|In no particular order, here’s some of the stuff I’ve done over the last 48 or so hours when I should have been writing this review of Dee Dee Myers’s new book:
*Sifted through and cleared out ten years worth of old files that had been happily sitting in their drawers, not bothering anybody for all that time;
*Baked a cake (a good one; you’re welcome to the recipe, but I was clearly stalling);
* Googled for over 90 minutes to find the lyrics and then watched the YouTube video of Jack Johnson’s singing Ben Harper’s “With My Own Two Hands ,” a charming song you should sing to your kids, that turned out to have been part of the Curious George soundtrack.
*Read the entire Sunday NY Times (Ok, not the sports section, but still, almost every word of all the rest of it);
* After going out for Chinese food, watched several reruns of Law and Order and two installments of a cool Canadian police procedural set in Vancouver that no one else seems to have heard of;
*Zigzagged between Meet the Press and This Week with George Stephanopoulos – Stephanopoulos had two women on the panel of commentators. Tom Brokaw interviewed three guy governors;
*Transferred leftovers and other stored food from plastic to glass containers. (I’ve become unreasonably neurotic about the potential poisonous properties of clear plastic);
*Read a hundred pages of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s harrowing and important memoir, Infidel, which I’m not reviewing for Mommy Track’d or anyplace else, but which you should definitely read;
Clearly, there was some serious procrastination going on and I think I’ve figured out why. Myers has written a book titled Why Women Should Rule the World . I ask you: do we need still another book trumpeting that the world would be a better place if women had a greater hand in running it? Don’t we know this? Isn’t it preaching to the choir? And don’t we already have a bigger part in running the world? Haven’t we put those millions of cracks in the glass ceiling and shouldn’t we just go on doing it, splinter by splinter? In short, haven’t we heard all this before? Dee Dee Myers doesn’t think so. Nor does she think we’ve come far enough.
At thirty one the first woman to serve as White House Press Secretary and the public face of the Clinton administration, Myers learned first hand the difference between having responsibility and wielding real authority. Her experiences being overlooked at crucial moments and denied information she needed to confront the press inform her argument that despite the enormous progress women have made, they still hold the minority of leadership positions in most of the fields that “count.” Women make the majority of consumer decisions in this country, yet we still account for only 2% of all CEOs. Women make up half the country’s law school graduates, yet still only 15% of the partners in law firms or judges on the federal bench are women; only 10% of law school deans or general counsels at Fortune 500 companies are women. Women make up nearly half of medical school graduates, yet still only 10% of medical school deans are women. The statistics for women in engineering are even worse.
Though Myers freshens it up considerably, weaving in elements of her own experience as press secretary, political commentator, writer, and consultant to tv’s The West Wing, this is more or less familiar feminist territory – and cause for serious depression, let alone mere procrastination. Being reminded that in 2007, only three women sat on the board of Revlon, a company that markets exclusively to women, that none of its corporate officers were women and all of its senior managers were men has its uses, though, especially since what Myers is really up to is supporting her hunch that a “giant increase” in the number of women at all levels, would change business, law, medicine, academia, maybe even the world for the better.
To press her claim, she cites examples from women in a variety of fields, from the congressional women’s caucus to the President of Princeton, who figured out a way to provide “back up care” to all faculty and staff when family pressures might have forced them to miss work, to demonstrate ways in which women in leadership positions have worked to make working and civil life less strife-ridden and more humane. And healthier. It was not until Dr Bernadine Healy became the first woman to head the NIH in 1991 that women were routinely included in clinical trials. But the most compelling chapter is the one on the nature of violence. Here Myers details how women changed the social structure and the laws after the genocide in Rwanda , how women’s increasing power and the country’s continuing recovery are inextricably linked. She describes how women’s groups in Northern Ireland refused to give up on negotiations between Protestants and Catholics even though it took them ten years to be allowed to participate in the peace process and suggests, backed by political economists and philosophers, that women bring a different perspective to foreign policy and national security issues in their countries, often advancing the cause of democracy in places where it didn’t exist.
This is not a male bashing book by any means, but Myers is aware that she’s skirting touchy territory. She argues for innate gender differences, asserting that only when we acknowledge that men and women are different, that their brains sometimes work in different ways, can the proverbial playing field truly be level. Recognizing that these same differences have been used over and over again to define women as inferior to men, she argues instead for embracing the differences and allowing women’s strength a power equal to men’s.
I put off writing this review because the book seemed to be old news repackaged with a punchy, in your face title, because Myers’s book, lively and well researched as it is, reminds us of what we already know: that though things have changed dramatically for women, they’ve not changed nearly enough. What finally got me moving are the honesty, fairness and optimism she offers as a counterweight, for if we continue to push hard for things to shift our way, the world just might be a better place.