As thousands of burned-out soldiers prepare to return to Iraq to fill President Bush’s unwelcome call for at least 20,000 more troops, I can’t help wondering what the women among those troops will have to face. And I don’t mean only the hardships of war, the killing of civilians, the bombs and mortars, the heat and sleeplessness and fear.

I mean from their own comrades — the men.

I have talked to more than 20 female veterans of the iraq war in the past few months, interviewing them for up to 10 hours each for a book I am writing on the topic, and every one of them said the danger of rape by other soldiers is so widely recognized in Iraq that their officers routinely told them not to go to the latrines or showers without another woman for protection.

Despite the rich collection of current literature addressing the role of women in shaping social welfare policy in the United States, Regina G. Kunzel breaks new ground in her history of maternity homes for unmarried mothers from 1890 to 1945. She deftly demonstrates the centrality of gender to the culture of professionalization, the public discussion of sexuality and the development of welfare policy. Based chiefly on institutional records, professional journals and casework files, this intelligent narrative also details the gender conflict among evangelical women, social workers and unmarried mothers as each group sought to realize distinctly different goals.

In the late 19th century, white middle-class evangelical women created a network of maternity homes under the auspices of the Florence Crittenton Mission, the Salvation Army and various religious denominations. Evangelical women encouraged mothers to keep their babies, often placing new mothers as domestic servants in middle-class homes. In melodramatic terms, evangelicals viewed unmarried mothers as passive victims of evil men and emphasized womanly sympathy and religious training as redemptive tools, while at the same time translating “feminine” virtues into social policy and staking their own claims to public work and space. The script of seduction and abandonment of good girls by male villains also allowed evangelical women to confront both the sexual vulnerability of women in the new urban society as well as the disturbing sexual mores of the working-class women under their care.

Beginning in the 1910s, the emerging profession of social work fiercely challenged the gendered rhetoric of sympathy, sisterhood and sentiment voiced by evangelical women. Women social workers turned from the older tradition of female reform to the legitimizing rhetoric of science and the esoteric language of “casework” in an attempt to advance their professional status. Creating new scripts to explain out-of-wedlock pregnancy, they characterized unmarried mothers first as “feebleminded” and later as “sex delinquents.” Thus, like the evangelical women they displaced, social workers also created definitions of unwed mothers that allowed them to confront a working-class female sexuality increasingly incomprehensible to middle-class observers. Social workers subjected unwed mothers to a battery of tests and interviews, maintained a “scientific” emotional distance from their charges, and invented elaborate diagnostic schemes to justify their claims to professional legitimacy. But in the process of establishing their scientific expertise through denunciation of old fashioned female benevolence, women social workers joined their male colleagues in posing professionalism and femininity as mutually exclusive. Ironically, the new female professionals participated in the process of gendering professionalism in a way that equated professionalism with masculinity.

Meanwhile, unmarried mothers employed strategies to ensure their own ends within the maternity home regime. Although there is clear evidence of mutual respect between many mothers and maternity home workers, many other unwed mothers experienced their confinement as incarceration. Before single mothers gained more leverage in the 1940s, due to increased opportunities for women workers, maternity homes habitually censored mail, proscribed rigid standards of dress and conduct, and allowed women to leave the home only if properly chaperoned. Kunzel describes the complexities of the unwed mothers’ resistance and accommodation to demands that they conform to middle-class codes of respectability and morality. Case records show unmarried mothers creating their own narratives designed to improve their chances to obtain the help they needed. Tales abound of pregnancies caused by drugs, drink and knock-out drops, or by rape and incest. Their self-representations ranged from experiences of sexual coercion to bold claims of sexual agency. Relying on each other as allies and instructors, unwed mothers constructed their own identities rather them assume those constructed for them, even though they were not recognized as reliable narrators or legitimate authorities of their own experience.

