Book Review: Again and Again by Ellen Bravo

again and againOver thirty years ago, when she was a student at Danforth University, Deborah Borenstein came back to her dorm room to find her roommate, Liddie Golmbach, being assaulted and raped by the campus dream boat, Will Quincy the III. But even though Deborah is a credible witness and Liddie’s injuries do not deny the facts, these two young ladies aren’t believed by campus authorities. And why would a rich, handsome and popular frat boy like Will have to rape someone? He can get sex from any girl on campus. Besides, everyone saw Liddie drinking with Will and flirting with him. She wanted it; she was asking for it. Liddie Golmbach is just a loser slut who should thank her lucky stars Will deigned to even talk to her.

At the time there was no term “date rape.” Rape was something that was done by shadowy strangers jumping out of alley ways at unsuspecting women (and even then these unsuspecting women might “asking for it” because they were drunk, wearing a short skirt or walking around in a dangerous neighborhood).

Fast forward to 2010, Deborah is at the helm of Breaking the Silence, a Washington, DC-based advocacy group for victims of rape and other sexual violence. She is married to a Democratic political consultant named Aaron, and together they are raising a daughter named Becca. Liddie is living a quiet life in Wisconsin with her husband and she has gained some success as a weaver and quilter.

And Will Quincy the III? He is running for a Senate seat as a pro-choice, pro-women’s rights Republican (yes, obviously Again and Again is a work of fiction). His opponent is a very conservative Democrat who is pro-life and not exactly a supporter of women’s rights.

Soon Deborah soon finds herself in a bit of a quandary. She is being hounded by a take-no-prisoners investigative journalist to spill the dirt on Will Quincy the III after rumors begin to surface about his collegiate past (Liddie, it turns out, wasn’t his only victim). And Aaron is slated to work on behalf of Will’s opponent (who as I explained, is not exactly a friend to women’s issues).

As for Liddie? She wants the past to be the past and is not exactly comfortable with re-living the horrible night. And her long-time friend, Deborah, understands and supports her much to Aaron’s chagrin. This causes problems in what seems like an ideal marriage between two equals.

Again and Again flips between the Deborah and Liddie’s collegiate past and the roadblocks they faced as they tried in vain to bring Will and his crime to justice, and to the modern day of this issue causing conflict in Deborah and Aaron’s marriage and their career aspirations, the PTSD Liddie still suffers from and how rape is now more or less understood as a truly detestable crime.

And this is where Again and Again stumbled a wee bit for me. Though I admired Deborah for her commitment to women’s causes and her friendship with Liddie, I found her to be a bit of a Mary Sue. Liddie, at times, seemed to be a mirror, shining brightly on Deborah’s qualities and not so much of a compelling character whose PTSD and the decades since her years at Danforth I desired to see more of a focus on her. And I also found myself not caring that much about Aaron or Becca.

As for Will, well, you can read the book to see what his reaction is to being outed as a serial rapist back during his college years and if he truly feels contrite or not.

However, I do want to commend Bravo for having the balls (or should I say ovaries) for taking on a subject-rape-where the victim is often put more on trial than the actual criminal. Again and Again is a book that would make a strong book club selection and one that will inspire much needed discussion about a crime that is still not understood.

 

 

What Will It Take to Make A Woman President?-Conversations About Women, Leadership and Power by Marianne Schnall

womanpresbookAs many of my fellow citizens know, men have been running this pop stand we call the United States since 1776. I fully expect we’ll have a lady President in my life time and it won’t be when I’m an old lady dribbling into my Depends.

However, I can’t help but wonder, “Why haven’t we had a female President? Other countries have been led by women, including Great Britain, India, the Philippines, Israel, Switzerland, Ireland, Chile, Germany, Liberia and Pakistan. What is taking the good old USA to get with the program?”

Marianne Schnall, writer and founder of the website Feminist.com, wonders this herself and now she’s asking other noteworthy people on why we haven’t had a woman President and what will it take to make this happen in her book, What Will It Take to Make A Woman President?-Conversations About Women, Leadership and Power.

Schnall’s quest started innocently enough. Shortly after President Obama was elected in 2008, Schnall’s then 10-year-old daughter asked, “Why haven’t we had a woman President?”

