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Review of "What's Holding You Back? "

By Linda S. Austin
Basic Books, 2000
Review by Margo McPhillips on Oct 17th 2001
What's Holding You Back? I found this book by California psychiatrist, professor, and radio talk-show host, Linda Austin, both thought provoking and confusing. There was the usual comparison of men's style of being with women's style and discussion of what works and what doesn't. Also, there were all the whys of how women are not "failed" men but that is where I would get confused; after being told I'm different but not wrong, bad or unequal, too often I felt as if it were implied women should turn around and do things more in the fashion men do.

"Yet for every Heather Paul who is able over time to synthesize her diverse interests and talents and become highly successful, there are many more women of great potential who never reap the harvest of their intelligence. Unlike the logical, step-by-step career development of Rusty Williams, career paths such as Heather's are extremely vulnerable to disruption and derailment. Many women fail to find opportunities that knit together the full diversity of their experiences. Others begin to not take their careers seriously or are not taken seriously by others in positions of power who might offer real support. Some women find themselves racking up a long list of small accomplishments, but fail to develop a body of significant achievements in a single area that would give them real credibility. Often such women remain diamonds in the rough, contributing their intelligence and energy to supporting the visions of others."

After reading the above paragraph I expected to learn how to synthesize my diverse interests and talents or avoid disruption and derailment and "knit together the full diversity of my experiences". Instead, I was asked to take my "incoherent light," which creates a "soft glow," and advised, "we would do well, however, to aim to become more like lasers." I don't want to cut and burn, I don't want to be like Rusty Williams, I want to be like Heather Paul. Help me change society and how I view and respond to it and it to me rather than trying to change who I am.

I found the sketches of successful men in this book rather boring because of their step-by-stepness but was extremely excited by the women's short biographies. However, these were about how they had overcome adversity, not about how they had changed themselves. The author points out the inequities still present between women and men both working and in the home, almost gleefully. Instead of working to change those inequities though, it appears she seeks to change women's thinking and feeling, to "toughen" them up, make them see the inequities and somehow, not get trapped in them. Her approach made me think of someone with rocks in their shoes who, instead of taking the rocks out, is advised to grow calluses. Sounds like another version of foot binding or high heels to me.

The book was thought provoking though because it had a clear target of "success". If you want to be a successful woman… think and do these sorts of things rather than these other. It seems to assume that if I were an intelligent woman I should want to be successful or if I were not successful, there was something wrong with my intelligence. Success was not very clearly defined either, but seemed to be related to making a name for oneself or counted a success by other successful people; rising to the top, changing the world, all of that.

The book made me wonder for whom it was written. It is my experience that men or women usually hit what they target but I got the impression this author was unhappy with other women's targets (or lack of a target) and was wishing to change the male/female success ratio in male terms rather than change the whole view of what is counted as success. If women need more support so as not to give up, if they need mentors and wiser people to see what stands in their way and help getting to where they wish to go, I wish supporters and mentors would be targeted and taught how to directly help rather than books standing on the sidelines waving their arms and crying, "No, no, not that way! Over here!". This might be a good book for women still in school to read, those who still have some self-forming to do and who are just starting out as adults and have a clearer shot and effecting a major difference in how their lives go.

© 2001 Margo McPhillips

Margo McPhillips