Tina Brown's Must Reads: The Modern Woman The Daily Beast and Newsweek editor explores the changing role of women with recommendations that cover a groundbreaking gender discrimination lawsuit against Newsweek, a stay-at-home wife's rise through the professional ranks and the meaning behind a mother's profile picture.
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Tina Brown's Must Reads: The Modern Woman

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Tina Brown's Must Reads: The Modern Woman

Tina Brown's Must Reads: The Modern Woman

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Tina Brown is with us once again. She is the editor of The Daily Beast and of Newsweek and a regular guest on this program for a feature we call Word Of Mouth. She tells us what she's been reading. We get reading recommendations for ourselves.

Hi, Tina.

TINA BROWN: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: And you have brought us three recommendations on the changing role of women. The first one being a book by Lynn Povich, called "The Good Girls Revolt."

BROWN: Yes, this is the most delicious and zesty account of how the women of Newsweek magazine in 1970 launched a class action suit against their bosses because, incredibly, women at the time at Newsweek were only allowed to be researchers and fact checkers, not either writers or editors.

INSKEEP: And it's incredible because there had been famous women journalists, not just women journalists, but really famous and distinguished women journalists; for a century, by 1970 - or more.

BROWN: It's really remarkable. And, of course, what is deliciously sort of comical, in a sense, about it is that here was Newsweek, which was on the vanguard of writing about civil rights, about liberal causes, and in fact their own culture was so kind of adamantly "Mad Men."

INSKEEP: So the uprising at Newsweek, what made it such a landmark instance?

BROWN: Well, it was a landmark instance because it was the first time that women in the media had sued. And the women got together, basically, and plotted quietly in the ladies room what they were going to do. And they timed it absolutely brilliantly to coincide with the publication of a big Newsweek cover about, you know, women's lib called "Women in Revolt."

And what they did was, what was very crucial was that they managed to sort of recruit the brilliant, you know, civil rights pugilist Eleanor Holmes Norton, the African-American lawyer who took it on as the first woman's media class action suit. And it was really her insistence that they should not make this a kind of interoffice kind of revolt, but a real suit that actually changed the culture.

INSKEEP: You know, four decades later you became the editor of Newsweek magazine. And I'm sure there are few, if any, employees left over from four decades ago. But I'm wondering if this case is still part of the magazine's lore and it's DNA.

BROWN: It's very much part of the magazine's lore. Actually, only Eleanor Clift, the great Washington correspondent, remains from those days. And she wrote very amusingly about it, actually, in the issue we dedicated to "Mad Men," the TV show, when she recalls being part of that "Mad Men" culture at the time.

But, yes, actually, it is very much part of the lore. And, in fact, Lynn Povich's book opens with two of the younger writers, one of who is still there, a woman who talks about feeling still that there was too much of a male culture at the magazine. And, indeed, you know, since I've taken over we have enormously increased the role of women executives.

INSKEEP: Now, we heard Lynn Povich, the author of "The Good Girls Revolt" on NPR the other day. We also heard on MORNING EDITION the other day from Hanna Rosin, the next author you want to talk about. She wrote in addition to a New York Times article a book that's been much talked about called "The End of Men." I want to get your thoughts on it.

BROWN: Yes, well, the extract in the New York Times - she talks about these couples - one couple in particular - in Alexander City, Alabama, which is so endemic in a sense of what is going on right now in America, which is the husband is a manager at a textile plant. He's been a good provider for his family. His wife has been raising the family. But, of course, you know, the plant eventually gets bought. Everyone's laid off. And suddenly, their whole dynamic in their marriage and their breadwinning changes.

But what we see how is how the wife really thrives, finally, in this new culture because she's required to finally, you know, to get a job and she gets a job as a family self-efficiency coordinator at the city housing authority. The husband, meanwhile, goes from job to job trying to get hired, each time it doesn't go well. She rises very fast and the question is why? And the reason really is because what we see more and more is that men are so much less adaptable, so much less flexible. They're in a way they're freighted with their own expectations.

These middle-aged men who are laid off are still always really haunted by the men they used to be, the roles they used to play, the sense of their own stature, whereas the women, of course, didn't have that stature, didn't have those rules, so they're kind of willing really to do anything. They're quite happy to come in at more entry-level, they get a bunch of skills, they do this and that, they take on these things, and finally they become very invaluable to their companies, and they rise and a rise and they're promoted while their husbands are sending out their resumes every night. It's a bit, a tragic situation, actually for, of course, the men.

INSKEEP: And I suppose we should say we're talking examples, we're talking statistics here. I'm sure there's men in nontraditional positions listening to us even as we talk.

BROWN: Of course, they are. And in fact, they are the ones who are thriving. But there are plenty of others who still feel impeded by their own kind of expectations of themselves.

INSKEEP: So now why do you add now this additional article from the Financial Times? The headline is "Disappearing Mothers." The author is Katie Roiphe.

BROWN: Well, she writes about how there's a kind of growing trend for women. Instead of posting their own faces on Facebook in their updates, is to post the pictures of their children. And she says, you know, the whole idea behind Facebook is to create a social persona; why would that image be of somebody else, however closely bound they are to your life, genetically and otherwise?

And she really talks about how women still sort of want to efface themselves and promote their children as opposed to themselves. And she thinks that's a very unhealthy commentary on women's sense of identity.

INSKEEP: Well, I wondered a couple of things about this thesis. First, I wondered if you really could tell that much by which particular photo a woman has chosen at this moment to be the top photo on her Facebook page. I mean people change those all the time anyway.

BROWN: Well, I think that, you know, it feels - once you sort of pass the threshold of being a kind of hot and happening youngster, you know, like my daughter who is 22, where they're always constantly updating pictures of themselves, always looking like wild social successes, you know, with their chinking glasses and their party central, a certain thing happens where women are feeling that they are much more defined by themselves as nurturers and they feel a little embarrassed to put their own photographs up. It looks a little vain. It looks a little conceited. But Katie also says that one's children are an important achievement, and arguably one's most important achievement, that doesn't mean that they are who you are.

And she goes on to make the commentary that she thinks that actually children should not be the complete center of everybody's world. They should be allowed to have their own space and identity, and so should parents.

INSKEEP: So the picture on your Facebook page, it's you, right? I guess...

BROWN: I think it would be me. I think it's a little, I don't know. Listen, I'm quite capable of posting the pictures of my son and daughter. I mean, they are the apple of my eye and I'm probably just as guilty as all these parents.

INSKEEP: Tina, thanks very much.

BROWN: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Always a pleasure to talk with you. "Word of Mouth" from Tina Brown, editor Daily Beast and Newsweek.



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