I finished reading Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women by Susan Faludi in March. My favorite thing about Susan Faludi is the strength and accuracy of her BS-o-meter. My next favorite thing is her brilliant writing. The sad thing to realize after reading this 20-year-old book is that she could write the same book — with all new but similar material — today.
Faludi laid the groundwork for many authors who followed. Twenty years ago, she wrote ” … women in the ’70s who were assertive and persistent discovered that they could begin to change men’s views. By vigorously challenging the conventional definition of masculinity, these women allowed men to start to question it, too.”
Nineteen years later, Joan C. Williams published Reshaping the Work–Family Debate: Why Men and Class Matter, in which she challenges the masculine norms at work.
Faludi quoted Kate Rand Lloyd, editor of Working Woman: “Women are not taking advantage of the power they already have … What is regrettable to me is we don’t yet see what it is we have done, how badly we are needed, how we really do have tools for changing our own future in our own hands.”
Nineteen years later, Gloria Feldt published No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power.
Faludi mentioned Peggy Orenstein in the acknowledgments.
Twenty years later, Orenstein published Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture, which I’ve read but haven’t written about yet. If sexualized girlhood isn’t about backlash, I don’t know what is.
“No matter how many times women have been told to sit down and keep quiet, they have struggled to their feet.” (p. 455)
“American women have always fought the periodic efforts to force them back behind the curtain. The important question to ask about the currect backlash, then, is not whether women are resisting, but how effectively.” (p. 455)
Posted by Becky @ 3:41 pm
Books: No Excuses
I just read No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think about Power by Gloria Feldt. I bought the Kindle version.
If I’d only read the headlines and tweets, I might have dismissed it as a (sadly familiar) scolding of “not doing feminism right.” When I saw, “Women’s roadblock to power: themselves,” I thought, wait a second. I thought I had a good sense of who Gloria Feldt was (we met in Chicago in 2009), and this doesn’t sound like that. I’d better read this book.
It’s a great book, and I’ll tell you why.
I just need to get a few things out of the way first.
Feldt quotes so many inspiring people and tells the stories of amazing women. She also quotes Linda Hirshman and Leslie Bennetts, both of whom I disagree with on so many levels. Feldt may call Hirshman her “tough-love feminist friend,” but to many, Hirshman is a bully. Bennetts says she’s simply the messenger, but it’s actually her “message” that’s flawed. Her heart may be in the right place, but her supporting evidence isn’t.
Feldt takes a couple of surface swipes at women who “opt out” of the workplace. They should just “cut it out” because, you know, she and other feminists of her generation didn’t work their butts off so these youngsters could just sit on theirs. (My words, not hers.)
Looking at the issues we face as women through a completely individualistic lens presents us with a problem, or maybe it’s just an excuse. I liken it to the so-called choice feminists who say that what the women’s movement fought for was solely to give them options, and every option, including opting out of the workforce or total indifference to politics, is equally valid. It’s individualism dressed up as feminism. (Location 2082, Kindle edition)
It’s just not that simple. Women get fired because of pregnancy and lactation, others are pushed out for other reasons. Many women don’t want to “opt out” and wouldn’t if they had more rights. For example, lactation wouldn’t even be a work issue if women had guaranteed, paid family leave. But they don’t. So they get lactation rooms. If they’re lucky. Most get nothing.
I do, however, agree with her advice to work together on these issues, especially considering the standing advice is to “negotiate individually with your boss.” That’s fine, until your boss takes another job and you’re left with a boss who refuses to (and isn’t required to) honor your previous agreement. Or maybe your company will have layoffs, and you (with the flextime or on maternity leave) will probably be the first to go.
When you’re up against a work-life balance problem that requires changing a long-used process — perhaps you’re trying to change a policy like creating flextime, ensuring sick leave, or getting more women onto the executive team — you can, to a limited extent, improve your situation independently of others by negotiating your own terms of employment. But that won’t alter the underlying structure that perpetuates the problem. If you want to change the system, you need to function like a movement. (Location 3719, Kindle edition)
When all choices are framed as radically individual ones, not only are women less likely to perceive their own power to determine the course of their lives and the quality of others’ lives, but they are also less likely to seek the recourse and strength that can be found in a collective movement united in Sister Courage. (Location 5093, Kindle edition)
At one point, Feldt talked about a meeting where she asked a room full of university professionals why men earn more money.
“Because they ask for it!” they said.
No, they don’t. Money falls in their laps like manna from heaven. OK. Sweeping generalization alert! (As in, “they [all] ask for it!”) But I’d bet a lot of them don’t. They’re rewarded with more money because the guys they work for figure they deserve it. (Another generalization alert!)
So, let me get specific.