The emergence of the Children’s Bureau in 1912 and the growth of Community Chest financing of maternity homes greatly increased the power of social workers to influence maternity home policy once controlled by evangelical women. Holding budgets as bargaining chips, especially during the depression years, Chests required maternity homes to cooperate with local casework agencies or hire their own social worker. As social workers became more dominant, maternity home policies shifted to de-emphasize religion and to require shorter stays. Privileging the interests of the child over those of the mother, social workers, who had earlier pathologized unwed mothers as unfit, pressured unmarried mothers to place their babies for adoption and worked closely with adoption agencies. Critical of crude arguments based on social control, Kunzel again focuses on the contested and incomplete nature of the transfer of power from evangelicals to social workers. She also emphasizes how social workers continually questioned their own scientific claim to objectivity – a failing that would have been abundantly evident to their clients. While evangelicals and social workers struggled for control of maternity homes, unmarried mothers continued to determine for themselves their own best interests.

Women and Porn

May 25, 2007

Pornography: We think it’s a man’s problem, right? It’s male college students who are, in that fine evangelical euphemism, “struggling with” porn. We hear about marriages being torn asunder when husbands turn to Playboy bunnies instead of their wives.Well, yes and no. Men do use porn, of course. And more men than women use porn. But studies show that, increasingly, pornography is a woman’s problem, too. One survey showed that 13 percent of women use it at work.1 Another study found that 53 percent of women have “viewed online adult content.”2

Sociologists and pollsters who count such things began noticing an increase of women’s porn use with the advent of Internet porn.

Sociologists and pollsters who count such things began noticing an increase of women’s porn use with the advent of Internet porn. (Women aren’t the only group drawn into pornography through the keyboard. Internet porn also attracts another group we don’t think of as porn users: pastors.3

That women have been increasingly attracted to porn since the rise of Internet porn tells us something about women’s sexuality. Women aren’t naturally “less sexual” than men, less desirous of sex or less prone to sexual sin. Rather, women — and pastors, too, for that matter — didn’t use as much porn before the Internet because of the social stigma attached to a woman walking into a seedy bookstore and purchasing a copy of Playgirl. Now people can log on in the privacy of their own home (or office, or dorm room) — no one has to know.

Of course, the rise in women’s porn use has happened in tandem with the rise of business people who want to make a buck at the expense of women. In other words, the male porn market was largely saturated. But all those women out there, waiting to be corrupted — why, it was a marketer’s dream! And, indeed, the last decade has shown not only a rise in women who use porn, but also a rise in pornography specifically designed for and marketed to women.

What’s Wrong With Porn?

What’s wrong with porn? Well, some parts of the answer to that question are pretty obvious. Porn is a human endeavor of the most degraded kind; porn looks like sex, but it is in fact as far removed from God’s ideal of marital sexuality as one can get. To use porn is to wallow in sin.

When you use porn, you are objectifying another person, turning another human being into an object who exists only to meet your desires. Just consider the verb we attach to porn — what do you do with it? You use it. And when you use porn, you are using another person, the real live person who posed for that shot.

And it is not a great leap from objectifying a person on a screen to objectifying people in real life. If you learn, at your computer, to think of other people as things you use, objects for your pleasure, to be indulged at your convenience, you will soon begin to think of real, three-dimensional people as objects for your pleasure, too. Pornography violates the most basic truths about human beings: that we were all created in the image of God; and that we are to see Christ in every person.

Sometimes, of course, there is no real person behind Internet porn — but that is perhaps even more disturbing! There you are … having a faux-sexual encounter with someone who does not exist.

Men who use porn report that when they spend time with the “perfect” images of buxom porn stars, they no longer find real, ordinary women attractive. Pity the person married to a porn-user who no longer finds his or her spouse attractive, and wishes instead to be interacting with a two-dimensional figure on a screen!

Women use porn when they’re lonely. When they’re bored. When they’re in pain. They say logging on makes them feel better (the language is remarkably similar to binge-eaters’).

Porn is not just a sexual sin — the social violence it unleashes by teaching us to think about people as objects is not just a “sexual” issue. But porn does have obvious negative consequences for the way we think about sex, too. It teaches very false lessons about what sex is supposed to be.

