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Girly Gobbledygook
Newsweek's cover story is getting old. byline


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Myrna Blyth

I guess there was nothing bad to say about our soldiers in Iraq this week. While Iraqis voted on their new constitution and Saddam Hussein’s trial was beginning, Newsweek decided to put on its cover that old chestnut of a story: “How Women Lead,” dressed up with a photo of Oprah, and IDing the talk show host as “Chairman of Harpo, Inc.” The message was: See, we aren’t interested in her fame, fortune, great shoes, or after-hours shopping travails at Hermes; it’s all about her leadership. Duh!

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I suppose Newsweek didn’t want to use moon-faced Geena Davis (a.k.a. “Commander-in-Chief”) on its cover because the new larger-size TV Guide was also using her this week.. And one sometimes-irrelevant newsweekly didn’t want to be mistaken for another definitely irrelevant weekly. (By the way, Time had Steve Jobs on their cover and U.S. News & World Report had Lord Nelson for a feature on the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. This last one was the most interesting story of the lot.).

But back to the girls. Barbara Kantrowitz, the writer of the Newsweekcover piece, had to do a considerable amount of singing and dancing to make the whole notion of her feature seem relevant. Here’s how she portentously began the piece: “This should be a time of celebration.” (Really, Barbara, with all the bad things we hear about our country every single week from Newsweek?)

“America has its first female in the Oval Office.” (Oh, I get the drift. You’re really trying to find another way to get on the bandwagon and promote ABC’s Hillary infomercial.)

“Everywhere you look, there are women surgeons, police officials, hard-charging executives and even amazingly resourceful undercover operatives.” (But don’t you dare mention them by name.)

“So why aren’t women across the country cheering?” (Oh, you mean our uteruses are hard-wired to all cheer in unison? I didn’t know that.)

“Well, perhaps because those role-models–important as they are–are all fictional.” (Darn!)

“They’re the stars of popular TV shows like ‘Commander in Chief,’ ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ and ‘Alias.’ When will the real world catch up?”

She then goes on to dance around some more by saying well, as a matter of fact, there are a lot of good things happening for women. Like there are more women than men in colleges (which may be okay for women but bad for our society in general). And more women now have “an important presence in a number of industries like film.” (Shoot, I hope it isn’t women’s fault that movie attendance is thudding down.)

But a couple of paragraphs later, the bad soon follows the good. She pitches in with the new lament: “There is a fear that all those glass ceilings have been broken for naught and younger women who grew up with working mothers struggling to have it all have decided that the struggle just isn’t worth it.” Marie Wilson, the head of the White House Project (which supports female political candidates and claims to be nonpartisan, but only seems to give awards to liberals), harrumphs, “There is no real balance between work and family in America. You integrate work and family and do the best you can.” Huh? I guess when discussing women, gobbledygook remarks are par for the course.

The piece then works up to rolling out the oldest of clichéd questions: “Do women lead differently than men? The conventional wisdom is that they are more intuitive, more collaborative.” Funny one would never have used either of those adjectives about the most successful woman leader of our time, Margaret Thatcher, who celebrated her 80th birthday this week and, of course, is never mentioned in the piece. Recently, it was reported that Lady Thatcher commented about the war in Iraq, “I was a scientist first. I believe you check and re-check your facts.”

In the rest of the Newsweek piece, which includes interviews with women leaders who “display a continuing passion for their work,” we hear the usual stuff that we have been hearing for more than 20 years. Oprah confides she is “almost completely intuitive.” (I wonder if the financial advisers of her billion-dollar company are also “intuitive” with her investments.).Designer Vera Wang claims “I feel everything,” while Harvard’s Rosabeth Moss Kanter. years after Title IX., is still going on about how girls should play sports.

Yes, it is the usual stuff re-warmed once again. And even though these pieces are supposed to guide women who “aspire” to make it to the top, of course they don’t. Rather they are simply instances of self-promotion, both for the “leaders” being profiled and for the magazine that is profiling them. Newsweek’s editor Mark Whitaker in his column shares that some of these women leaders will just happen to make appearances on Oprah, Today, and NBC Nightly News this week.

But how about a leader who led by example, treated workers far more compassionately than any other leader of the time, almost had to endure a destroyed career because of a passionate love affair, and whose final words–”kiss me”–couldn’t have been more emotional? According to Newsweek this sounds just like a leader who today’s women would understand, admire, and want to emulate. The leader was, of course, Horatio Lord Nelson.

Myrna Blyth, former long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness–and Liberalism–to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.



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