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Unformatted text preview: BOOK REVIEWS Gender Images in PA: The Debate Is Joined
Camilla Stivers. 2002. Gender Images in Public Administration:
Legitimacy and the Administrative State, second edition.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. 184 pp. The distinction in Western liberal thought between public and private has created gender biases (or dilemmas of gender) that are inherent in the “images of professional expertise,
management, leadership and public virtue that mark justiﬁcations of administrative power”
(3). This core theme ﬂows through Cam Stivers’s second edition of Gender Images in Public Administration. Why a second edition? As the author notes, ten years later the profession
of public administration looks little different from before; it still fails to recognize how concepts of gender underlie much of the administrative state and, in the process, exacerbates
overt and subtle discrimination on the basis of sex. The result is that “the structural nature
of public administration’s masculine bias means that equal opportunity strategies for advancing women’s careers in public service, important as they are as a matter of sheer justice,
cannot be counted on in and of themselves to change public administration affairs” (12).
Gender Images in Public Administration is not an easy read; one does not sit down
with a glass of chardonnay and spend a pleasant evening with it. Those seeking a concise
“womanifesto” to challenge public administration will be disappointed. The prose is heavy,
and more of Stivers’s sense of humor would be welcome (e.g., leadership is described as the
phlogiston of public administration). Stivers is a political theorist who incorporates the language and the logic of political theory. She writes as a feminist democrat. She challenges,
drawing on not only feminist theory but also both classical and postmodern political theory.
She likens her approach to that of Dwight Waldo rather than Herbert Simon.
A preliminary chapter provides a short, interesting history of women in government
employment, worth reading as a stand-alone. Despite a wealth of historical information, a
few key elements of the literature are missing. The American Federal Executive’s (Warner
et al. 1963) classic chapter on women in the higher civil service is not cited. Of the landmark
state-level studies by Guy (1992), Kelly (1991), and Duerst-Lahti and Kelly (1995), only a
single book is included. When questioning whether women’s perceptions of their situation
are accurate because they show no differences, the work of Dolan (2002; 2000) would offer
a useful counterpoint.
Another chapter presents the unorthodox idea that women and their activities fundamentally altered the public administration state. Stivers presents a convincing case that
modern government, with its emphasis on social services, the use of the positive state to
counter deep-seated problems, and the notion that government can be an instrument of reform, had its roots in women’s organizations. The distinct difference between government
today, even after the “New Public Management,” and government in the 19th century lends
credence to her arguments. The failure to give due credit, however, is another of the gendered images of public administration.
Not addressed in the book is whether gender distinctions, those rooted in private versus
public spheres, are truly exogenous. Those who believe that gender is a social construct, as
distinct from sex, believe that gender roles can be reshaped. Stivers, while never discussing
the nature versus nurture question, seems to hold that such distinctions are real and that
Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, Vol. 13, no. 2, pp. 231–237
© 2003 Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, Inc. 232 Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory reformers need to value the woman’s role rather than reconstruct it. A central issue in the argument, therefore, is the societal assignment of child rearing duties to women, thus handicapping career advancement or forcing women to chose either motherhood or bureaucracy.
Among the masculine images in bureaucracy that Stivers challenges is the notion of
objective expertise. Although I have serious questions about how objective most expertise is
(her challenge of the idea of a neutral state in liberal theory is on target), her concern is with
the nature of the evidence. She cites arguments about women preferring soft data to hard
data; scientiﬁc approaches—rational approaches—become masculine. The argument, I
thought, has too much of a “Barbie says, ‘Math is hard’” image to convince a skeptical reader.
These quibbles should not detract from the book’s message. Perhaps the clearest sign
of sexism in public administration is that we have not taken Stivers’s arguments seriously.
If I may deconstruct Stivers’s deconstruction of public administration, there are literally
dozens of interesting empirical dissertations that can be drawn from the arguments of this
book. Without painting Stivers in positivist tones, I offer the following:
1. Are all organizational structures masculine or just some? Theoretical arguments
on this dimension need to be developed and empirical tests presented.
