Women Who Work

The Book of the Week is “Women Who Work, Rewriting the Rules for Success” by Ivanka Trump, published in 2017. As is well known, Ivanka is Donald Trump’s daughter.

This volume described the business the author co-founded in an attempt to persuade females to vote for Trump for president in 2016. It was a redundant, wordy “do’s and dont’s” guide / bragfest (for the author, who used real-life examples from her own personal and professional life), interspersed with interesting research results, for women in the workplace. There were two words used grammatically incorrectly: “architect” was used as a verb, and “evolve” was used as a transitive verb.

Anyway, the Women Who Work website was started in November 2014. The tips provided were mostly common sense, like– listen to your coworkers at meetings, don’t gossip, lead by example, etc. One particularly curious line included: “… being authentic doesn’t mean candidly sharing every thought that comes to mind… using authenticity as an excuse to be unprofessional (“I am who I am!”).”

It was unclear at whom the author was targeting her vast generalizations and a few incorrect assumptions: experienced or inexperienced female workers. The author assumed that the reader had a female boss, worked with females, and worked with a team. She did provide some good tips for entry-level workers. However, she cited a 2014 study of Harvard Business School graduates in connection with gender roles in the home– but obviously, that group isn’t representative of the entire country.

Ivanka had to be vague, as every workplace is different. Her tips were unrealistic for women in male-dominated fields. Besides, the vast majority of employers in this country are still run by men. Ivanka also assumed the reader ran meetings, delivered presentations and managed a team. But if the reader had already reached a position with such responsibilities, she wouldn’t need this book.

The author wrongly assumed that the best way to get a job is through a recruiter. That might be true in some fields, such as information technology. But if the reader is a creative, independent thinker, she might get a job via thorough research on her situation, approaching employers directly, even if she has few or no contacts in the industry.

If the reader was laid off by her employer, Ivanka wrote, “Know that your manager probably doesn’t enjoy the conversation any more than you do and it may not have even been her decision to let you go.”

Letting employees go immediately is a far smarter policy than letting them know one, two or three months in advance of their firing but allows them to keep working. The latter scenario means the now-former employees will have zero productivity, will steal resources from their former employer, and will simply spend all their time looking for a new job.

Fired employees on the same level will be competing with each other for a new job so if they’re smart, they won’t tell the others they’ve been fired, but they’ll certainly be resentful, angry and possibly be sufficiently disgruntled to hurt their former employer.

The former employer thinks they’re saving money by not paying unemployment insurance– avoiding paperwork. They’re providing full pay for three months rather than half pay for six months. It’s actually more costly for them in the long run, in terms of personnel issues. And such former employers usually have unfriendly corporate cultures in the first place.

Ivanka said, “You’re never too old, experienced or far into your career to make a change.” That’s a lie, according to the AARP, which says that cases of age discrimination are on the rise. Nevertheless, young females just entering the workforce might want to read the book to get some tips.

Just the Funny Parts – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Just the Funny Parts… And a Few Hard Truths About Sneaking into the Hollywood Boys’ Club” by Nell Scovell, published in 2018.

Born in Boston, MA in November 1960, Scovell was the third of five siblings. She became a comedy writer, producer and director in Hollywood.

Scovell wrote of the many issues female writers face in the writers’ room, and in higher-level positions, if they achieve the great feat of actually getting hired in the entertainment industry. For, gender discrimination still persists. Females are still conditioned by society to feel as though the employers are doing them a favor for giving them a job, rather than feeling they deserve it on the merits.

Scovell– by writing an article that prompted truly important discussions on daytime talk shows– made Americans more aware of the fact that for decades, the late-night talk shows had been hiring practically all male writers. She herself had written for Late Show with David Letterman and felt “awkward, confused and demorazlied” due to the male-dominated work environment. She quit of her own accord after a short time.

Scovell said, “But in the real world, awareness more often leads to defensiveness which leads to excuses… you must also be aware that your knee-jerk defensiveness is part of the problem.” Simply saying, “Some of my best friends are female” doesn’t get them equal treatment in the workplace. Which should spark a discussion of gender-related issues of the impeachment brouhaha presently plaguing the U.S. government and the U.S. propaganda community. Which sometimes are the same thing.

