Bloomsbury 1992. ISBN 0-7475-10067. IR£19.95
After 17 years of editing the feminist magazine “Ms.” Gloria Steinem took time out from her “traveling and tummelling” to write this book on self esteem. The seeds for the book had been sown some ten years previously “when even I, who had spent….years working on ex ternal barriers to women’s equality, had to admit there were internal ones too. Wherever I travelled I saw women who were smart, courageous and valuable, who didn’t think they were smart, courageous and valuable”
Gloria Steinem set out to discover why this was so; what is it in our society that under mines our self-esteem, that makes most of us feel less ‘good’ about ourselves than is good for us, and what can be done about it. Her journey takes us through definitions of self esteem, the effect of childhood, of education, of the beauty industry, of science – all of which con tribute towards loss of self-esteem – and on then to ways of redeeming this lost birthright.
Woven through the book is Ms. Steinem’s own story – her somewhat surprised discovery that she too, seasoned campaigner for other people’s causes as she is, she too has a self-esteem problem. “It was as if I had been walking on a plate of glass just above the real world, able to see but not touch it. I began to understand with a terrible sureness that we teach what we need to learn and write what we need to know. I had felt drawn to the subject of self-esteem not only because other people needed it, but because I did.” She tells us something of her own childhhood and the discoveries she made through guided imagery which she advocates as a way to heal damaged self-esteem. She also looks at other routes such as meditation and the “Writing/Painting/Laughing/Singing Cures.” The book is not written specifically for women either “…right away, this book had a mind of its own. It decided it had to be for men too. After all, it’s men with low self-esteem who give women (and other men) the most prob lems……” And certainly she is at pains to include men in her examples and case studies, although women certainly feature more strong! (or is it less strongly).
There is much good in this book. I feel the subject of self-esteem is indeed a central one and Gloria Steinem has done her homework. The book is well researched and covers a wide canvas, encompassing the personal and the political, the abstract and the concrete. She draws on literature, on history, on herself, on her friends to illustrate her theme. And yet I find the book unsatisfying. It reads like a college thesis: Write 400 words on self-esteem with particular reference to women. Illustrate your argument with relevant quotes and references. Include some personal material…..The result feels superficial for all its 377 pages. It some how lacks soul. The style has an innocence and enthusiasm about it which is at times refreshing in its lack of jargon, but more often embarrassing in its naivety. The personal disclosures I found somehow unconvincing and the frequent quotes forced and at times inappropriate. Her delight at having discovered self-esteem seemed almost adolescent.
And yet…and yet, Gloria Steinem raises some important questions in this book. We could all do well to think about our own self-esteem and she certainly points us in the right general direction. Wait for it to come out in paperback.