This simple inquiry put Schnall on a quest to find out why America has never had a woman President and she found some pretty big guns to ask them this very thought-provoking question.

Not surprisingly, many of the people Schnall interviews are women who have spent time in the political trenches. These people include Republicans like former US senators Kay Bailey Hutchinson and Olympia Snowe, GOP political strategist Ana Navarro, and the Governor of Oklahoma, Mary Fallin. On the Democratic side, we have current US Senators, Kirsten Gillibrand and Claire McCaskill, former Speaker of the House and current Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Vice Chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee Donna Brazile.

Other notables interviewed by Schnall include feminists both young (Jessica Valenti) and not so young (Gloria Steinem). Journalists, broadcasters and writers include Soledad O’Brien, Pat Mitchell, Maya Angelou and Melissa Harris Perry. The world of business and academics is covered by Sheryl Sandberg, and Anita Hill. Celebs like Joy Behar, Kathy Najimy and Melissa Etheridge also give us their two cents worth.

And don’t worry; this book isn’t a total estrogen fest. Schnall also includes the men by interviewing Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, Lieutenant Governor of California Gavin Newsom, and former member of the NFL and social activist Don McPherson.

Now just why haven’t we had a women president? Answers vary, but many agree that sexism still plays a major part every time women dip their toes into politics. Don’t agree with me? Well, people have actually questioned whether Hillary Clinton can be a grandmother and President at the same time. Seriously, did anybody ever question George H.W. Bush or Jimmy Carter if they could be grandfathers and President at the same time? ::Crickets chirping::

And let’s not forget that because of sexism women are often judged on their looks and their outfits, or are seen as too emotional who can’t handle the rough and tumble world of politics. Or if they can handle the rough and tumble world of politics they’re branded as cold, bitchy or bossy.

What else could be keeping a woman from becoming president? Until recently, there was a dearth of strong female political role models. Often women are not encouraged to get involved in politics, whether it’s running for office or running a campaign. Women sometimes don’t have access to the huge amount of money that men do (running for office ain’t cheap, kids). And speaking of kids, undoubtedly a majority of childcare falls on women and a lot of them may eschew politics until their children are grown.

Furthermore, our media can be brutal when covering female political candidates. The mainstream media may be considered liberal (it’s not), but it can be downright reactionary or irritatingly condescending. Years ago the New York Times did a piece on women in politics, specifically the chance of having a woman in the Oval Office. This piece was published in the Times’ “Style” section (as opposed to the news or opinion section) and was illustrated with a fancy pink purse emblazoned with the Presidential seal because we all know ladies love pink and purses!

However, at the same time we are dealing with sexism, lack of role models and political leaders, family challenges and the media, women also put up their own personal barriers. Some of us don’t believe we have what it takes to run for office. We still see power, leadership, self-promotion and ambition as unfeminine and unattractive. Hopefully, as more women gain access to higher positions in politics, business, academics, media and entertainment, these antiquated ideas will dissipate. Or as Senator Claire McCaskill puts it, “Women have to be taught that ambition is ladylike.”

We know the reasons why we haven’t had a lady President. Now what can we do about it?

Answers vary, but the interviewees offer several ideas on how to get women to run for office. They include women demanding more access, increasing our confidence and willingness to put ourselves on the line politically, and promoting women as ideal political candidates who can bring a fresh perspective to governing.

And just what are these fresh perspectives women can bring to governing? According to the interviewees women bring new perspectives and are willing to reach across the aisle to build consensus. Women are collaborative and acknowledge the importance of relationships. Now this may sound like stereotypes (I’ve worked with women who exhibited none of these traits), but don’t they sound like things desperately needed in the world of politics?

I enjoyed reading What Will It Take To Make a Woman President, and I appreciated everyone’s thoughts, ideas and opinions. I would have appreciated Schnall interviewing the average woman and man off the streets to get their input, but I also understand the importance of people who have actually been there and done that political-wise.

The year 2016 may seem a long time from now but it is a Presidential election year. And not surprisingly Hillary Clinton’s name is mentioned a lot as a potential candidate. But there are countless other women who can run for President. Is the United States ready for a President with lady parts asks What Will Take To Make a Woman President? The answer is a resounding “Yes!” And it’s only a question of when this will happen and what action steps we can take to make this a reality.