First of all, Nancy Pelosi, a female, is the point person for the House of Representatives in connection with the impeachment vote. The way she is portrayed in the media and social media is crucially important to how the public views the whole story, and public opinion can have a tremendous influence on Congress’ activities.

A male Speaker would set a completely different tone– not necessarily intentionally, but simply due to subconscious conditioning by American society. Psychological research has shown that both females and males perceive females in a negative light, but perceive males in a positive light– when asked to comment on a hypothetical someone in a leadership position, having been told the leader’s gender.

As is well known, in 1998, former president Bill Clinton had an impeachment proceeding launched against him for lying under oath about his salacious activities in the Oval Office. That was a male-on-male attack borne of political vengeance. If females had been in the mix (in a major way, leadership-wise), there would have been a different dynamic.

Interestingly, Trump has nicknamed Pelosi, “Nervous Nancy” for a reason. He is trying to razz her to put her at a psychological disadvantage. One of Scovell’s male coworkers said something like that to Scovell when she worked for Letterman, and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

On another topic, perhaps there is an algorithm for the bad behavior of U.S. presidents. Clinton copied his hero, JFK, who was rumored to have had similar liaisons about thirty-seven years earlier. Trump copied his hero, Ronald Reagan, who was engaged in non-standard foreign policy activities, about thirty-seven years ago.

There must have been some Congress members in Clinton’s administration who fondly remembered JFK. There must be some Congress members in Trump’s administration who fondly remember Reagan. However, the two presidents’ legal situations are a generation apart– have different political, cultural and social backdrops, and have very different sets of facts.

Comparing the troubles of the current American leader with other past leaders isn’t exactly on-point, either. The older generation has seen political turmoil before, so “Have you no decency left” and “I am not a crook” are cliches.

If one is considering emotionally troubling historical events on a continuum pursuant to preventable deaths on one end, and celebrity dramas on the other, the present doesn’t seem so bad.

Younger Americans have no understanding of the Vietnam Era or the genocidal episodes of the 1940’s and 1990’s (!), but they are bombarded with world-shaking “news.” OMG: Elton John was allegedly a witness to Royal-Family child abuse, and Taylor Swift’s appearance on Saturday Night Live was challenging for her.

Right now the political climate is kind of like before the third act of an old-school Broadway play– the audience needs a breather. It is sick of the whole thing. It needs a period of quiet to regroup and assess the situation.

Nevertheless, when the media claims that Pelosi is actually going to resolve the situation, females in the media ought to remind females in Congress not to be intimidated by the males who have conditioned them to be so, and give Trump a nickname.

Anyway, read the book to learn of Scovell’s career ups and downs.

Leading Lady

The Book of the Week is “Leading Lady, Sherry Lansing and the Making of a Hollywood Groundbreaker” by Stephen Galloway, published in 2017.

The subject of this movie-studio-executive biography was born in July 1944 in Chicago. She had a younger sister. Her biological father died of a heart condition when she was almost nine years old. That childhood trauma made her driven to succeed in life. But she took her stepfather’s last name, Lansing.

After graduating from Northwestern University, she and her medical-student husband moved to Los Angeles so she could pursue her dream of becoming an actress. To earn a living, she became a substitute teacher.

She suffered through three years of cattle calls and other indignities, which allegedly did not include sexual favors for career advancement. Arguably, in retrospect, there were mitigating factors to the culpability of men who displayed behavior on the continuum of sexual harassment of women in the entertainment industry.

In Lansing’s generation, both females and males accepted the continually reinforced gender-stereotypes in American culture, especially in that line of work. The vast majority of women never thought to question their enforced inferiority. The tiny number who did, were left silently seething.

Any woman who dared to enter the entertainment industry knew that that was the status quo, or quickly found that out. Institutionalized gender discrimination was a fact of life. Nowadays, of course, men’s offensive behavior is considered by everyone to be inexcusable, but accusations are still very hard to prove, absent reliable witnesses or physical evidence.

Anyhow, Lansing finally got a few roles, the most exciting of which was a bit-part on the TV show Laugh-In. However, the phoniness of acting wasn’t for her; she found she needed to be true to herself and the world.

