Monday, March 05, 2012

Lipstick Jungle: Does it help women?

I just finished reading Lipstick Jungle by Candace Bushnell this weekend. I picked this book up on sale one day long ago because I was curious about the author of Sex and the City (SATC). I never watched SATC nor did I read that particular book, but I am aware of the basic premise. These types of books are not my usual fare and I'm not even sure what I mean by "these types of books" -- Chick Lit? Fem Lit? Hmmm ...

Anyway, Lipstick Jungle is the story of three 40-something women climbing the corporate ladder in New York City. One is a magazine executive, another a movie exec, and the third is a fashion designer. Interwoven throughout the corporate/professional climb is the age old significant other relationship storyline. In one sense, these women are not your average Jane Doe -- they have way more money and corporate/professional power than the average woman; but even as I was internally pooh pooh-ing these storylines and characters, a part of me could relate. I could relate to the gender disparities that still exist in the corporate/professional world and the way in which women are expected to be 100% available to do business and 100% available for family duties ... all at the same time.

Through her characters, Bushnell points out the way in which women who climb the corporate ladder are viewed differently and often held to a different standard by society, their colleagues and family than are men pursuing the same goals. I can still remember the first time I was called a b*tch by a male colleague because I stated that something under my purview would be done legally and according to corporate policy. I was in no way nasty about it, but apparently I was a b*tch for refusing to back down. This is only a small and rather minor personal example of the types of situations that Bushnell presents in Lipstick Jungle.

Bushnell also points out some things that are not intuitive behaviors for many women when they participate in business/professional ventures. Let's just call it the, "It's not personal, it's business" way of doing business. (Side note for those that don't know what that means. It is a quote from the movie The Godfather. Most men know about this type of interaction. Many women either do not or prefer not.)

I don't want to belabor the plot and I can only stretch the gender disparity as official treatise in this book so far, but I guess I would say that the book is interesting for bringing out this issue and does point out the need for a "thick skin" when doing business. But why not read a non-fiction book, essays or articles on these topics? For myself, I would prefer to go the non-fiction route and give these topics more direct thought rather than dredge them out of a fictional story that many women would consider "beach" reading. I fear that for many readers the book would simply be read as a women-rule-men-suck anthem. Of course, that is my own preference and opinion.

What are your thoughts? Do books like this help the cause of gender parity or do they hinder? Would most women read this book the way I did?

Note: I'm not sure what kind of comments this will generate (if any), but please be respectful if someone has a differing opinion.


  1. I haven't read this or any of Bushnell's work (though I'm a fan of the adapted SATC), so it's difficult for me to meaningfully comment.

    However, I'm intrigued by your investigation into how much literature of this sort benefits women. I, too, would prefer to read about women's rights in contemporary society in a more cerebral way.

    I wonder, though, if the beach-read format makes ideas of this sort more accessible to the average, non-literary woman. My sister, for instance, isn't much of a reader and doesn't actively seek out information of the kind in question (although she is subjected to my feminist ramblings against her will). Even watching SATC compelled her think more about women's issues such as abortion, stereotypes about female sexuality, the working woman and society's view of the single woman in a way she never had before. Indeed, I would go so far to say it's had a great influence on her.

    So while Bushnell's writing doesn't sound like my cup of tea -- I may never pick up one of her books -- I think it might compel the mass reader to consider women's issues. It's just packaged in high heels and lipstick. :)

  2. While on one hand a book like this could do a lot of good, it could just as easily be dismissed as not worth taking seriously. Still, I'm of the mind that getting the message out and creating awareness regardless of format is necessary.

    I work in a mostly female dominated occupation, but I still see gender disparity now and then. Especially in regards to expectations. Having recently become a mother, I am now seeing a whole other side to it that I was only vaguely aware of before.

  3. I did enjoy the SATC books but I always preferred the show, just because it's a better format for the very lighthearted material in my eyes.

    When it comes to books relating to feminism, I do agree that you can produce something more relevant and thought-provoking with non-fiction.

    Perhaps you could do the same with fiction, but I wouldn't think Candice Bushnell would be the woman to do it to be honest!