My husband and I graduated from college at the same time from the same university. We had different majors and worked in different industries, but we earned the same salary in our first jobs out. In less than five years, his salary was more than double mine. He never once asked for more money or a raise. I, on the other hand, spoke up often. About everything. I was told no or shown the hoops that I should jump through before I would get what I requested, whether it was more money, the proper equipment to do my job or getting a sexist boss to treat me fairly. (I ended up leaving that job, and he stayed on for several more years, probably getting raises he never had to request.)
I once applied and interviewed for a job when I was working another. They were interested until it came to money. They choked on my salary requirement and asked what I earned in the job I had. I told them. I was better off staying where I was, they told me (and I was already earning less than half my husband’s salary).
So, while my husband was offered more money at every new job he considered, I was always offered less. Just a few years ago, I finagled an interview for a management position, which was really five jobs squeezed into one. When I asked about salary, it was all I could do to not fall out of my chair. That wasn’t a living wage for one person, let alone a family of five. If I hadn’t bitten my tongue, the next words out of my mouth would have been, “OK. Close your eyes. Pretend I’m a man. Now what’s the salary?”
By far the most confounding problem facing women today is not that doors aren’t open, but that women aren’t walking through the open doors in numbers and with intention sufficient to transform society’s major institutions once and for all. (Location 789, Kindle edition)
When I started reading in No Excuses about all these wide-open doors that women should be walking through, I couldn’t help but thinking, with a side order of sarcasm …
Oh, oh, oh! Did you get us paid maternity leave?
OK. Umm. Oh, oh, oh! Did you get us equal pay?
OK. Umm. What about universal child care?
Well? Did you at least get us one guaranteed paid sick day?
But, seriously. I’d be missing the point if that were my overall response to this book.
This is a great book because it is overwhelmingly positive, encouraging and inclusive. It builds momentum and fosters hope. It says, “Now is the time to claim power. Let’s do it together.”
I may not agree with every one of her assessments on why women are “stuck” where they are, but I do agree that women are stuck, and it’s best to work together to change that. As she said, this is an exciting time, “flush with the promise of transformation” and that women should embrace their “power to push the fulcrum, finally, to abundant justice and full equality so that women can at last lead unlimited lives.” (Location 5326, Kindle edition)
How could you not get swept up in that?
I thought it was interesting that she told the story of Joan Gerberding of Mediaguide and Mentoring and Inspiring Women in Radio because I’d recently read a book by Eric Shoars, Women Under Glass: The Secret Nature of Glass Ceilings and the Steps to Overcome Them, in which he talks about the dearth of women at the executive level in the radio industry. His advice for gaining parity for women in the radio industry was a mentorship program. While that’s a great idea, it’s far too simplistic. Feldt confirmed my thoughts by quoting Cherie Blair, “We need more than mentors. We need real structural change.” (Location 1820, Kindle edition)
I’m good at connecting people who belong together. I’ve always wanted to gather a powerhouse panel of amazing women, but I haven’t been able to do that yet.
You know who can? Gloria Feldt. She knows everyone from Gloria Steinem to Shelby Knox. She builds bridges instead of burning them. She builds people up instead of tearing them down. She looks for opportunity and equality at every turn.
She wants to inspire: “There are many reasons why women have been held back or have stepped back from our power. But there are no excuses anymore. My intent is not to assign blame, but to inspire women to embrace our historic moment; not to dish up ancient history, but to envision a bright future, and to provide the tools to make it happen now while the opportunity is hot.” (Location 143, Kindle edition)
I might just think this book was written by someone who plans to run for office. Hey, it’s happened before. I know a certain president who wrote a couple of books before he got elected.
Is that a wide-open Oval Office door I see?
I stood up and asked, ‘What in the world is wrong with leading?’ (Location 5308, Kindle edition)
What indeed. What do you say, Gloria? You walking through?
Books: The Feminine Mistake by Leslie Bennetts
Revisiting Leslie Bennetts and The Feminine Mistake
Leslie Bennetts stars in ‘Dude, Where’s My Car?’
Bennetts: Men shirk chores because women let them
Revisiting Linda Hirshman
Linda Hirshman rants about Yo Mamma
A little less conversation, a little more action, please
Books: Rumors of our Progress have been Greatly Exaggerated by Carolyn B. Maloney
Working Mother works for … you?
Posted by Becky @ 5:26 pm
I was at the store the other day, shopping for greeting cards. I saw this one, thought of Gloria Feldt and smiled, figuring she’d get a kick out of it. Why did I think of Gloria? I’m reading her book, No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think about Power. I’m about halfway through.
I put it with the other cards I planned to buy. It’s not as if I planned to actually send it to her. Eh, I’d find something interesting to do with it.
When I got home, I had a few minutes to read. I’d just started chapter 7. In it, she was talking about a T-shirt with a slogan she wore. I kept reading to the next page, and there it was. She told us the slogan on shirt: “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” ~ Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.
So? I sent her the card.
Now, I’ve got to go finish the book. I’ll write about it here when I’m done.
Posted by Becky @ 2:53 pm