Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Book Review: Why Women Should Rule the World

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Why Women Should Rule the World

Author: Dee Dee Myers

Publisher: Harper Collins

Date: 2008


Length: 270 pages plus index

Quote: “I didn't have the perfect resume. I was thirty-one years old, I had never lived or worked in Washington, and I was a woman.”

For Bill Clinton's purposes, conservatives drily observed, Dee Dee Myers' was the perfect resume. Clinton had promised to bring our generation to positions of power; the relatively less influential, but super-visible, positions offered to Myers and George Stephanopoulos were a major gesture in the direction of the youngest members of the baby-boom generation, those of us who could better be described as baby-busters. And if the nation didn't totally fall in love with Myers, whom writers regularly described as “girlish,” at least her managing to hold a front-and-center job in the Clinton White House was a long step for “girl”-kind. Who could have imagined a thirty-something “girl” being pursued for TV sound bites when she was neither a celebrity bride, a beauty queen, nor the eyewitness to a bizarre news story? After this, influential women being seen in public without having to paint on a mask of bogus sexual passion hardly seemed far behind.

Just in case anybody out there wanted any more insight into the palace rivalries in the Clinton White House, Myers offers more. The Clintons' goal was a staff that Looked Like America. Ages and ethnic groups as well as genders had to be duly balanced...although of course no effort was made to represent the working class. (One thing that was notoriously not found in the Clinton staff biographies was experience in food service, truck driving, construction, or any similar form of Real Work. I think Joycelyn Elders was the only Clinton cabinet member who ever did any kind of "labor" job.) In an effort to balance the perks offered to Myers, Stephanopoulos, and (older and better credentialed) others, Myers ended up with “the same responsibilities—but less authority. And fewer of the trappings of power—the office, the rank, the money—routinely accorded to previous press secretaries...Sometimes, just putting a woman in a job can make it seem less important.”

A valid insight, yes. But would “just putting a thirty-year-old in a job previously done by fifty-year-olds” also make the job seem less important? I suspect that that's also true. Would spinmasters like the Clintons have calculated that letting two youthful-looking thirty-year-olds compete for the job would make it seem even less important? By the way, Roger Morris (Partners in Power) documented that Stephanopoulos had been chosen less because of his talent, though that proved to be considerable, than because Clinton had been caught describing Michael Dukakis as a blank-blank Greek bleep-bleep and advised that he'd better save a plummy job for somebody with a different Greek name. By the way, Morris needed to publicize that detail, because street gossip had come up with an uglier theory...and by the way, just in case all those Democrats had forgotten, White House employees are supposed to be public servants, and could reasonably be asked to accept prestige in lieu of about two-thirds of the regular market value of whatever it is that they do all day. The White House is not a for-profit corporation whose employees can reasonably ask for a share of the profits in the form of a raise.

The Clinton White House was by all accounts a shark tank. Bill Clinton's standard operating procedure was, whenever anything seemed unpopular, to pin the blame on a subordinate—beginning with Hillary Rodham Clinton. Many Clinton staff memoirs were mostly written by hacks, and therefore sound much alike: one chapter about where they're from, several chapters about what they contributed to Clinton campaigns, some attempts to explain/excuse what they were being blamed for doing, and an affirmation that they were still diehard Democrats. Myers' is different. I think she wrote it herself, and although she's not the only Clinton staffer to play the gender card, or the race card, or both, in the self-justification passages, she is the first so far to try to make a genuine contribution to the field of Women's History, with lots of historical and statistical documentation about ways in which her experience did or didn't parallel the experience of many other American women.

Personally, I'm baffled when researchers try to support or refute the cliché, “If women ruled the world there'd be no wars,” by appealing to various animal studies. (In some animal species aggressive females are normal, in others they're not.) Why not consider studies of human behavior for insight into what we might expect instead of wars? Women rarely become soldiers. Women are somewhat more likely to become mean girls and abusive mothers. Even mean girls and abusive mothers have done less harm than violent men. Still, anyone who goes beyond saying “It's about time we elected a woman President” to saying “Women would be better world leaders because we're more peaceful” needs to be asked how she's prepared to deal with a Commander-in-Chief who just feels sooo tense and stressed, some times, that she just might yell at the kids, lock herself in her room with a pint of ice cream, and order the Army to blow up Haiti. (Why Haiti? Because she's blank-blank sick'n'tired of hearing about Haiti. All they ever do there is have problems.)

Women as a group are not uniformly nice, good, or even necessarily more intelligent than men. (Myers quotes a female movie producer as saying that producing Fatal Attraction was “a very profeminist thing because a guy would never sleep with a woman again and not call her back.” Ah, yes...a movie where the discarded woman further inflates the man's inflated ego by stalking him is so profeminist, compared to She-Devil, where she quietly resolves to humiliate him in every possible way, and does.) Women are, however, still entitled to proportionate representation in a democratic government—representation in terms of our actual interests and beliefs, as well as our body type—and, fortunately, quite a few women are more astute than that movie producer. Most of us even understand that the way to get an astute one to represent us is not to wail about how hormones make us nicer than men, which is only partly true, but to talk reasonably about how a specific candidate is qualified for a specific position.

And it's just coincidental that, as Myers observes, if the first name of Senator K. Bailey Hutchinson were Kurt rather than Kay, Senator Hutchinson would probably have been nominated for President. It's not happened. Myers was not, er uh, campaigning or anything.

Anyway, the Girlish One finally added her book to the collection of Clinton staff books, and it was worth waiting for. This is, unless you count Tipper Gore's photo-books, the Clinton staff memoir that's actually fun to read. Myers has made her research both informative and entertaining...whether you disagree with her all the time, half the time, or hardly any of the time. And balanced; she's not trying to hide that girlish enthusiasm for the idea that women should rule the world, but neither is she dodging the reasons why we don't.

So, Why Women Should Rule the World is a Fair Trade Book. Fair Trade Books are books by living writers that are more often bought secondhand than new, according to Amazon. Other web sites may sell these books for lower prices to you the prospective reader; this site may still be the only one that dedicates 10% of the total price of each secondhand book by a living writer to the writer or a charity of the writer's choice. (Yes, Dee, even if it's a left-wing charity some of our correspondents hate. Fair is fair.) By "total price" we usually mean $5 per book + $5 per package. Thus, for one copy you'd send $10 to either the e-mail or the real address found at the very bottom of this page, and we'd send Myers or her charity $1. For two copies you'd send us $15 and we'd send Myers or her charity $2. Four copies...depends on the size and shape of the box the Post Office is offering on the day somebody actually orders four copies.