The sexuality of porn is completely individualistic. It’s just you and the computer screen. You do it whenever you want to, and you never take into account the needs, desires or even headaches of another person. From start to finish, the whole experience happens on your terms.

Real sex is about fully giving yourself to another person. Porn is, in every way, the opposite of that: In porn, there is no other person. There is just a twisted encounter with yourself.

Why Women Use Porn

And yet, a lot of people — men and women — use porn. Why? Lots of reasons.

Women use porn when they’re lonely. When they’re bored. When they’re in pain. They say logging on makes them feel better (the language is remarkably similar to binge-eaters’). For a few minutes, you devote all your energies to an intense physical experience, and you distract yourself from whatever is causing you emotional pain. Some experts think that women tend to use porn in order to betray another person — you’re furious at your boyfriend or husband, who’s just done something nasty to you, and the way to get back at him, without risking an actual confrontation, is to pull out some pornography.

But porn can never be more than a destructive, temporary distraction. It can never truly satisfy emotional, spiritual or sexual needs.

How to Break the Porn Habit

Gals, if you’re using porn, the odds are that you’re likely to feel shame and embarrassment at the prospect of telling someone. But even though it may feel terribly awkward and embarrassing to admit that you’ve gotten ensnared in the web of Internet porn, you’re likely to find your confidant is more interested in helping you than condemning you. That was the experience of a woman I know, whom I’ll call Jen.4

Jen was 18 when she first logged on to an Internet porn site. She kept coming back, weekly at least, for three years. “I felt too ashamed to discuss this with anyone. We always speculated about whether the guys we knew used porn, but I felt like it hadn’t even occurred to any of my friends that maybe women used it to.”

Finally, Jen did summon up the courage to tell a resident advisor on her floor. “I really could have kicked myself for waiting so long to tell her,” Jen said. “She couldn’t have been more kind! She took the problem seriously, of course, and helped me get help immediately. She never said any of the things I feared she would say. She never said that she thought I was a terrible person, or that she no longer wanted to be my friend, or that I was going to hell.” Jen’s resident advisor responded appropriately: She knew the issue was grave, she knew it was not to be treated lightly, but she also knew to be compassionate.

Because people often use porn to meet — or mask — an emotional need, counseling is often recommended. There’s no shame in talking to a therapist!

There are some small strategies that can help you break the porn habit — like getting your computer out of your bedroom, and into a common room — a den, for example. Jen’s resident advisor urged her to do this, and Jen said it helped.

Because people often use porn to meet — or mask — an emotional need, counseling is often recommended. There’s no shame in talking to a therapist! A skilled counselor can help you figure out what, at the deepest levels, you were trying to accomplish by using porn, and she can help you make better choices in the future.

As you move into the process of breaking your porn habit, you can begin to ask yourself some questions: Why was I drawn to porn in the first place? How did I feel after a session with my computer screen? How has pornography taught me to think about my body? About men’s bodies? About sex? How has it distorted my understanding of the imago dei (Latin for “image of God”)?

It’s important to remember that because our wills are corrupt, tangled and fallen, you’re not likely to break the porn habit simply through the will — simply by swearing off porn. (As St. Paul said, we do the things we don’t want to do and don’t do the things we want to do.) We also need God’s grace.

So perhaps the most important piece of the journey out of porn is a commitment to avail yourself of sources of God’s grace: pray; go to church; take communion; steep yourself in Scripture. And know that God has plans for you so much bigger and better than Saturday night in front of your computer screen.

Women Managing Women

May 25, 2007

The latest Census Bureau statistics reveal that women owned businesses are hotter than ever. Between 1997 and 2002 women started businesses at twice the national rate. Women-owned businesses with more than $1 million in revenue went up by 18% and those with more than 100 employees went up by 10%.

One upshot of all this growth is that now there are more women in leadership positions than ever. Whether they head their division or head the whole company, these women are in a position to do something they may have wanted to do for a long time. Hire other women.

