December 07, 2017


Power UP: How Smart Women Win in the New Economy. By Magdalena Yeşil with Sara Grace. Seal Press. $27.

The Sh!t No One Tells You about Pregnancy. By Dawn Dais. Seal Press. $15.99.

     Whether in business or in home life, or in their inevitable combination; whether with seriousness and intensity bordering on fanaticism or with humor bordering on hysteria, these are guidebooks to make you think – whether you accept them at face value or use them as jumping-off points for your own take on aspects of everyday life. Magdalena Yeşil offers a very anecdote-heavy look at business success from the viewpoint both of a woman in a male-dominated field (technology) and from that of an immigrant (she grew up Christian in Muslim-dominated Turkey before coming to the United States). Yeşil combines her own story – stories, really – with ones from other women in business, and uses the material to assemble a series of well-thought-out, if sometimes rather glib, guidelines suggesting what women in general can do to succeed in a technology-dominated and still frequently sexist economy. The most refreshing thing about Power UP is that it acknowledges the necessity of making some compromises and adjustments to succeed at work – and comments that men as well as women face such issues all the time. For example, Yeşil discusses ways women should and should not dress, and this flies in the face of the current fad thinking that women should wear whatever the heck they please and if men have a problem with it, that is their problem. Wrong: men have to dress for business in ways they may not prefer, and there is nothing untoward in suggesting that people of both genders conform to some reasonable level of dress code. But isn’t that “blaming the victim” when women are subjected to harassment? Wrong again: there are plenty of jerks in business, as Yeşil points out, and women are going to encounter some of them – as she did. But not all men are jerks, even in male-dominated industries, and there is a point of diminishing returns in treating all men as incipient enemies and abusers. At this point, what successful, high-level man would want to risk mentoring an up-and-coming woman by having one-on-one meetings and discussions with her, which are the entire basis of mentoring? Only a very, very self-confident man or a very, very foolish one – but women need male advocates in male-dominated businesses, and stacking the deck against men by convincing them that they are one complaint away from being fired and blacklisted is not going to bring advancement. Essentially, Yeşil says that it is true that company cultures are often stacked against women and need to change – but that takes time, maybe a lot of time, and ambitious women (including Yeşil herself) should not have to wait around until the changes happen. Yeşil even goes so far as to suggest that women find themselves a “work husband” who will advocate for them and tout their successes and abilities. Women who say they shouldn’t need any such thing are not the target readers of Power UP. Women with a strong practical streak are the ones who need this book and will find it an exhilarating read. Yeşil is even forthright enough to suggest that women use their gender and their comparative rarity in male-dominated companies to draw attention to themselves – in a strictly professional way – and thus open up opportunities that may not be available to their male colleagues. Yeşil may be a little too clear-headed, a little too outspoken for the current chorus of “men are the enemy and making them feel uncomfortable and awful about their gender is the goal.” Certainly Yeşil does not think men – or women –should have to look constantly over their shoulders, literally or figuratively, on the assumption that their every word and action is being parsed for political correctness and adherence to the workplace fad-of-the-moment. Power UP strongly advocates that women analyze, understand and accept the way the workplace is structured today – and, even while working to try to change it, operate within its current strictures to move themselves into positions of genuine  power commensurate with their abilities. This is a book for hard-charging, self-aware women who want to get their due based on merit and are not interested in token promotions that turn women into window-dressing for companies that would rather pretend to be PC than make genuine structural and organizational changes.

