Women on the Verge of a Power Breakthrough

Forget the glass ceiling. A war cry, a strategy manual, and an economic treatise equip today's woman to handle the capitalist tool.

The battle of the sexes flared up in the workplace long before the first Neanderthal asked his secretary to fetch him a cup of coffee -- "and get one for yourself too, sweetheart." Today the age-old skirmish has blasted into new, uncharted zones of engagement, from the erogenous to the economic.

As Fast Company found in a collection of recent books about women in the workplace, it may still be a man's world -- but not for long. Forget the glass ceiling. The women who write business books are engaging in hand-to-hand combat with the capitalist toll himself.

Girls' Parts

Karen Salmansohn updates the success guide for today's working girl in her instant best-seller, "How to Succeed in Business Without a Penis: Secrets and Strategies for the Working Woman" (1996, Harmony Books). She advises women on how to use their feminine "wiles" to insinuate themselves into "a club that won't have you without a member" (get it? member!) For all the saucy talk, it's a retro premise.

She promises to teach "businesswomen learn to juggle all four entities: balls and boobs." But all her penis puns, Salmansohn doesn't know dick.

Recommendation: Airplane eye candy. Leave it on the seat for the next unsuspecting soul.

A Dangerous Woman

Rising of the classic rule book for macho despots, Harriet Rubin's "The Princessa: Machiavelli for Women" (April 1997, Doubleday is a training manual for "dangerous women."

The history of women is one of defeat, she explains, because women don't posses the language of war and they deny themselves the right to fight. What women need, she says, is to learn to act -- strategically.

Rubin Gives life to a handful of historical princessas, from Joan of Arc and Anna Akhmatova to Sojourner Truth, who fought for "bigger things" like justice.

She offers tactics for the "gringa warrior": behave as if your enemy is your ally; say what you want and how you intend to get it; and most important, learn how to withdraw and save your fight for another day.

The spoils of princessa's battle plan? An "Olympic-style triumph: an achievement that leaves losers not defeated so much as breathless, awestruck," says Machiavella. If this sounds grandiose, it is. Rubin's elegant treatise is meant to inspire, and it does.

Recommendation: Retire your copy of Sun Tzu. This one's a keeper.

Women's Work

In "The Feminine Economy and Economic Man: Reviving the Role of Family in the Post-Industrial Age" (January 1997, Addison-Wesley), Shirley Burggraf gracefully scouts a path between a rock and a hard place in the context of the fiery partisan debate over "family values." The family may be the primary engine of economic growth, but the costs of investing in family values have become prohibitive.

She proposes applying investment theory to the family. Most compelling, if "unromantic and outrageous," is a "parental dividend" -- a 15% tax on children's incomes to be transferred directly to their parents. Burggraf acknowledges that her solutions are at once "weirdly radical and trivially obvious." But they have the ability to push the most muddled and politicized debates into fresh and productive territory.

Recommendation: Read it, and then pass it along to a friend (preferably a public policy wonk).

Katharine Mieszkowski is an editor at "Women's Wire," http://www.women.com .

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