Women like working with other smart, savvy women. There’s often less ego involved and more willingness to collaborate. As woman leaders, we can create a culture where success doesn’t have to mean trying to become “one of the guys.” But our idealistic visions of women working together do not always translate smoothly into practice. There’s no guarantee that just because we hire other women, everyone will magically get along. Here are a few of the more common problem areas we can encounter:

Boss or Buddy?

When Giselle became Editor-in-Chief of a new women’s magazine, she told her all female staff that they had a say in every editorial decision and that her door was always open no matter how small the concern or how late the hour. “I didn’t want them to see me as the big bad boss,” she explained. “I wanted them to like me.”

Instead, Giselle created an environment in which there was too little structure. Employees took her open door policy literally and dropped in to chat about personal problems or petty disagreements they should have been able to resolve on their own. Even worse, when Giselle made executive decisions her staff seemed to resent her adopting any authority.

Just because we’re in leadership positions doesn’t mean we stop wanting people to like us. Women are raised to always be nice and nurturing to other women and, like Giselle, we can be wary of coming across as too tough or power hungry. But part of your responsibility as a leader is to call the shots. If employees see you as their best buddy, it can be confusing when you start telling them what to do or calling them on their mistakes. Try envisioning yourself as a leader who is respected by her employees rather than seeking unconditional love.

Banning the Micromanager

Many women abandon the traditional corporate world because they’re sick of a macho work culture where they have to do twice as much to prove themselves while someone’s always looking over their shoulder waiting for them to screw up. But once on our own, it can be difficult to relax these hyper-vigilant standards. This can be especially true with your own business, where everything that goes out the door has your name attached. But you’re going to have to learn to let go.

We’ll assume you’ve hired competent, innovative women to work under you. If you insist on supervising every last detail, you’re sending the message that you don’t trust them to handle anything on their own. That’s a sure way to breed apathy, or even worse, resentment. Because women are often more attuned to relationships and more sensitive to feedback, they can be especially prone to interpreting your micromanaging as criticism. It’s worth the risk to give them some autonomy and even allow them to make the occasional mistake. They’ll work harder if they feel like their input matters.

Work-Family Issues

It would be nice if all things were equal on the work-family front — if men took on just as many domestic responsibilities and were just as eager for maternity leave and flexible working schedules. But we all know this isn’t true. Women are still the primary care givers and they expect female bosses and employers to be more sensitive towards this struggle to balance work and family lives.

Before you institute policies, talk to your employees about what they need and be clear in your own head about what is possible from a financial standpoint. Be as generous and as creative as you can. Women with less personal stress make happier and more productive employees. But also be realistic about what the business can support. One of the worst things you can do in this department is make promises you can’t keep.

Above all, women leaders owe it to their female employees to practice what they preach. A charismatic, well-adjusted woman at the top goes a long ways towards creating a healthy office atmosphere. When powerful and highly visible women are seen helping other women by implementing women-friendly policies, acting as mentors and role models, or simply honoring their word, they set a standard for everyone else to come.

We sat around the dinner table, a group of 50-something progressive feminists, talking to a friend from England about presidential politics. We were all for Hillary, weren’t we, he asked. Hillary? We hated Hillary. He was taken aback. Weren’t we her base? Wasn’t she one of us? Why did we hate Hillary?

Of course, a lot of people seem to hate Hillary. According to some polls, anywhere from 39 to 50 percent of respondents claim they’d vote against her no matter what; her “negatives” continue to be high. Many of these are Republicans and men. But many are not. According to a Harris poll in March, 52 percent of married women said they would not vote for her. Nearly half of adults say they dislike her personality and her politics. Unlike her husband, people seem to find her cold and don’t see her connecting with everyday people, and this is especially true for married women. Ironically, it is Gen Xers, those between 31 and 42, who give her the most support.

So what gives? For people like my friends and me, her hawkish position on Iraq and her insistence that the U.S. maintain a military presence there even after the troops are withdrawn have been very disappointing. But it’s more than any specific position. Women don’t trust Hillary. They see her as an opportunist; many feel betrayed by her. Why?

