunities, stepping out of their comfort zones in order to live freely and truly be able to bring changes to our lives and that of those around us. This is not a travel memoir, filled with details of cities she visited or exploring cultures that are drastically new and different for the writer. Instead, she talks about her conversations with people in different places, and how these interactions broadened her knowledge and insight about different contexts. In a way, it is a personal memoir that traces the writer’s feminist activist history, filled with advice and tips on how we could also do similar things.

One of the things that I liked most is her honesty. Steinem admits her own prejudices and experiences that pushed her to rethink, to reconsider her perspectives. This is an important reminder to us all- none of us are perfect, and our flaws and qualities have equal influence over how we pursue activism. It is important, to be honest with ourselves, and Steinem’s journey shows us that each of us always has “a lot to learn”- there is no end to learning.

I consider this as a book that activists much read because many are too focused on broadening their theoretical perspectives and/or reading feminist literature. While it is important to be aware of theories and literature, it is all the more important to step out of our homes, our libraries, our little intellectual circles- to learn more deeply and effectively. It is only by exploring that we will be able to deepen our understanding on issues- it is only by stepping out of our safety nets, we will able to take a good look at the lived experiences of others who may not have the same level of privileges as we do, or who may not be from a same cultural or religious background. Every person we come across in our lives is a universe in himself/herself.  However, in order to enrich ourselves, we cannot be stuck in our comfort zones. We have to take a leap of faith and keep our minds and hearts open. Otherwise, we might just confine ourselves to our own lived experiences and that of those around us. And this is not sufficient if we want to make changes as feminists, as activists who wish to make the world a better place.

All in all, I highly recommend reading this book as it is witty, humorous, and enlightening, and full of wisdom.

Happy reading!






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