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Notes from the Cracked Ceiling: What It Will Take for a Woman to Win Paperback – Mar 1 2011
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"Unsettling...Full of astonishing anecdotes...This book is an eye-opener." —People
"[Kornblut] skillfully coaxes candor from guarded women...Gets to the heart of why women run and how they win...Illustrates why more women should be covering politics, and why it matters that she is one of them." —Washington Post
"Compelling...convincing and nuanced." —Associated Press
“This lively, perceptive discussion of what it will take for women to truly crack the glass ceiling in politics is rich in anecdote, common sense, analysis, and superb old-fashioned reporting.” —Doris Kearns Goodwin, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and author of Team of Rivals
“In Notes from the Cracked Ceiling, Anne Kornblut has cracked the code, brilliantly reporting the struggles women face as candidates, including never before known facts about celebrated and controversial figures like Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and Sarah Palin. Kornblut brings her trademark analytical skill to paint a brilliant and compelling portrait of where women have been in politics, and how far they still must travel to succeed. This book will be a revelation to all women—and men—interested in politics and in great storytelling.” —Andrea Mitchell, NBC Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent
“That Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin were treated differently by some in the media and the public because of their gender is indisputable. Anne Kornblut looks at their campaigns, as well as other ones with happier endings, to probe just what a politician’s gender means in this “enlightened” day and age. If my daughter is to ever live in a world where she will be judged professionally by the content of her character, not the shape of her skin, it will be in part because of the scholarship, reporting, and insight of reporters like Kornblut.” —Jake Tapper, ABC News Senior White House Correspondent
“Anne Kornblut offers a careful, compelling, provocative analysis of the role gender continues to play in U.S. campaigns and elections. She synthesizes academic literature, interviews with scholars, pollsters, strategists, and pundits, and her own experiences on the campaign trail into a first-rate account of how far women have come and how far women still must go to break through the political glass ceiling. This is a must read for everyone who cares about women, elections, and representation.” —Jennifer L. Lawless, Ph.D., Director, Women & Politics Institute at American University and author of It Takes A Candidate: Why Women Don’t Run for Office
About the Author
ANNE E. KORNBLUT has been a political reporter in Washington since 1998—covering, from start to finish, the three most recent presidential campaigns. She worked for the Boston Globe and the New York Times before joining the Washington Post in 2007 where she is currently a White House reporter.
From the Hardcover edition.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Ironically, in this world turned upside down, the only "woman" candidate to succeed in the 2008 presidential election was Barack Obama. According to Kornblut's claim, while Clinton and Palin had to downplay their femininity to appear strong and "ready on the first day," Obama was praised for showing his feminine side, being sensitive, relaying personal family stories of single mothers, absent fathers, breast cancer, and love for his grandmother, wife, and children.
While not personally a fan of Palin, I sympathize with her now for being thrust into an impossible position by operatives unable to understand both a woman candidate or women voters, setting her up for failure by misreading her strengths and weaknesses, and then abandoning her when things turned sour. (I now think Palin's "going rogue" might have been the most sensible decision she has ever made.)
The book is very well researched and her analysis of "what it will take for a woman to win" is thoughtful and should be number 1 on the reading list for any woman thinking of finally breaking the ultimate glass ceiling.
Although Kornblut readily concedes that Sarah Palin was inadequately vetted by the McCain camp, she appears to accept as smoking gospel any information coming from them, quoting extensively from campaign aide Nicolle Wallace. Faced with the unpleasant task of answering questions about whether Trig Palin is Sarah's son or her grandson, the McCain campaign announced that Bristol Palin was "five months pregnant," therefore making it technically impossible for the younger Palin woman to have given birth to Trig. Perhaps. If Trig WAS born in April 2008, rather than earlier. But of course, no birth certificate ever has been produced.
Perhaps the most troubling error in this book involves Elaine Lafferty, former editor of Ms. magazine. Formerly a supporter of Hillary Clinton, Lafferty is described as "finding herself a volunteer in the McCain campaign." Lafferty was much more than a volunteer, "writing memos," as she explains disingenuously. Though not the only former Clinton supporter to accept cash to work for the McCain/Palin ticket, she may be the most prominent. Lafferty received $50,000 from the McCain/Palin campaign in September and October 2008, and later received thousands more from SarahPAC, while penning articles highly flattering to Palin (example: "Sarah Palin's a Brainiac") in The Daily Beast. Did Kornblut know that Lafferty was a paid operative, rather than a volunteer? She thanks Lafferty in the acknowledgments. It would be nice to know if Kornblut read the Federal Election Commission filings, or why she didn't ask such questions of her interviewees.