Baby boomer women grew up with the Feminine Mystique and then came of age with the Women’s Liberation Movement. As a result, millions of us have spent our lives crafting a compromise—or a fusion—between femininity on the one hand and feminism on the other. And for many of us feminism did not mean trying to be more like men. It meant challenging patriarchy: trying to bring equity to family life, humanizing the workplace, prioritizing women’s issues in politics, and confronting the dangers of militarism and imperialism. And millions of us fought (and continue to fight) these battles wearing lipstick, skirts and a smile: the masquerade of femininity we are compelled to don.

Hillary, by contrast, seems to want to be more like a man in her demeanor and politics, makes few concessions to the social demands of femininity, and yet seems to be only a partial feminist. She seems above us, exempting herself from compromises women have to make every day, while, at the same time, leaving some of the basic tenets of feminism in the dust. We are sold out on both counts. In other words, she seems like patriarchy in sheep’s clothing.

One of progressive feminism’s biggest (and so far, failed) battles has been against the Genghis Khan principle of American politics: that our leaders must be ruthless, macho empire builders fully prepared to drop the big one if they have to and invade anytime, anywhere. When Geraldine Ferraro ran for vice president in 1984, the recurring question was whether she had the cojones to push the red button, as if that is the ultimate criterion for leading the country. And while American politics has, for years, been all about the necessity of displaying masculinity, Bush, Cheney and Rove succeeded in upping the ante after 9/11 so that the sight of John Kerry windsurfing meant he wasn’t man enough to run the country. But now, with the massive failures of this callous macho posture everywhere—a disastrous war, a deeply endangered environment and more people than ever without health insurance—millions are desperate for a new vision and a new model of leadership.

All of this frames many women’s reactions to Hillary. If she’s a feminist, how could she continue to support this war for so long? If she’s such a passionate advocate for children, women and families, how could she countenance the ongoing killing of innocent Iraqi families, and of American soldiers who are also someone’s children? If it would be so revolutionary to have a female as president, why does she feel like the same old poll-driven opportunistic politician who seems to craft her positions accordingly?

Maybe women like me are being extra hard on Hillary because she’s a woman. After all, baby boomer women couldn’t be “as good” as men in school or the workplace; we had to be better, to prove that women deserved equal opportunities. And this is part of the problem too. We don’t want the first female president to be Joe Lieberman in drag, pushing Bush-lite politics. We expect something better.

Clearly, Hillary and her advisors have calculated that for a woman to be elected in this country, she’s got to come across as just as tough as the guys. And maybe they’re right. But so far, Hillary is not getting men with this strategy, and women feel written off. After the dark ages of this pugnacious administration, many of us want to let the light in. We want a break with the past, optimism, and a recommitment to the government caring about and serving the needs of everyday people. We want what feminism began to fight for 40 years ago—humanizing deeply patriarchal institutions. And, ironically, we see candidates like John Edwards or Barack Obama—men—offering just that. If Hillary Clinton wants to be the first female president, then maybe, just maybe, she should actually run as a woman.

Although alopecia can occur anywhere on the body, it is most distressing when it affects the scalp. Hair loss can range from a small bare patch that is easily masked by hairstyling to a more diffuse and obvious pattern. Alopecia in women has been found to have significantly deleterious effects on self-esteem, psychologic well-being, and body image. (1,2)

Pathophysiology

Every hair follicle continually goes through three phases: anagen (growth), catagen (involution, or a brief transition between growth and resting), and telogen (resting). (3) Disorders of alopecia can be divided into those in which the hair follicle is normal but the cycling of hair growth is abnormal (e.g., telogen effluvium) and those in which the hair follicle is damaged (e.g., cicatricial alopecia).

Diagnosis

Advertisement

A careful history often suggests the underlying cause of alopecia. Crucial factors include the duration and pattern of hair loss, whether the hair is broken or shed at the roots, and whether shedding or thinning has increased. The patient’s diet, medications, present and past medical conditions, and family history of alopecia are other important factors.