     Yeşil is so earnest and intense that some readers may wish for a leavening of humor. There is little of that in Power UP, but there is plenty of it, much in over-the-top form, in Dawn Dais’ The Sh!t No One Tells You about Pregnancy. This is a hilarious and often profane look at the pregnancy experience – the title is about the most Bowdlerized thing in the whole book – and, like Yeşil’s very different book, offers a combination of personal experience and commentary by others who have been there and done that. Those others come from a variety of backgrounds, orientations, families and experiences – Dais herself is a lesbian who has gone through two pregnancies – and the comments by MOFLs (“Moms on the Front Lines”) vary accordingly. But pretty much everyone agrees that sugar-coating pregnancy, for all the wonders of the experience, is a baaaaaad idea. For that matter, sugar-coating how one gets pregnant in the first place is also outside the realm of Dais’ book: “Men are less fond of [ovulation tracking] because all the ‘making a baby’ sex they were promised mostly just consists of their partner running at them with an ovulation stick, demanding use of a penis.” There are 14 main characters (that is, moms) in this book, including Dais herself, and they are given to comments such as: “The changes in the body are amazing and disgusting all at once!” “My blood was poisoning my daughter in the womb and every week she could get worse.” “The worst? Where do I begin? I will have to say it was the last few months in general and being too miserable to enjoy the anticipation of the babies.” So there is seriousness and concern in The Sh!t No One Tells You about Pregnancy, even though much of Dais’ style is light and pointedly funny. Most of the book is on the level of Dais’ “50 Things to Do Before Getting Pregnant” list, which includes “eat whatever the hell you want because your body isn’t responsible for growing/feeding another body,” “take a poop alone,” “stay in bed all day if you are sick,” and “decide to leave the house, then do so 45 seconds later.” As pregnancy progresses, Dais shares “Dear Bean” letters to her fetus, which typically include comments along the lines of this one about the wands used in ultrasound: “Calling it a wand makes it sound magical, Harry Potter-ish. But imagine if Harry put a condom and lube on his wand and stuck it up your ladybits. At that point you might develop a different connotation for the instrument.” Dais takes readers through pregnancy week by week, with her “how big is your baby?” sections being particularly amusing. For instance, at week 11 she declares the baby “about the size of an Oreo cookie. My pregnancy app said my baby was the size of a fig in week 11. I don’t know what a fig is, other than when it’s teamed up with a Newton in the cookie aisle.” And in week 15, the baby is the size of a Twinkie: “You won’t find Twinkies on most pregnancy apps, but you will find them deep-fried at fairs throughout the land, because this is the best country in the world.” Oh – about those apps. Dais’ book is decidedly for modern, social-media-aware parents, and even though she makes fun of the excesses of online baby postings, she pays a lot of attention to the topic. Her chapter on pregnancy announcements, complete with a scoring table, is a good – and hilarious – example, even with the grammatical error (one of quite a few) of referring to a “handing [sic] scoring guide.” But perhaps the very best parts of the book are Dais’ “Pregnancy WOD” sections, the letters standing for “workout of the day.” No, these are not exercises – not traditional ones, anyway. They are genuinely baby-focused things to do to “get your parenthood muscles in shape.” Dais warns readers not to “lose focus on your ultimate goal: surviving your newborn baby.” Thus, for example, in Month 5 she tells readers to “throw a pen, a carrot, a hand towel, a bottle nipple, and [a] bag of M&M’s on the floor. Pick each item up with your toes.” Also in the same month, “Locate a cat. Strap that cat into a car seat in the back of your car. Go for an hour-long drive on the freeway.” All this is long after the Month 1 WOD, which includes “pee while holding a bag of flour,” and before Month 6, which includes “have an hour-long conversation with a potato (pick a cute one)” and “throw 375 various items on the floor of your living room. Turn off the light. Grab your flour. Cross the living room without dropping the flour or spraining your ankle.” Dais clearly has a, um, nontraditional take on pregnancy and parenting – one that probably will not discourage readers from becoming pregnant (which is, after all, a biological imperative) but may not exactly encourage them, either. The only readers who will be disappointed in The Sh!t No One Tells You about Pregnancy will be those who laugh out loud at it repeatedly, convinced that things cannot possibly be as ridiculous as Dais indicates – and who later find out that, oh yes, they most certainly are.

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