Women in Politics: Must-Read Memoirs
Given our theme this week of exploring women in leadership, I asked Kathy Kretman, director of Georgetown University's Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership and one of our On Leadership panelists, how books about women leaders influenced her own life.
"When I was growing up, I read everything I could get my hands on about women who challenged conventional wisdom and beat the odds," she told me in an e-mail.
When she teaches public leadership at Georgetown today, she requires students to interview two leaders who "intrigue" them -- and one has to be a woman. "One common piece of advice from the more than 250 leaders interviewed to date as been: read, read, read."
Here, then, is a run-down of memoirs and biographies about some of today's most influential women political leaders:
1. Living History by Hillary Clinton
As Glenn Kessler reported in February, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's audience at Ewha Womans University in South Korea, where Living History was a bestseller, eagerly peppered her with questions about her life as a woman. Johee Cho told Kessler that because the memoir was so personal, there was an expectation in Koreans that Clinton would be willing to answer questions about her private life. Being fluent in Korean, I trolled through the South Korean blogosphere and found many who wrote about the impact of Clinton's personal stories on them. One blogger, "hazelwoo," wrote that she watched Clinton speak from the second floor of the school's auditorium. "Hillary always has work. It's not because she cries to people in power, or flirts with men. It's not because she goes to the same church as powerful people. It's because she is a smart woman," she blogged. "Because of this, I want to believe that there is still hope."
2. Why Women Should Rule the World by Dee Dee Myers
What would happen if women ruled the world? "If we were in charge, things might actually change," writes Dee Dee Myers, the first female White House press secretary, in the book's introduction. "Instead of gridlock, we'd have progress. Instead of a shouting match, we'd have a conversation." When Myers became the first female White House press secretary in 1993, she saw the many more obstacles facing women in politics than their fellow men, many of which are discussed in Why Women Should Rule the World. Countering the argument that her book was merely a feminist diatribe, Myers said her goal is not to point her finger at men: "I'm not saying it's all men's fault," Myers writes. In fact, she told Time magazine: "I don't think women hold all answers... I don't think all or any of [the world's] problems get solved overnight."
3. Sarah Palin biographies
No female politician has been stirring up the American political scene quite like Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin. Since the end of the election frenzy, the former VP nominee seems more determined than ever to make a serious mark on U.S. politics, launching SarahPAC which has led many to speculate on a 2012 run for President. And in line with most American politicians who have tasted the glory of political spotlight, it is rumored that Palin plans to write a book. Until we get to read it in her own words, there are plenty of biographies of Sarah Palin (and I must admit, the cover of number six on the list, Terminatrix: The Sarah Palin Chronicles, immediately caught my attention). The most recent of the Palin biographies is Trailblazer: An Intimate Biography of Sarah Palin by Lorenzo Benet, who said in a recent online discussion of the book: "Sarah's participation in beauty pageants gave her a boost of confidence that served her well down the road."
4. Pearls, Politics, and Power by Madeleine M. Kunin
On Martin Luther King Day, the former three-term Vermont Governor spoke to a group of eight- and ninth-grade girls about getting involved in politics. Kunin encouraged the girls to expand their horizons, rather than contenting themselves with what's around them. "It's like the difference between eating a peanut butter sandwich every day, or going to a banquet, getting a taste of everything," she told them. This point (minus the peanut butter sandwich analogy) is what Pearls, Politics, and Power is all about. Published in 2008, the book draws on Kunin's political experiences as governor and U.S. ambassador to discuss the need for new leadership in American politics, and how she believes women are capable of stepping up to take up that challenge. The mother of four was first inspired by the 1970s women's movement to become politically active. Kunin said in a college campus talk last year: "If you always have decisions made by the same group of old white men, they don't think outside the box."
5. Condoleezza Rice: An American Life: A Biography by Elisabeth Bumiller
Weeks before President Obama was sworn into office, Condoleezza Rice made a final trip to Britain. And what did the former U.S. Secretary of State do at Buckingham Palace? She gave a piano recital for Queen Elizabeth II. Playing concert piano was just one of the many things Rice wanted to excel at as an ambitious child. In Condoleezza Rice: An American Life: A Biography, author Elisabeth Bumiller explains the role that the early years of Rice's upbringing in Birmingham, Alabama, played in shaping her career in politics.
What books by and about women leaders have influenced you?
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