Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

In the early 1970’s, the growing women’s movement led to the establishment of numerous groups that set out to study the status of women in American society. Among the early organizations was the Center for the American Woman and Politics, established as part of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University in New Jersey. That group took as one of its earliest tasks an investigation of the status of women in American politics, and to spearhead their study they chose Georgetown University professor of political science Jeane Kirkpatrick.

Understanding the background to Kirkpatrick’s investigation of American women in various political offices is important, for the aims of the study in large part determined both the form and the methodology of her work. The center was established to determine why so few women had participated actively in American politics and to recommend ways in which women could increase their involvement. As the author of the study that would eventually be published as Political Woman, Kirkpat-rick was given access to the data collected from fifty influential women politicians who attended a conference in 1972; there, these women debated among themselves the qualities they thought necessary for success in politics, and they completed confidential interviews during which they gave additional personal testimony about their struggles to be successful in an environment traditionally dominated by men.


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Political Woman Context

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Despite its place of prominence among studies of women in American political life, Kirkpatrick’s Political Woman has not been acknowledged in the ways that one might expect for a pioneering study. Although it is cited politely on occasion by scholars who have conducted similar examinations, the book has not received the acclaim of other groundbreaking studies such as Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (1963).

Although there is no definitive evidence to indicate why such a seminal work has not been more frequently alluded to, several possible reasons may be posited. First, the study is highly scholarly and therefore is most attractive to political scientists and sociologists. Kirkpatrick’s organization of her material and her academic style make the book’s appeal to the general public understandably limited. More significant, however, is that the conclusions Kirkpatrick reaches and the path she advocates for women in politics are not attractive to more ardent feminists, whose subsequent work has dominated the literature about women in society. Kirkpatrick believes that women can survive in a world dominated by men through accommodation in little things; she suggests that women retain their traditional femininity, focus on issues about which they have significant interest, and do what they can to influence the political process. For her, gradualism is the most appropriate course of action. Although such a position may have been...

(The entire section is 474 words.)

Political Woman Bibliography

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Centre for Social Development and Humanitarian Affairs. Women in Politics and Decision-Making in the Twentieth Century: A United Nations Study. Boston: Martinus Nijhoff, 1992. This study commissioned by the United Nations explores the obstacles to women’s participation in political decision making. Chapters examine women’s roles in elected political bodies and their participation as appointed officials. A final chapter suggests ways in which women can be given greater roles in the political process.

Klatch, Rebecca. Women of the Right. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1987. This study analyzes the beliefs and activities of women who align themselves with conservative political causes in America. Klatch shows the wide range of opinion among members of this political group. She includes Kirkpatrick among her subjects and frequently cites Kirkpatrick’s writings, especially those on communism.

Phillips, Anne. Engendering Democracy. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1991. A feminist scholar uses the tools of feminist political theory to examine the democratic process. A chapter on women’s participation reveals that, despite formal provisions guaranteeing equal opportunities, women are underrepresented in both local and national political bodies.

Sunstein, Cass R., ed. Feminism and Political Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990. This collection of fifteen essays examines a variety of political issues from a feminist perspective. Writers investigate topics such as women’s rights and responsibilities within the political system, differing perspectives on politics held by men and women, and women’s reactions to moral dilemmas arising from political decisions.

Tinker, Irene, ed. Women in Washington: Advocates for Public Policy. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1983. The editor brings together a collection of eighteen essays outlining the accomplishments of women in national politics. Several essays update the findings of Kirkpatrick’s earlier study.