Lansing, then 26, had cultivated valuable Hollywood contacts, one of whom, a producer, gave her work as a script-reader. Again, in the 1960’s, movie-making was still a male-dominated field, in which few women were able to tolerate the old-boy-network’s frat-boy behavior if they were trying to climb the corporate ladder. Lansing had a calm, peace-inducing temperament and engaging personality. She was able to keep her mouth shut and endure her hostile work environment until such time as she wielded the power to work with men as an equal.

That time came in November 1992, when Lansing became chair and CEO of Paramount Pictures’ movie division. Nevertheless, her work involved a boatload of stress and worries. She was the ultimate decisionmaker on whether a movie got made, but there were frequent problems with, and fierce arguments over hiring crews, financing, casting, shooting, screening, promoting, etc.

By the 1990’s, studios were forced to jointly pay production costs because filmmaking had become so expensive with high-tech special effects and for other reasons. So the relocating of the shooting of Braveheart from Scotland to Ireland due to foul weather, turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The Irish government provided 1,700 extras on the set, free of charge. Despite the astronomical costs of Titanic, the movie reached its break-even point prior to the revenue streams of cable TV, home entertainment and ancillary markets. Eventually it raked in revenues of $2.19 billion.

But after ten years at the top, Lansing was becoming disenchanted with the trends of the industry. For, “…the quality of pictures no longer seemed essential… clever sales strategies could redeem all but the most abysmal of movies.” In other words, execrable movies that never should have been made were profitable, anyway– the marketers had become more important than the producers, casts and crews. Curiously, the same thing happened in publishing– the people managing the creative side of the business got greedy when cultural changes caused costs to rise.

Besides, Lansing asked, “How did the Oscars become the monstrosity where people [movie studios] are spending zillions and having parties and slipping things here and there? What happened to the camaraderie?” It should not have come as a surprise that by early 2003, Wal-Mart had become one of the largest distributors of DVD’s in the nation.

Read the book to learn more about Lansing’s career trials, tribulations and successes, her personal life, and the activities she found more fulfilling after she left Paramount.

Stars Between the Sun and the Moon – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Stars Between the Sun and the Moon, One Woman’s Life in North Korea and Escape to Freedom” by Lucia Jang and Susan McClelland, published in 2014.

After the Korean War, the Communist Party of North Korea oppressed business owners– who were considered evil capitalists, but praised farmers and peasants– who were considered virtuous; they served the Party.

Adults were forced to attend self-criticism meetings every Saturday morning. The meeting leaders punished them by making them stand up against the wall while others stared at them.

North Korean leader Kim Il-sung dictated that the traditional food eaten on August 15– his birthday– was rice cakes. However, the author’s family couldn’t afford to buy rice cakes. But– he also generously provided a pork ration for one person, to all households.

Jang was born in the early 1970’s. Her family was so poverty-stricken that she had no toys, no books, nothing. Finally, at seven years old when she began to attend school, she was thrilled to have a few possessions of her own: garments, pencils and a backpack. At school, the author and her classmates praised the “great father and eternal president” every morning. Every one of them had his photo of him on their wall at home.

Around the time she started school, Jang and her mother went to a theater for the first time. They saw a movie written by their fearless leader, Kim il-sung. Of course, it ended happily because the peasants conquered the landlords.

During the months of May, September and October, teenagers were sent to the countryside to help with planting and harvesting. The author was literally starving because she lived with a host family or in a dorm where she got even less food than she did at home. But Jang accepted the fact that the nation’s leader and his son were fat because they needed the most energy to take care of the North Korean people.

Traditionally, Jang’s parents were to choose her spouse. Her marital value was greatly diminished because both of her parents had had (political) Party trouble. Nevertheless, having gotten pregnant, she broke tradition.

In July 1994 when Kim il-sung died, the nation got a ten-day mourning period. Jang grieved as though her own father had died.

Read the book to learn of the horrible experiences (which became cyclical after a while) of the author due to various factors, including the environment into which she was born, her culture, gender, lack of education and the circumstances of her generation; and what led to the radical change in her situation.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Ruth Bader Ginsburg” by Jane Sherron de Hart, published in 2018.

