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Sex & Power Paperback – September 1, 2001

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Editorial Reviews Review

How powerful are American women? To answer that question, Susan Estrich offers two facts: 99.94 percent of the CEOs and 97.3 percent of the top earners in America are men. Concerned about these numbers and the recent rise in women dropping out of the fast lane, or choosing not to enter at all, one of America's most powerful women has written a compelling argument for a restructuring of the workplace and a rallying cry to women to stand together for change. This is not a condemnation of male discrimination, however. Estrich believes that both men and women make unconsciously biased decisions based on socialization. (Most women, after all, are just as wary of ambitious women as men; hence the Hillary phenomenon.) No, Estrich's goal is to inspire. She reminds her readers repeatedly that American women actually have more access to power than any other group of women in the world (after all, they make 83 percent of consumer purchases and comprise 51 percent of the electorate)--but they need to choose to use it. She cites examples of remarkable things that have happened when only two or three women in positions of power have stood together. Imagine what America might look like if half the nation's leaders were women. Would the schools be better? Would video games be less violent? Would more doors be open to women returning to the workforce?

It is this latter group that Estrich is most concerned about. She uses her insider's perspective as a feminist lawyer, along with her access to presidents, ambassadors, editors, and other powerful people, to give both an objective and a personal history of women's struggles for equal rights. This openly frank discussion ranges from Supreme Court battles and feminists' own conflicting views to the thorny issue of sexual harassment (including the author's own role in the Paula Jones and Anita Hill cases). Estrich concludes that women (and men) don't just need equality, they need change. Mothers cannot compete in the workplace as currently designed, and despite so-called gender rules, the working world is still stacked against women. In a daring move, Estrich declares that "the debate has to move beyond questions of conscious discrimination, of who did what to whom, to the more important challenge of how we include everyone at the table." In other words, antidiscrimination laws should not simply end at intentional discrimination, but should actually encourage inclusion. That indeed will require finishing the feminist revolution, which is Estrich's greatest hope. --Lesley Reed --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The lack of women in top political and business spots is emblematic of the unfinished feminist revolution, declares Estrich, presidential campaign manager for Michael Dukakis, a noted law professor (University of Southern California) and newspaper columnist, and author of Real Rape. She highlights how much has changed for women who have entered institutions previously closed to them, yet how little has changed in the structures of those institutions. Outlining the legal cases that have promoted women's equality, Estrich observes, "Enforcing equality in an unequal world doesn't produce equal results." Successful women in formerly all-male fields are still extraordinary people, she argues, which means that ordinary women don't succeed where ordinary men do. Facts and stereotypes about motherhood hold back all women, she contends, exhorting women in positions of power to use that power to support other women: "if gender enters into [women's] evaluation, as we know it does, that doesn't change by ignoring it, but by recognizing the reality and acting collectively to respond to it." The corporations that are most women-friendly have become that way through a conscious decision-making process, Estrich points out. Publicity about the woefully low number of women on corporate boards of directors has also led to some increase in those numbers. Estrich's argument will appeal most to those who believe that the kind of social change she proposes will come from the top down. That her message isn't new emphasizes the importance, and perhaps the truth, of what she has to say. Agent, Amanda Urban, ICM. Author tour. (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books (September 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1573228931
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573228930
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,150,894 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 1, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Professor Estrich has written a very fine book here that everyone will benefit from reading. She starts with the original feminist concept of eliminating legal barriers to women's progress in order open up the better jobs in the workplace, and describes what the legal scene is now. Then, she describes that the economic and political status of women has been little changed a result. She makes some excellent recommendations for what is needed now.
When I went school in the 1960s, there were relatively few women in my classes. In college, the percentage was about 30 percent. In law school, it was about 10 percent. In business school, it was about 3 percent. One could easily see why there were not as many women in top positions in society then, if appropriate education was so limited.
Since then, I have attended many reunions where women have spoken about career progress. About 20 years ago, I noticed something troubling. Successful women described themselves as never mentoring other women in the workplace and never seeking out women suppliers. In fact, most of these women indicated that it had never occurred to them to play these roles. How will the lessons of getting ahead ever be passed down to the newly-educated women?
Then ten years ago, women at reunions started talking about dropping off of the fast career track for more time with their children.
Ms. Estrich has done everyone a favor by taking these observations and addressing what more is needed to open up leadership roles. I was particularly impressed with her examples of how two or three women working together can make a big difference. In my over 30 years in the business world, I cannot remember a single instance of seeing women do this.
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13 of 19 people found the following review helpful By E. M. Carey on October 24, 2000
Format: Hardcover
In Sex & Power, Susan Estrich explores the status of women in the workforce today, 'after' the feminist revolution, 'after' the playing field has been changed by all the hard-fought, hard-won gains women have achieved. And what she finds is that not much is different from what it was before. Yes, there are now a total of three women heading Fortune 500 companies; that's sure a gigantic leap from 20 years ago, when there were two. Estrich is hardly breaking new ground in revealing how women are still struggling for equal pay, promotions and fairness, among many, many other things, but her questions about and insights into these circumstances are fascinating, perceptive, sharp and brutally honest.
There are, according to Estrich, many reasons for the current state of affairs - complicated, multi-layered, systemic, social, surprising, frustrating, infuriating, understandable... Estrich's full grasp of the extent of the problems and her contact with women from all levels and walks of life enables her to view the probable causes from a variety of perspectives and to present a compelling argument in favor of her theories. I think that providing too much information about them would undermine the efficacy and interest of the book - no spoilers here - but she does provide support, both from her personal experiences and those of others, that explains many of the issues she addresses.
I highly recommend this book for anyone at all concerned with the status of women at the end of the 20th century, anyone who wants to see if 'we've come a long way, baby.' And it's refreshing that Estrich spares no one - including women - as she attempts to find the causes at the root of the apparent stagnation in women's progress.
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 15, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is a riveting book. I read it in two sittings. I am living some of what she describes and it was chilling to read that part. I have become complacent about the greater good. But I am teaching my daughter to love math, embrace technology and to be whatever she wants to be. Get this book now. Tell others about it too.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I missed this book when it came out, more than ten years ago. Reading it today, in 2012, I can't help but find some of the contemporary references (e.g., to the Gore presidential campaign or the emphasis on the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal) a little dated. More startling, however, the underlying points still feel quite timely a decade later. We still do not have significant numbers of women in the boardrooms or top echelons of business and politics, and women are still battling about how much personal ambition is desirable for a successful and balanced life (see recent controversies over Sheryl Sandberg's exhortations to young women that they should embrace professional ambition). Women compose an ever larger percentage of each college and professional school graduating class without advancing proportionally to the top of their chosen careers.

Estrich's "Sex and Power" presents the advancement of women as a task to be taken on personally, woman by woman. Her argument suggests that the legal and structural battles had largely been won at the time of the book's writing. "Know that the law is on your side . . ., that we have already changed the world , and all we have to do is finish the job," she writes. The fact that so little progress has been made in the past ten years, however, suggests that perhaps this is not the case. Even now, not everyone is convinced that there should be a revolution, and it may well be that the structures to facilitate equality of the sexes are not truly in place. Subsequent history suggests that there was a little too much complacency in this book.

But Estrich's story is a fascinating one.
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