Genre: Historical, Nonfiction
Book Jacket Synopsis: “From Hollywood to Silicon Valley to the halls of Congress, an intense conversation about women’s leadership, equal pay, and family-work balance is underway. On the cusp of a historic breakthrough – the potential election of the nation’s first woman president – Nancy L. Cohen takes us inside the world of America’s women political leaders. Drawing on hundreds of hours of interviews with women governors and senators from both political parties, academic experts and political operatives, and a diverse array of voters, Breakthrough paints an intimate portrait of the savvy women who have built an alternative to the old boy’s club and are rewriting the playbook for how women can rise and thrive in power. Cohen introduces us to the inspiring women behind the women who have brought us to this threshold, as well as to a dynamic group of young leaders who are redefining how we think and talk about women’s leadership, feminism, and men’s essential role int he quest for gender equality. In this accessible and often surprising story, Cohen takes on our cultural assumptions about women candidates to show that the old barriers that once blocked a woman’s ascent to the presidency have fallen, even more than we realize. Mining the less known corners of our history, Cohen reveals how the mistakes made by women in the fight to win voting rights stalled progress toward women’s equal participation in political power for decades. Surveying the most up-to-date research, Cohen shows that its conclusions are unequivocal: Electing women into political leadership will be a breakthrough for all of us, women, men, and families alike.”
Review: I was really looking forward to reading Breakthrough, especially because I found this book the week before I flew to D.C. for the Women’s March on Washington. In some ways, Breakthrough exceeded my expectations. The chapters that gave a history of American women in politics were particularly fascinating and provided me with a much clearer picture of gender-based challenges faced in both the Democratic and Republican parties. As a whole, Breakthrough provided irrefutable evidence that the American political system was not set up with women in mind, and that women have spent decades trying to overcome well-established, gender-based hurdles in the political process.
“A woman in politics is like a monkey in a toy shop. She can do no good, and may do harm.”
-U.S. Senator, New Hampshire, 1814
I also really enjoyed the chapter devoted to Hillary Clinton, which focused on groundbreaking political (and arguably humanitarian) work she has done throughout her life. Her pivotal role in working to break the highest, hardest glass ceiling was also highlighted through Breakthrough.
“If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.”
-Hillary Rodham Clinton, Beijing, 1995
Where Nancy Cohen started to lose me, however, was in her arguments that double standards and gender biases no longer stand between American women and the presidency.
“For all intents and purposes, the double standard is dead. Gender bias is no longer the reason America hasn’t yet elevated a woman to the Oval Office.”
At first, I wanted to believe Nancy Cohen, and I even attempted to argue some of the points she made with friends. But what I found during these arguments, and throughout reading Breakthrough, was that Cohen’s statements are simply too optimistic given the actual events witnessed in this past presidential election. She backs up her sweeping claims with plenty of political poll results and statistics, but there appears to be a discord between the conclusions she draws and the actuality of America today. I wonder if, like many American citizens, Cohen was so certain that Hillary Clinton would win the election that it clouded her writing of Breakthrough. Overall, I appreciated Breakthrough for the brush-up on American history, but ultimately think Cohen was reaching too far.