Born in Brooklyn in March 1933, Bader grew up in a cultured household. She took piano lessons, played the cello, and summered annually at her relatives’ Adirondacks camp. A voracious reader, she was sent to Hebrew school, and skipped an academic grade. However, her mother, with whom she was very close, passed away of cancer when she was seventeen.

The culture and politics of Bader’s generation “… limited aspirations and choices for young women.” The GI Bill, the Federal Housing Administration and Social Security– just to name a few sources of privilege, provided the men with resources denied the women. The far-reaching institutional discrimination they engendered was accepted as a given in American culture.

Bader received a scholarship from Harvard Law School. But, since she married before attending the school, it was naturally assumed that she no longer needed the scholarship because her-father-law would pay the tuition. Obviously, the school would have honored the scholarship if the married Bader had been male.

Unusually, though, Bader’s parents-in-law encouraged her to pursue her dream of becoming an attorney, even though she was female. She was one of nine women in her class of 552 students. She made Law Review, and before graduating, had a daughter. Bader’s husband served as a true equal partner while the two alternated attending law school, and fulfilling childcare and domestic responsibilities. Before he graduated, he had a serious bout of testicular cancer.

In 1959, even though Bader graduated co-valedictorian, she couldn’t find a job due to her gender. Such prejudice was equivalent to the denial of graduate-school acceptance of Jews in the Soviet Union that lasted into the 1980’s.

With the help of a law-school professor’s aggressive recommendations, Bader ended up clerking for a judge, teaching law at Rutgers, then teaching law at Columbia University (benefiting from “Affirmative Action”), and directing legal projects on gender discrimination for the ACLU. She was super-dedicated, and worked around the clock.

Unfortunately, Bader was unable to be a major legal mover and shaker in the Women’s Movement because it was fragmented and complex with infighting. Various organizations were trying to further gender equality through litigation and lobbying, whereas, with the Civil Rights Movement, only the NAACP was trying to change laws.

Read the book to learn of how Bader became a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, a few major cases she argued during her career, the difference between “benign discrimination” and “paternalistic discrimination” and much more about her professional and personal life.

Madam Speaker

The Book of the Week is “Madam Speaker, Nancy Pelosi’s Life, Times, and Rise to Power” by Marc Sandalow, published in 2008. This was a biography of a workaholic liberal Democrat who achieved a few “female firsts” in politics. It was anti-Pelosi in subtle ways.

Sloppy editing in this book created confusion with regard to Pelosi’s age in three different places:

“…she first won election to Congress in June 1987… the then 53-year old Congresswoman…”

“On March 26, 1940… Nancy Patricia D’Alessandro weighed in at eight and a half pounds.”

“On December 30, 1956… His seventeen year old daughter joined him…”

In addition, the cover photo– of Pelosi hugging a young child (as a prop) in what appeared to be a campaign– was demeaning. The author would never have dared to use such a photo of a male politician doing that. Family is still thought of as an issue for females.

Not that Pelosi didn’t brag about her family in every campaign, but the presence of the child in the photo implied that she couldn’t have achieved what she did without a family (Book cover photos always show a male politician alone).

Perhaps it was part of Pelosi’s appeal, but family should have been irrelevant to her qualifications for holding the offices she held. No male politicians make having a family a major reason for voting for them.

Sadly, due to human nature, the following arguments:

  • persuasive mudslinging (“Vote for me because my opponent is a Nazi.”)
  • fiercely loyal party affiliation (“Vote for me because I’m a member of your party– I know you believe every word you hear from our party-funded information sources and that’s all you hear, thank you!”)
  • ridiculous promises (“Vote for me because I’ll make you rich quick.”)
  • phony outrage (“Vote for me because- how dare they accuse us?! They started it!”)
  • creating a common enemy (“Vote for me because, just like you– I hate the media.”) and
  • appeals to tribal unity (“Vote for me because I’m the same ethnicity / religion / skin color / gender / sexual orientation you are, and my opponent is NOT.”)

more often win elections than a candidate’s ability to act in constituents’ best interests.

Anyway, Pelosi was the youngest of seven children. Her father was a Baltimore politician. Like him, she was a natural. In 1969, she moved with her husband to San Francisco, where, while raising her growing family, started volunteering for various Democratic organizations. Thanks to her father, she already had friends in high places, but she made many more with her driven work ethic and patronage power.

