by Linda S. Austin
Basic Books, 2000
Review by Margo McPhillips on Oct 17th 2001
I found this book by California psychiatrist, professor, and radio
talk-show host, Linda Austin, both thought provoking and confusing.
There was the usual comparison of men's style of being with women's
style and discussion of what works and what doesn't. Also, there
were all the whys of how women are not "failed" men
but that is where I would get confused; after being told I'm different
but not wrong, bad or unequal, too often I felt as if it were
implied women should turn around and do things more in the fashion
"Yet for every Heather Paul who is able over time to synthesize
her diverse interests and talents and become highly successful,
there are many more women of great potential who never reap the
harvest of their intelligence. Unlike the logical, step-by-step
career development of Rusty Williams, career paths such as Heather's
are extremely vulnerable to disruption and derailment. Many women
fail to find opportunities that knit together the full diversity
of their experiences. Others begin to not take their careers seriously
or are not taken seriously by others in positions of power who
might offer real support. Some women find themselves racking up
a long list of small accomplishments, but fail to develop a body
of significant achievements in a single area that would give them
real credibility. Often such women remain diamonds in the rough,
contributing their intelligence and energy to supporting the visions
After reading the above paragraph I expected to learn how to synthesize
my diverse interests and talents or avoid disruption and derailment
and "knit together the full diversity of my experiences".
Instead, I was asked to take my "incoherent light,"
which creates a "soft glow," and advised, "we would
do well, however, to aim to become more like lasers." I don't
want to cut and burn, I don't want to be like Rusty Williams,
I want to be like Heather Paul. Help me change society and how
I view and respond to it and it to me rather than trying
to change who I am.
I found the sketches of successful men in this book rather boring
because of their step-by-stepness but was extremely excited by
the women's short biographies. However, these were about how they
had overcome adversity, not about how they had changed themselves.
The author points out the inequities still present between women
and men both working and in the home, almost gleefully. Instead
of working to change those inequities though, it appears she seeks
to change women's thinking and feeling, to "toughen"
them up, make them see the inequities and somehow, not get trapped
in them. Her approach made me think of someone with rocks in their
shoes who, instead of taking the rocks out, is advised to grow
calluses. Sounds like another version of foot binding or high
heels to me.
The book was thought provoking though because it had a clear target
of "success". If you want to be a successful woman
think and do these sorts of things rather than these other. It
seems to assume that if I were an intelligent woman I should want
to be successful or if I were not successful, there was something
wrong with my intelligence. Success was not very clearly defined
either, but seemed to be related to making a name for oneself
or counted a success by other successful people; rising to the
top, changing the world, all of that.
The book made me wonder for whom it was written. It is my experience
that men or women usually hit what they target but I got the impression
this author was unhappy with other women's targets (or lack of
a target) and was wishing to change the male/female success ratio
in male terms rather than change the whole view of what is counted
as success. If women need more support so as not to give up, if
they need mentors and wiser people to see what stands in their
way and help getting to where they wish to go, I wish supporters
and mentors would be targeted and taught how to directly help
rather than books standing on the sidelines waving their arms
and crying, "No, no, not that way! Over here!". This
might be a good book for women still in school to read, those
who still have some self-forming to do and who are just starting
out as adults and have a clearer shot and effecting a major difference
in how their lives go.
© 2001 Margo McPhillips