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Nonfiction in Brief

MOMENTUM : Women in American Politics Now by Ronna Romney and Beppie Harrison (Crown: $18.95)

April 24, 1988|ALEX RAKSIN

Over 18,000 women are now in elected office in America, a sign of formidable progress, certainly, but hardly the last step on the long road toward equality, for the figure mostly represents women elected to state and local offices. In contrast, in the House of Representatives, the number of women grew by only seven between 1973 and 1986 (from 16 to 23). "If this rate of change continues," the authors write, "women will reach representation fully proportional to their numbers in a mere 406 years." Congresswoman Pat Schroeder has suggested a reason for this discrepancy--national politics is still defined as masculine, whereas local and state issues, from toxic waste sites in the neighborhood to school reform, still can be stereotyped as feminine. The authors--Ronna Romney is the Republican National Committeewoman from Michigan, Beppie Harrison, the author of "The Shock of Motherhood"--have created a tribute to women like Schroeder, who have successfully contended with the overwhelmingly masculine power structure of both parties. Perhaps because Romney and Harrison wish to ride a bipartisan line, they do not explore the ideologies, attitudes and social systems that keep women "in their place." They do not rally around the Equal Rights Amendment, for instance, nor do they expand on Schroeder's thought: Should women try to act like men or can they gain respect as leaders through alternative, positive images? And yet this is not so much an oversight than a conscious decision on the part of the authors to accentuate the positive. One can write gloomily about sexism, Harrison and Romney point out, but "it seems more productive for us to look at exactly where the roadblocks seem to be positioned and to see what can be done about them before we launch into the project of changing the philosophical orientation of men who aren't listening to what we have to say anyway."

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