Pelosi served on San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors (city council). In 1987, she ran against a gay candidate for Congress. Her pet issues were increasing funding to fight AIDS, preserving the Presidio (a military base) and Chinese human rights.

In 1989, in a legislative proposal, Pelosi favored pressuring China to curb its human rights abuses through otherwise threatening to raise tariffs on Chinese imports to the US. The Congresswoman visited China in September 1991.

According to the author, “Pelosi said prisoners had told her that the conditions in Chinese jails had miraculously improved each year when Congress debated Most Favored Nation status.” It was unclear whether the author’s “miraculously” was meant sarcastically to indicate that China was putting on a show for the United States, and Pelosi was just another naive, bleeding-heart liberal. President Bill Clinton initially agreed with Pelosi and said he would enact the law imposing financial punishment, but then betrayed her in May 1993.

The argument against erecting trade barriers as a punishment for bad behavior is this: Unfortunately, dictators, like leopards, do not usually change their spots. The Chinese leaders would continue to oppress their people, regardless of how much deprivation the goods producers and exporters would suffer due to sanctions. Besides, the leaders would blame the United States for their hardships. Moreover, there would be adverse global economic consequences.

Pelosi was reelected House Whip in late 2001. From the get-go, she opposed the war in Iraq. She presciently “… warned that a war in Iraq would diminish the nation’s standing, and cost hundreds of billions of dollars.” She was right on both counts.

The latter count was a rerun of Vietnam: Several times, the president forced Congress to approve additional megabucks to fund the war. Forced, because members were made phobic about putting the lives of American servicepeople at risk due to lack of money for inadequate safety equipment. But due to waste, incompetence and war profiteering, the US military in Iraq didn’t have what they needed, anyway.

Read the book to learn how Pelosi earned her party’s respect (hint– she practiced what she preached), and much more about her.

Angela Merkel

The Book of the Week is “Angela Merkel, Europe’s Most Influential Leader” by Matthew Qvortrup, published in 2016. This is a career biography of a recent Chancellor of Germany. It had a bit of sloppy editing, as politician Friedrich Merz was alternately called “Metz” in several places.

Born in July 1954, Merkel grew up in Hamburg and Templin in East Germany, where her father was a Lutheran theologian at a seminary. Although Communism preaches godlessness, the supervising Soviet government allowed some religious activity among the local citizens. Merkel’s family was spied on by the Stasi- the secret police. It was cost-effective and efficient. For, all the  socially dangerous elements (potential subversives) were in one place.

Merkel’s perfectionist nature meant that she graduated at the top of her school classes. Because East Germany was a police state with a Socialist mentality, the people availed themselves of a free university education. Merkel got hers, as well as a doctorate in nuclear physics. In exchange, she was required to work for the government for a specific period. In September 1977, Merkel got married. She divorced in early 1981.

In the autumn of 1989, Merkel started her political career by joining an informal Democratic club. She used every political advantage at her disposal: trilingualism (German, Russian and English), networking skills, strong work ethic and her geographic origin, among other traits.

Upon the collapse of Communism, Merkel’s club converted to a political party. Upon the reunification of East and West Germany, free and fair elections were held for one new government. Merkel became a mouthpiece for her party. In the autumn of 1990, a Cabinet member took a liking to her, hiring her in the communications department. Besides, she was elected as a Member of Parliament, and a month later, a Cabinet minister with a women’s-issues-and families portfolio.

The author’s description of Germany’s government employees was confusing– it was unclear whether the government selected its employees via exams or by appointment. Besides, in November 1991, “Merkel replaced all the top civil servants.” However, the author later wrote, “Respect for civil servants [in Germany]… are well paid, and have life-long careers…”

Anyway, Merkel was tapped for progressively higher government positions– Deputy Chair of her  political party, then Minister of the Environment, then Secretary General. Some called her a back-stabber, as in 1999, she had no qualms about using a poison pen in a nationwide publication to excoriate the former Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, and by connotation, his replacement, Wolfgang Schauble. Merkel’s divide and conquer plan worked– the two chancellors attacked each other. In April 2000, she was elected Christian Democratic Union party head.

