Picks and Pans Review: Woman on a Seesaw

updated 05/27/1985 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/27/1985 01:00AM

by Hilary Cosell

Cyndi Lauper has told us that Girls Just Want to Have Fun and Madonna-ism suggests that maybe it's time to trade in those leather briefcases, ladies, for some hot-pink number from Frederick's of Hollywood. Cosell (yes, she's Howard's daughter) is second-guessing the feminist "have-it-all" thinking in another way. A former dresser for success, Co-sell says she once did have it all or most of it: power, independence, money and a glamorous TV job producing sports segments for NBC. "So imagine my shock, my near-trauma, when I realized that I wanted something else," she writes. "When I realized that I loved my job and hated it. That it was my whole life. That it was no life at all." So she got married and life became rosier; she also began interviewing successful but conflict-ridden women. Co-sell argues that no matter what a woman tells her shrink, broker or health club guru, deep down she considers herself a true success only if she is married and has children: "I think that when you toss away the rhetoric and push the manifestos off the tabletop, there are very few women who do not define success primarily in terms of...their marital status and motherhood." Cosell's interviews focus so heavily on the negative side of building a career that one wonders why any woman in her right mind works. "Life is too short to spend all your days maneuvering toward a chief-executive-officer post," says one jaded interviewee. Most of the women say they have friends who devoted their 20s and 30s to their careers and find at 40 that they are only overworked and underloved. Yet on page 126 Co-sell states, "As I write these words I feel like running to the mirror to see if I have turned into Phyllis Schlafly." Cosell herself is obviously guilt-wracked by her feelings; one symptom is her repeated apologies for feeling the way she does. She is an energetic writer and raises provocative questions, but the book often comes off whiny and defensive. Why not face it: For years men have complained that success is not always what it's cracked up to be. Isn't it only true equality that women now find that out, too? (Putnam, $14.95)

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