- Title: "No Excuses; Nine Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power"
- By Gloria Feldt, feminist icon, author and social justice activist
- Published by Seal Press
- Published 2010, second print spring 2012
- 381 pages
- $17.00usd list price
When I first requested a review copy of "No Excuses; Nine Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power" from Seal Press' new release mailing, I had skimmed the summary and made the assumption that it was solely about career-oriented power, and therefore appropriate for you, my freelance writing (career) audience. When I began reading it, I found that it was so much more, but feared that I wouldn't be able to share it here at About.com Freelance Writing. However, as I finished the text, I realized that most of the admonishments and exhortations were indeed quite applicable to the female writer, freelancer and business owner. In addition, Feldt includes a section specifically about writing and women authors, and uses a telling example of a freelancer to illustrate the need for proactive action in your career. Therefore, I wholeheartedly and freely recommend it to you and encourage you to get a copy, read it, and be ready to be inspired.
Gloria Feldt uses her history of fighting for women over the course of her long career as an activist, author and leader to further women's fight for equality and to re-frame the definition of "power."
A recognized feminist icon and spokesperson, Feldt doesn't shy away from using personal and potentially controversial examples and stories to make her points, which are twofold: first, the text serves as a very loud call for women to grabs the reins in their own lives, but, more importantly, it is a call- an exhortation- to modern women to take up the fight for equal rights, equal representation, and equal opportunities in all facets of life.
The book starts with a beautiful, interesting re-telling of key moments in feminist history. This chapter by itself makes the book valuable, as it avoids a lot of the dryness that often comes with the cursory visit to any topic's history. However, this leads us to the natural question: are we done?
A main point of Feldt's "manifesto" is that the doors are open wider than at any time in history, but we are stuck. Something holds us back from stepping through the doors. Women, as a whole, seem caught in an odd little "two-steps-forward-one-step-back" dance.
For example, when talking about Lisa Belkin's famous NYT article "The Opt Out Revolution" about highly educated and experienced women who choose to leave the public sphere, she says “so many of the very women who have most benefited from advances in their education and employment opportunities are choosing not to sit in the high seats. As a result, just when women are on the verge of a seemingly unstoppable rise to genuine equality in all spheres, some substantial portion of those most capable of making the leap are taking themselves voluntarily back to a modern version of separate but equal- segregating themselves into the home.”
Feldt makes a solid case for continuing the push to complete and total equality (and personally, for me, the fact that I woe it to my daughter is enough.)
The book makes liberal use of not only Feldt's experiences, but also exemplary situations from other women, so that we can all find some parallels to identify with. She also does a thorough job of exploring social, cultural and systemic proof of and reasons for the current "stall" in the women's rights movement.
But, this isn't one of those books that sets up a set of problems with a vague "do something" solution at the end. Instead, Feldt provides simple, detailed action items ("power tools") and easy-to-follow examples of what works, on both a personal level (take control of your career) and a public level (advocate for a better future for your daughter) level.
BUT...I'm Just a Writer
Feldt deals any woman who eschews this fight a lethal blow via the story of "James Chartrand" a freelancer that you may have heard of because of her "pantomime of masculinity" and resulting public humiliation and outing.
Chartrand told Feldt via a rambling and somewhat circuitous defense of her actions that she created a male persona and brand for her freelance business precisely because of inherent inequality that she had encountered as a woman. Yet, for some inexplicable (and poorly defended) reason, Chartrand chose to let that injustice go, focusing instead on her sexist, misogynistic mask business brand.
Chartrand insisted that she wasn't interested in "taking one for the team," because she needed to concentrate on the best life for her two children. But the most convoluted part of this story is that Chartrand's children are girls. (*facepalm*)(remember the "two-steps-forward-one-step-back" dance?). Indeed, this whole story is a remarkable and interesting read for any female freelancer.
The story also provides a good lead into a discussion of writing as its own feminist outlet. Feldt does a great job of exploring how the medium is prone to unique issues when it comes to feminism (think of the Alcott sisters publishing under male names or JK Rowling and other authors using neutral initials as their nom de plumes). She provides a worthy counter example to the Chartrand mess by introducing writers to Kamy Wicoff and her writer's networking site Shewrites.com. Wicoff used injustice to ride "into the storm instead of becoming defensive or backing away from it"- definitely the kind of example one should set for daughters.
In sum, Feldt does a magnificent job of calling for strong women to choose long term gains for those behind us, rather than partaking of power "only at moments when we want it and relinquishing it at other times when the going gets too hard."
One last way this book relates to you, specifically, as a female writer is through Feldt's exploration of controversy. Many people balk at controversy. For example, consider all the sighing and lamenting about elections, politics and social media. Feldt, however, has another view. She says that (paraphrased a bit here) controversy is the courage to risk putting your convictions out to the world. It gives you a platform to present your case, to teach, engage, define and persuade. This causes conflicts which force people to clarify their positions and values, which leads to change. As a writer, especially in the online world, your work might elicit controversy. Feldt's suggestions for dealing with it could be quite helpful. I know I'll approach controversy differently from now on.
This book may give you the steel spine necessary to take your work, business, and negotiating skills to next level. Its immediate ideas and directions for implementation of the various "power tools" will give you concrete, actionable to-dos. It also convincingly states the case for you to take your rightful place in the public sphere, fighting to further the cause of equality that was gifted to you.