My bottom line on this book is that if you already follow politics, this book isn't likely to say much you need to read again.
What, then, is keeping women from breaking through that glass? History is an obvious culprit, but Kornblut is disinclined to let the present off the hook so easily. More specifically, she faults the candidates and their large teams of handlers, who often waged behind-the-scenes battles over their candidates' public self-portrayal. Should Hillary exude toughness, or feminine restraint? How about a combination of the two? Would it help if her daughter, Chelsea, campaigned along with her? In one potent example of poor decision-making, Kornblut details the various Christmas commercials the presidential candidates aired in December 2007. While Obama focused on his home and family, Clinton devoted her airtime to wrapping Christmas presents with labels such as "universal health care" and "bring troops home." "It was hard," Kornblut wryly notes, "to quit being tough."
Of course, Hillary Clinton eventually lost the Democratic nomination, but not without some help from the national media. Was their constant bombardment indicative of sexism, or simply a reaction to the Clinton camp's preexisting ambivalence towards the press corps? Kornblut seems to think there is some of both, but the mass public's embrace of some of the more vicious ad hominem attacks on Clinton lend credence to allegations that it was more the former than the latter.
Clinton's demise was soon overshadowed by the meteoric rise of Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska. Kornblut does an admirable job retracing Palin's time on the campaign trail, especially in noting how quickly the high praise was overtaken by vitriolic condemnation. And while it is true that public commentary on Palin soon reflected sexist undertones, Kornblut at times seems unable to completely separate these attacks from the legitimate criticisms, most prominent of which was Palin's lack of a grasp on even basic domestic and foreign policy issues and her disastrous performances in network interviews. That Palin became a favorite target of the Democratic base was undeniable, but that this was largely due to her gender is much less apparent.
Furthermore, Kornblut missed a golden opportunity to delve deeper into one of the more fascinating subplots of Palin's candidacy -- namely, that of her role within the historical feminist movement. Traditionally, feminists were assumed to adhere to more liberal ideology, which in its most common incarnation usually included a pro-choice stance and a general alignment with the Democratic Party. So when Palin, a mother of five with strong pro-life views, became the vice presidential nominee, it seemed almost as if the modern feminist movement had reached a fork in the road. Kornblut had noted earlier how many women in their twenties had voted for Obama over Clinton in the Democratic primaries, confident in their belief that voting based on competence and ideology over gender politics epitomized a more authentic form of gender equality. With Palin, older models of feminism were once again being strained: was Palin's candidacy, given her conservative views (especially on abortion), a betrayal of feminist ideals, or was it reflective of a new wave of female ascendancy representing all points on the political spectrum?
Kornblut gives this tension a brief nod when she notes that "if Clinton had epitomized the feminist movement's dream, Palin was in many ways its worst nightmare." Entire volumes could be written on this subject, and in that Kornblut's book was ostensibly intended to ask these and similar questions, the fact that she devoted just several pages to Palin's role within feminism was disappointing. Similarly glaring in its absence was any discussion of female minority voters who faced the difficult and historic choice between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primaries. The question of which identity holds strongest -- race or gender -- was ignored in Kornblut's analysis, a surprising omission in an election for which identity took center stage.
Towards the end of the book, Kornblut contrasts the American political experience for women with that of other countries. The comparison is not flattering to the United States. For Kornblut, however, the upside to the disappointment of two women narrowly losing out in the 2008 elections is that countless lessons can be taken from their failures -- shortcomings that were as much the fault of their advisers, the media, and an unpredictable electorate as they were of the candidates themselves. With shrewd recruitment and well-planned campaigns, women will continue to challenge the gender status quo in politics. It remains to be seen when this will happen, but the shattering of the glass ceiling is long overdue.
Through this multi-faceted look at several prominent women, some successful in their campaigns and some not, a clear trend emerges: women in politics are judged differently and more harshly than their male counterparts. Acute attention is paid to looks, tone, and adherence to traditional gender roles forcing women with ambition in politics to constantly strike a difficult balance between beauty and humility, warmth and strength, caring (grand)mother and independent woman.
The post-mortems and analyses from the 2008 campaign season are abundant on bookshelves yet this work remains unique in its focus. Lovers of politics, sociology, and/or current events would be remiss not to place "Notes from the Cracked Ceiling" on their own shelf.
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