The media in Germany behaved similarly to that in the U.S. by reporting on Merkel’s hairstyle. They even pressured her into getting married again, even though she was a conservative Christian, rather than a Catholic.

Read the book to learn how Merkel, through shrewd maneuvering, continued to claw her way to the top of the German government in the next six years and what she did when she got there, how she dealt with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, and learn which issue prompted Donald Trump to comment on her in 2015: “She is destroying Germany.”

Front Row At the White House

The Book of the Week is “Front Row At the White House, My Life and Times” by Helen Thomas, published in 1999. The cover of this volume hints at a career memoir, but the contents are mostly about other people and topics– namely, U.S. president-related information meant to entertain as much as inform, targeted at female readers.

Born in 1920, Thomas grew up in Detroit in a family of nine children. After earning a bachelor’s degree in English, she hired on at United Press, a news wire service, assisting with radio broadcasts. When men went off to fight WWII, opportunities became available for women in journalism.

However, in the 1950’s, female journalists were forced to form their own press club; for, until 1971, they were banned from the National Press Club. Thomas was president of the women’s group for the 1959-1960 term. In 1975, she was the first woman to be admitted to the Gridiron Club. It is known mostly for having an annual dinner that roasts elective officeholders.

At the very end of 1960, the author was assigned to cover the White House. She did this for 38 years. It appears that she gathered “soft” news until around the Reagan Era, when her male bosses allowed her to do what the men had been doing. Nevertheless, she built a reputation for herself as a hard-hitting reporter (figuratively).

Initially, Thomas interviewed store owners that sold goods and services to Jackie Kennedy, and wrote about Jackie’s children. Acquiring such information was more difficult than it looked, as Jackie actively hid herself and her children from the media. The tabloid gossip during Lyndon Johnson’s administration included Thomas’ scoop on his daughter’s engagement.

Thomas wasn’t allowed to cover serious political issues until the 1980’s. Yet, ironically, here in the double-digit 2000’s, “journalism” has come full circle. The media is allowed to cover whatever they want. Yet, increasingly, in recent decades, they have continued to insult viewers’, readers’ and listeners’ intelligence. There used to be people called journalists who reported facts. And they checked them.

Now there are people on TV reading Teleprompters, on the radio reading scripts, and providing screen-based text stating their opinions on: the first lady’s clothing, the president’s diet, and all manner of comments from narcissistic attention whores on Twitter. Other outlets are commenting on the fact that their competitors are covering this stupid trivia. Ad nauseam.

Anyway, the author rambled on about press secretaries of Kennedy onward. She described the renovations done to the White House and Air Force One, and the food served in them. She also provided a detailed account of a Washington, D.C. busybody who got involved with the Watergate scandal.

Martha Mitchell (the wife of President Richard Nixon’s campaign manager and Justice Department head, John Mitchell) complained that Nixon wanted her husband to take the rap for the coverup. She also knew Nixon was evil and said– this was about a year and a half before it actually happened– the president should resign.  In August 1974, finally vindicated, she went on the talk-show circuit.

Thomas delved into the personal lives of the first ladies, and how they stood by their men. She showed how President Ronald Reagan’s best friends were plausible denial and willful ignorance.

Read the book to learn much more about trivial White House goings-on from JFK to Bill Clinton, but also– a summary of hard political and historical facts on each president’s administration. Perhaps the latter should have become a separate book– as it could be a valuable resource for a unit on American presidents for a high school social studies class.

Not Pretty Enough

The Book of the Week is “Not Pretty Enough, The Unlikely Triumph of Helen Gurley Brown” by Gerri Hirshey, published in 2016.

Born in Arkansas in February 1922, Helen Gurley was ten years old when her father, a government worker and lawyer, passed away unexpectedly in a bizarre elevator accident. Perhaps as a result, she became quite close with her mother and sister throughout their lives, communicating via letters and phone calls when she was no longer living with them.

As was typical for women of her generation, Gurley was conditioned to become a secretary. However, she was sexually sophisticated. The  1960’s office culture could be described thusly: Married male executives exuded sociopathic tendencies and arrogance (not unlike those of today), and harbored the belief that it is morally wrong to allow suckers to keep their money. In that era, engaging in sexual conquests with female subordinates was a way for males to prove their manhood. It is still is, but times are a-changin’. Gurley encouraged her female contemporaries to enjoy themselves.

