You have to hand it to Maureen Dowd, op-ed columnist for the New York Times. She definitely knows how to create an eye-catching book title. Yes, many women have asked this question over the years, so why not create a book to explore the issue?
Dowd states up front that this is not a systematic treatise on gender issues, but simply her thoughts and observations. I appreciate the disclaimer, because the book does feel choppy and disjointed at times. Yet, if one is expecting that, then it makes it the easier to encounter. Dowd is the queen of one-line zingers and pithy pronouncements. I appreciated the laughs and thoughts that were created by them throughout the book. Some favorites -
"...women move from playing with Barbie to denouncing Barbie to remaking themselves as Barbie."
"Whether or not American feminism will be defeated by American conservatism, it is incontrovertibly true that American feminism was trumped by American narcissism."
"From my own unscientific sampling, I think it's far rarer for women to ask men to read their stuff than it is for men to ask women to read their stuff. Poor Condi Rice couldn't even get George W. Bush to read her presentation of his foreign policy goals in Foreign Affairs magazine during his 2000 campaign."
"In sport and war, the big fear of men is to be feminized. In the workplace, the big fear of women is to be diabolized."
"Women are affected by lunar tides only once a month; men have raging hormones every day."
Dowd is of the age to have lived through and experienced the feminist revolution, and to see the pendulum swing back. She understands that the feminist rhetoric of the 70s and 80s is ancient history to many of today's young women and men. While many strides have taken place, women are spending more time, money and effort on "trying to look like Barbie" than seeking equality and opportunity on par with men. Dowd also offers observations on women who are trying to use their intellect and natural gifts, and find themselves without a family or partner in life. The stats for professional women over 35 who have families (or will have) are dim - at a time when many of these women would like to do so. The chapter after Dowd glorifies the sexiness of an intellectual male, she bemoans the scarcity of men available for successful women. I would like to ask her why a "successful" woman has to have a man who is on par or more successful than she is. Men have married less educated, less professional women for years - and many have found happiness. Does feminism not include a woman broadening her horizons, looking for men who might not have a Harvard MBA, but might be very genuine, true, supportive, and proud of a "successful, professional" wife? Dowd is correct that feminism is about having options - but we shouldn't limit what those options are. (And yes, there are men out there proud to be married to a woman who is seen as more successful than they are.)
Another interesting aspect of Dowd's book was how successful women are only likable after taking a fall (Hillary, Martha, etc.) I had not thought about this - but how true! Only after public humiliation can an intelligent, highly successful woman find a likability factor. Perhaps Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter really is the great American novel, after all.
Throughout the book, Dowd not only offers her own insights, she also gleans information from science (about that elusive Y chromosone and its degredation), politics (both sides take a hitting, which I respect), and societal culture. It is an honest book, capable of producing much conversation. The ending is thin - she could have wrapped up her thoughts more succinctly and powerfully. For people interested in gender issues, I recommend a read. It's not the ultimate feminist treatise, but it is thought-provoking reading. B-