Friday, May 23, 2008

Pretty is What Changes by Jessica Queller

iconiconNote: The image links to the bargain book at B&N, where you can get the hardcover for $4.48.  This price will only be available as long as quantities last, though, so get it while you can!

I actually finished this book a couple of days ago, but I've been so busy that I forgot to blog about it until now.

I first heard about Jessica Queller's Pretty is What Changes via a story on NPR. Of course, I was as appalled as the rest of the world probably is at the thought of a woman having her breasts surgical removed by choice, so you could probably make the argument that I read Queller's book out of morbid curiosity.

I have to say that Queller makes a great case for why she made the decision she did, but she also does a good job of relaying what she was feeling at the time. In the beginning of the book, when she describes finding out that she has the breast cancer gene not long after her mother's death from ovarian cancer, you are as horrified as she is at the thought of having a prophylactic double mastectomy. As she comes to terms with it, though, the reader is able to as well.

This is a great book that touches on subjects such as how pretty is defined and how far a person will go to defy death. And although Queller doesn't address this topic directly, her experiences also point to how strongly we are socialized to believe that marriage and motherhood deterine our success and fulfillment as women.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Shattered Dreams by Irene Spencer

iconiconShattered Dreams is a memoir by Irene Spencer, a woman who lived for 28 years as a polygamist's wife.

I didn't choose this book because of the recent raid on a Texan polygamist colony — I actually saw it at the library, in a stack of books that the librarian was checking in. I remembered the title, and looked it up online when I got home. It looked interesting, so I placed a hold on it using my library's online catalog.

Shattered Dreams is a beautifully done memoir. Part of Spencer's skill is the way she separates her current views of polygamy from the way she felt about it when she was younger. This separation enables her to matter-of-factly describe living conditions and ways of life that her readers would find absolutely horrific.

The end result is, of course, that by the time Spencer actually says that polygamy is horrible, her readers no longer need convincing — they've already read about the extreme poverty, delusional leaders, and horrific situations that Spencer had endured for 28 years.

Last August, I read a similar book: God's Brothel, by Andrea Moore-Emmett. However, that book was a collection of personal essays about different women's experiences with polygamy. This one is almost more horrific because it traces one woman's entire life in the fundamentalist Mormon community, demonstrating the extent of the suffering plural wives — and their children! — endure.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Why Women Should Rule the World by Dee Dee Myers

iconiconNote: The image links to the bargain book at B&N, where you can get the paperback for $4.48.  This price won't last forever, though, so get it while it's still there!

I just finished reading Why Women Should Rule the World, by Dee Dee Myers. I didn't enjoy it as much as I thought I would, primarily because I don't agree with many of Myers's arguments. (I did keep reading until the end, though, as I felt like I shouldn't stop reading it just because I disagreed.)

I most definitely consider myself a feminist, and a pretty strong one. However, this book was a good reminder that not all feminist ideas were created equally. Myers's main argument is based on the idea of biological differences between men and women, a hypothesis that I don't agree with at all.

Myers argues that women are more suited for politics because of their unique "women's" styles of leadership. Essentially she is continuing the Victorian argument of "separate spheres," where women were confined to the home because they were believed to be better suited for this "women's work." Myers's argument includes politics and leadership in the list of "women's work," but it's pretty much the same argument.

Like I said, Myers argument is based on the theory that men and women have a biological basis for their difference. She disregards the theory that the differences are taught by society, arguing that her daughter and son were fundamentally different from the day of their respective births (therefore every other boy and girl must be?).

I don't believe that at all. I don't believe there is a gene that instructs boys to play with trucks and girls with dolls — and if there was, how would you explain the popularity of G.I. Joe dolls?

I also think that the blanket statement "Women are more empathetic, therefore they make better leaders" does a lot of injustice to both women and men. Reading through a lot of her examples of women leaders and their reactions to situations, I kept wondering if I really would handle it the same way just because I'm a woman — and most of the time I didn't think I would. So does that mean that there's something wrong with me as a woman — or that there's something wrong with the theory?

Of course, I prefer to believe the latter.

I won't get into a full-fledged rant here about my feminist views, but suffice it to say that I don't think that leadership is "women's work" because of some set of feminine traits. In fact, I think it does many of the women in the world a huge disservice to try to make that argument. I do think that women should fill more high-level positions, whether leading a company or the country, but not because we're "naturally empathetic" or anything like that — because we deserve the same opportunities as any man.

Finally, I have to say that I think this book contained a lot of subtle propoganda for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign — in fact, I kind of wonder if that was the point: if "Why Women Should Rule the World" actually translates to "Why You Should Vote for Hillary." That amuses me, because I don't think Hillary comes across as particularly feminine or empathetic. Maybe that's an image that is carefully crafted in order to help her compete in a man's world, but even so, if Myers hadn't specifically talked about Hillary I would never have thought, "We should elect Hillary because women are more empathetic leaders."

I guess that's probably enough of a rant on this book. Although I think it's worthwhile to flip through and check out the arguments, at the same time I personally don't support them, so I don't feel comfortable seriously recommending this book.