The physical examination has three parts. First, the scalp is examined for evidence of erythema, scaling, or inflammation. Follicular units are apparent in nonscarring alopecias but absent in scarring types. Second, the density and distribution of hair are assessed. Third, the hair shaft is examined for caliber, length, shape, and fragility. (4)

The “pull test” is an easy technique for assessing hair loss. Approximately 60 hairs are grasped between the thumb and the index and middle fingers. The hairs are then gently but firmly pulled. A negative test (six or fewer hairs obtained) indicates normal shedding, whereas a positive test (more than six hairs obtained) indicates a process of active hair shedding. Patients should not shampoo their hair 24 hours before the test is performed.4 If the diagnosis is not clear based on the history and physical examination, selected laboratory tests and, occasionally, punch biopsy may be indicated. A stepwise approach to the diagnosis of hair loss is provided in Figure 1. (5,6)

Androgenetic Alopecia

Androgenetic alopecia, or hair loss mediated by the presence of the androgen dihydrotestosterone, is the most common form of alopecia in men and women. Almost all persons have some degree of androgenetic alopecia. (7) The hair loss usually begins between the ages of 12 and 40 years and is frequently insufficient to be noticed. However, visible hair loss occurs in approximately one half of all persons by the age of 50 years (8) (Figure 2). In women, hairstyling may mask early hair loss.

Hair follicles contain androgen receptors. In the presence of androgens, genes that shorten the anagen phase are activated, and hair follicles shrink or become miniaturized. With successive anagen cycles, the follicles become smaller (leading to shorter, finer hair), and nonpigmented vellus hairs replace pigmented terminal hairs. In women, the thinning is diffuse, but more marked in the frontal and parietal regions. Even persons with severe androgenetic alopecia almost always have a thin fringe of hair frontally. The remaining hair configuration may resemble a monk’s haircut.

Women with androgenetic alopecia do not have higher levels of circulating androgens. However, they have been found to have higher levels of 5a-reductase (which converts testosterone to dihydrotestosterone), more androgen receptors, and lower levels of cytochrome P450 (which converts testosterone to estrogen). (6)

Most women with androgenetic alopecia have normal menses, normal fertility, and normal endocrine function, including gender-appropriate levels of circulating androgens. Therefore, an extensive hormonal work-up is unnecessary. If a woman has irregular menses, abrupt hair loss, hirsutism, or acne recurrence, an endocrine evaluation is appropriate. In this situation, total testosterone, free testosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate, and prolactin levels should be obtained. (6)

Because the hair loss in androgenetic alopecia is an aberration of the normal hair cycle, it is theoretically reversible. Advanced androgenetic alopecia, however, may not respond to treatment, because the inflammation that surrounds the bulge area of the follicle may irreparably damage the follicular stem cell.

TREATMENT

Minoxidil (Rogaine). The currently preferred treatment for androgenetic alopecia is topically administered 2 percent minoxidil. (6,8,9) Minoxidil appears to affect the hair follicle in three ways: it increases the length of time follicles spend in anagen, it “wakes up” follicles that are in catagen, and it enlarges the actual follicles. The mechanism by which minoxidil effects these changes is not known. Vellus hairs enlarge and are converted to terminal hairs. In addition, shedding is reduced.

In a randomized, controlled, double-blind clinical trial involving 550 women 18 to 45 years of age, treatment with 2 percent minoxidil solution resulted in a higher hair count compared with placebo. (10) [Evidence label A, randomized controlled trial] In another study, (11) 50 percent of women treated with 2 percent minoxidil had at least minimal hair regrowth, and 13 percent had moderate regrowth. No significantly increased benefit has been shown for the 5 percent minoxidil solution compared with the 2 percent solution.

Ah, the dreams of the women’s movement. We envisioned a day when there would be women in high places, and here we are, with a female national security adviser, a female Secretary of the Interior, a female Labor Secretary and even our latest female corporate felon.

