Separate but equal--it's a phrase I struggle to explain, even as I sometimes defend it. While these three words are often applied to racial segregation, they also have a place in the gender divide. Can women thrive in a male-dominated society? Or do they need a "separate but equal" space to occupy?
There is no right answer to the question, mostly because each woman is different. I went to a formerly all-male college, and I definitely thrive in a co-ed environment. My personality is highly competitive, and I am not intimidated by men, particularly in a classroom setting. But I also think that single-sex education is a valuable system for women. Women's colleges produce a disproportionately high percentage of women who hold elected office or have reached the executive level.
But at some point, when separating the sexes, one has to wonder, do women really need to be treated so differently? This is the point of Jessa Crispin's article, "Women's Studies," which examines the trend of Books For Women. By this she doesn't mean the cartoonish wave of paperbacks aimed at women as a written version of a Julia Roberts chick-flick. Instead she examines the books that describe a range of topics (traveling, gardening, cooking, etc.) somehow specially prepared for women.
Tired of looking at the pink glare from the self-help section, Crispin takes a look at Success Literature, and sees mostly books of "powerful men who have made questionable hair choices, standing in front of proof of their wealth: skyscrapers, yachts, giant McMansions." With this in mind, she tackles Lauren Bacon and Emira Mears’s The Boss of You: Everything a Woman Needs to Know to Start, Run, and Maintain Her Own Business. According to Crispin,
One of the unfortunate side effects of being female is the constant marketing of products as specifically “for women.” It’s not just deodorant and cheap pink razors. There are books, and then there are books for women.
A large percentage of the books Seal publishes are how-to guides. How to run the marathon, as a woman. How to grieve, as a woman. How to save money, as a woman. How to be a creative spirit, as a woman. How to find balance, as a woman. How to choose which books to read, as a woman. How to find “your true self,” as a woman. How to buy a house, as a woman. How to masturbate, as a woman. OK, actually, that last one is fine.
There’s no real need for the “Woman” in the subtitle — any small business where passion is prioritized above financial concerns fits. I am surrounded by women entrepreneurs, from candy makers to tarot card readers, from clothing boutique owners to writing teachers. All of them started their businesses out of passion and love, but none of them works in the same way. Suggesting that all women think the same way or respond to the same things is like believing that all Cancers really are going to find “big-time romance” today (I just checked my horoscope.) The writing teacher would love the collage idea; the candy maker would simply roll her eyes. But then Everything a Woman Who Really Liked the Vagina Monologues, Has Sewn Her Own Curtains, and Subscribes to Bust Magazine Needs to Know to Start, Run, and Maintain Her Own Business would be too long of a subtitle.
So do women need separate business advice? I say yes. As long as men are still defined as the norm in the business world, there is still a need for groups like Catalyst, and books that show women how to succeed in the corporate world. The best ones show women how to gain equal footing with their male colleagues, the worst ones patronize women.
Patronization of women is rampant in the book industry, as far as I can see. Publishers seem to think that pink is still a genius selling tactic when marketing to women. And they often still refer to women as "girls"--such as in the "Girl's Guide" series. Wouldn't it be funny to see a "Boy's Guide to the Corner Office"?