WHAT WOMEN WANT by Patricia Ireland


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 In this personable and inspiring autobiography, the controversial president of NOW succeeds (mostly) in presenting herself as an Everywoman who does know what American women want. As she tells it, Ireland's life is the story of the making of a feminist: She goes from being the Pan Am stewardess whose first battle was against the required pillbox hats that mussed up the required hairdos, to fighting Pan Am's insurance discrimination against married women, to succeeding as a corporate lawyer and then as a full-time feminist activist. When Ireland is recalling her experiences on the front lines of the gender wars--organizing Florida's pro-ERA movement, developing and participating in NOW's abortion-clinic defense strategy, meeting with Vernon Jordan to discuss president-elect Clinton's Cabinet--her tale is an energetic, passionate look at the inside of the women's movement. She shows her legal and strategic savvy in noting that it was she who developed the idea of using the anti-racketeering laws to stop antiabortion protestors from shutting down clinics; and for those who questioned NOW's singleminded focus on ERA in the early '80s, Ireland convincingly argues that the organizing that began in that fight led directly to the electoral successes of women in 1992. But she is less convincing, and less honest, when she attributes the hoopla over her intimate life (she is married and also has a relationship with a woman) to society's sexual repression of women; she refuses to consider that a man in public life with a similar arrangement would be equally skewered by the press. Further, while she alludes to internal arguments and divisions within NOW, she is, after all, still the organization's president and isn't about to wash its dirty laundry in public, making her story feel sometimes less than complete. Ireland is intensely smart, deeply passionate, deliciously outspoken, a woman who enjoys wielding power. Women ought to want to read this book. (Quality Paperback Book Club selection)

Pub Date: June 17th, 1996
ISBN: 0-525-93857-5
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Dutton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1996