Gurley played the game with the men to the hilt. She claimed she enjoyed sex and wrote about it extensively in articles and books. In 1959, she married David Brown, a high-level writer and editor.

Thereafter, like the men, she had affairs. She saw nothing wrong with marital infidelity. Besides, she claimed she had a great marriage. The problem is, infidelity smacks of dissatisfaction with marital sex– a spouse is dishonestly seeking satisfaction elsewhere; moreover, it is unclear if the wayward spouse is untrustworthy in other matters. Unless both spouses consent to an “open” marriage– either side can have other sexual partners– marriage is supposed to represent total lifelong commitment.

Anyway, Gurley’s passion and work ethic led her to achieve the positions of advertising copywriter in the 1950’s, and editor in chief of the then-financially struggling Cosmopolitan magazine in the 1960’s. At that time, the Hearst publication’s target readers were single women, between twenty and thirty-four years old.

Notwithstanding the kind of fabulous career that few women achieved in those days, two points must be made: 1) Gurley advanced her career through illicit sex and marrying a powerful man in her field of work; and 2) she was still a slave to the societal pressures of her generation– she had excessive cosmetic surgery and an eating disorder in order to satisfy public expectations of female beauty.

Read the book to learn of the additional factors affecting Gurley’s successes, and of how she influenced a whole generation of women.

Madame President

The Book of the Week is “Madame President, The Extraordinary Journey of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf” by Helene Cooper, published in 2017.

In post-Civil War America, (White) slave owners who had secretly fathered offspring were afraid of further racial strife, so they sent manumitted slaves to Liberia. By the late 1860’s, there were 28 different ethnic groups living there.

Ellen Johnson was born in October 1938 in the country’s capital, Monrovia– ironically, a place that discriminates against dark-skinned people. Her mother was unusually lucky. Her mother’s poverty-stricken parents handed her off to foster care, where her fair skin was received favorably throughout her childhood. Johnson got her mother’s color. Her family predicted she would have a lucky life– a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Even so, Johnson had to endure the difficulties females faced in her culture. These included: an arranged marriage (that allowed polygamy for the husband), the expectation that she would bear children; physical abuse, and sex imposed by males against the wills of females of all ages.

Fortunately, Johnson bore four sons and her husband was an attorney. He and she had valuable social connections that allowed them the chance to study in the United States. Childcare was handled by extended relatives.

When Johnson-Sirleaf was thirty years old, she had had enough of the barbaric practices heaped upon Liberian people of her gender. She obtained a divorce. Right up until the courtroom hearing finalizing the split, she was phobic that her ex would retaliate yet again with even worse domestic violence than before. Divorcing was a radical step for a Liberian female. But she was exceptional; in her life, every special advantage she got led to another. Yet, most of her later achievements were done on her own merits– not as a result of marriage to a powerful man.

The Liberian government had one political party, the True Whig Party, whose members used the government as their personal piggy bank. By the early 1970’s, there was a very wide income/asset gap between the government officials and military thugs, and the unfortunate Liberian citizens; there was no middle class. The nation had been drained of its major resources, rubber and iron, which had been exported to foreign countries by profiteers.

Johnson was academically skilled and played well with others politically. She got a job with the Liberian Debt Service Department at Treasury, and then the Ministry of Finance while radical changes were afoot. She studied accounting, and later, public administration at Harvard. However, her public speech could be inflammatory, because she told the truth. She called the system a “kleptocracy– corrupt to the core.” At a later time, she warned that a peasant revolt was in the offing.

In 1971, the new nepotistic “president” of the country was switching benefactors, from the United States to the U.S.S.R. Allegedly, he was going to help the downtrodden and eliminate corruption. Yet he practiced cronyism on a royal scale and angered the civilian Liberian people in numerous other ways.

Read the book to learn how the tide turned eventually through the ugly events that transpired; how, more than once, Johnson was very nearly killed but instead encountered a checkered fate; and how the United States played a major part in her and Liberia’s survival, despite having blood on its hands.