Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection
by Debora Spar

This book written by Debora Spar, the current president of a prestigious women’s college in New York City, Barnard Collage, is an informative and important book especially for young women AND men in their 20-30s, as well as corporate executives and leaders. The book describes how the feminist movement has given women an array of choices – whether to become a doctor or a politician, or to have children or not – which presumingly would have led to more women in leadership roles, given that we are 50% of the population. Instead, women haven’t made much progress at breaking through the 16% power level because we are too busy seeking perfection as individuals and as mothers.

What I especially like about this book is how the author weaves in her personal stories, including her struggle with anorexia, being a mother of three, and striver for perfection herself.  As an academic, she incorporates a lot of research demonstrating how women strive for perfection. Women have risen from 35% of the labor force in 1960 to 47% in 2008, and yet women tend to occupy only between 15 – 20% of the powerful seats, (ie. 15.2% of board members of Fortune 500 companies or 16% of law partners.) Approximately 10 million girls and women struggle with anorexia; there has been a 500% increase on cosmetic surgery since 1997 and the new “intensive mothering” has led women to drain themselves to entertain and educate their kids leaving them with less sleep, sex, and free time than women in the 1970s.

What is her solution? To learn to strive for beauty over perfection, accept that birth and mothering is messy, that corporations should embrace and reward diversity as men and women are different, and that we should give up trying to control everything and learn to pursue joy over perfection.  I think her message is admirable and important for young women and men today.  The challenge is that most people have lost touch with joy as something valuable and inherent to a well-lived life.

However, she glosses over the fact that women don’t tend to take as many risks as men. Embracing “a messy life of joy” involves risks that might not work out at times and acceptance of that.  The book emphasize that women need to use their networks and relationships to push and support each other to take those risks to live boldly. Given that Debora is the president of Barnard, hopefully she can continue to be a role model and advocate for creating this new messy life of risk taking and joy! What do you think about her recommendations?


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