Now, I’ve never been a fan of Martha. Her elevation of domestic chores to an obsession, the profusion, in her magazines, of those dictatorial images insisting that your house be a sun-drenched, voile-curtained, neat-as-a-pin showroom, and her smug condescension while trimming the rough edges off poached eggs, all made me long to throw a cream pie at her.

But like many, I see her prosecution and conviction as a cross between showboating by federal prosecutors and good old-fashioned backlash. Did Martha lie? Looks like she did. Is Kenneth Lay still enjoying one of his five homes in Aspen? You bet.

And there’s more to it than just her celebrity. Martha’s biggest crime, it seems, was to blur and confound the codes of gender in ways that have made a lot of men, and many women, uncomfortable. A woman who is an expert in hand-washing sweaters and folding napkins into the shape of flamingos is supposed to be nurturing, generous, innocent of ambition, focused on family. But Martha, even before the trial, came to be known as a tough, demanding, ruthless businesswoman who didn’t suffer fools and wasn’t particularly cuddly.

In a society where we police the borders of gender relentlessly, through clothing, gestures, behavior, language and activities, what are we to make of a woman who sells female domestication in a honey-hued voice but behind the cameras acts like what we expect of a tough-as-nails male CEO? Martha was an irresistible target not only because of her fame but because she seemed a housewife with way too much power. Worse, she was a housewife who got paid — a lot — for her labors, and a housewife who seemed greedy.

To emphasize that such a gender offender deserves whatever she gets, TV news reporters have slavered over accounts of how Stewart will be subjected to a cavity-search when she goes to prison. Has the viewing public been urged to imagine the same humiliation for Enron’s Jeffrey Skilling?

At the same time, ironically, Team Bush has successfully used women, in cabinet positions and elsewhere, to make the administration seem female-friendly and egalitarian. To read more about this, run, do not walk, to the nearest bookstore to get Laura Flanders’ terrific new book, Bushwomen.

She begins with Katherine Harris, and other chapters are devoted to Condoleezza Rice, Karen Hughes, Ann Veneman, Elaine Chao, Christine Todd Whitman and Gale Ann Norton. Of the five female cabinet members she profiles, only one has children. The rest are simply unfamiliar with struggles faced by millions of mothers to juggle the demands of work and family. All have “benefited directly from feminism — the movement they now cast as women’s enemy,” writes Flanders, who chides mainstream women’s organizations for failing to criticize the policies and actions of powerful women.

Flanders notes how sexist and racist conventions in the news media actually help make these women seem less powerful (and dangerous) than they actually are. For example, all you have to do is say “Katherine Harris” and one immediately pictures garish makeup and shellacked hair. “No one,” writes Flanders, “was made more fun of in the media” and “no one did more, more carefully, to use the power of her public office to steal the presidency for her candidate.”

Or take the endless pieces that have been written about Condoleezza Rice’s childhood in ’50s Birmingham, Alabama, and how she rose from there to success. A New York Times piece on Rice, for example, emphasized her hair, dress size and place of birth but “didn’t discuss her views on national security until the twenty-seventh paragraph.” No Times story so far has dwelt on Vice-President Cheney’s youth as a white man in “pre-civil rights Nebraska,” notes Flanders, writing that this news frame about Rice both “smacks of racism” and ignores what, exactly, she did after Birmingham.

The Bushwomen, writes Flanders, are “an extremist administration’s female front” and if the corporate media took them more seriously “they wouldn’t stand a chance.” They have been used to mask the ongoing gender gap plaguing the Republican Party. Flanders reminds us that in 2000 Bush had an 11-point margin over Gore with men, but that he lost women by the same amount. Thus it is crucial for women to look beyond the cabinet window dressing and learn what these Bushwomen are really about.

The Martha drama and Team Bush’s acute awareness of the gender gap ensure that gender will be front and center, if in often sneaky, subliminal and superficial ways in the coming campaign. Bushwomen and the Stewart conviction remind us how fatuous stereotypes keep us all in line and undermine women and the issues that matter to us most.