2. Must women adopt the behaviors and traits of men to move up in the hierarchy?
Is this process similar in all organizations?
3. Historically, government’s attitude toward hiring women has been based on labor
policy. When labor costs are high or labor is scarce, women are recruited.
Gender in public administration, in this view, is similar to immigration policy
and likely subject to the same political forces.
4. Are women likely to be more ﬂexible when they manage organizations, both in
terms of structures and their willingness to accommodate the gender differences
that Stivers discusses?
5. Will organizations change as women move into top-level management? The
studies of Guy, Kelly, and Duerst-Lahti suggest this, but more research needs to
6. Is expertise truly a masculine trait? If so, does it limit the types of organizations
women can run?
7. Gender identity is a key concept in this theory. When and under what conditions
do women identify themselves as women versus any of the other countless roles
that they assume every day? Much of feminist theory examines this issue;
applying that theory to organizational life is worthwhile.
8. How does gender, as a social construction, vary across different types of organizations? Stivers’s own work on Bureau Men and Settlement Women (2000)
suggests some points of departure. The social construction of gender varies a
great deal over time and across countries and cultures; logically it should also
vary across organizations.
9. Do women network more than men in similar management positions? Is their
networking more or less effective than men’s in (a) advancing their careers and
(b) improving organizational performance? Stivers Gender Images in Public Administration 10. Are women less likely to identify with a guardian image for bureaucrats? In
contrast to Stivers’s contention, is the image of the guardian similar to the
image of motherhood?
11. “Personal ambition . . . ill suits ordinary notions of what animates the lives of
12. Why do the gender distinctions between volunteer and professional work
13. Is public administration more or less gendered than other political institutions?
What is the relationship between the degrees of gender bias across institutions?
14. Is our notion of bureaucratic responsiveness actually limited by the notion that
responsiveness to citizens is corrupt? If so, does this attitude vary by gender
among public servants? Does it vary among the general population?
15. What are the empirical characteristics of an organization built on the lines
advocated by Stivers? The world is populated by millions of organizations; some
are organizations that have never employed any males. Do such organizations
look different in any systematic way from similar organizations performing the
16. Do women in public organizations stress horizontal relationships more than
vertical ones (139)? Does this vary by policy area?
17. Do women create organizations that are less hierarchical, more participatory,
more open to change, and less rigid in terms of goals (146)?
I would raise two quarrels with Stivers. The ﬁrst regards style. Evidence and argument
often take the form of a series of quotes from the work of others. The book needs more Stivers
and less of Sarte, Ferguson, and others. None of the cited authors knows half of what Stivers
does about bureaucracy, and that is her unique contribution. The second regards the conclusion. What would a reformulated public administration look like? We only get partial images; Stivers declines to impose a single feminist view of public administration (or that of a
single feminist). That is unfortunate. To lead a revolution—and the degendering of public
administration would be nothing short of revolutionary—one needs to know what this democratic administrative state would look like. The clearest vision we get is of the public administrator who balances family with career. Rhetorically, Stivers asks, “Are people heroes
whose single-minded devotion to the public good makes them strangers to their children?”
(101). Later, she says, “The legitimate public administrator will be a whole person, one who
is understood to have developed in and to be a continuing member of a family” (135). At
times one wonders if one must have children to be a democratic citizen-bureaucrat (disclaimer: Meier has no children). Perhaps the goal should be to overcome the dictates of biology and not embrace them.
One needs to consider whether the lack of change in the last ten years in regard to the
gender dilemmas in public administration might be because we do not have a model for what
might be. Obvious items such as ﬂex time and day care centers are not the whole answer.
Ideas and visions are needed to set the debate in terms with which individuals can identify.
I would urge you to buy this book, but that would emphasize the masculine aspects of 233 234 Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory the private market; I could urge you, ala Abbie Hoffman, to steal this book, but again the
masculine image is obvious. Perhaps the best advice is to borrow this book and share it
with a friend. The bottom line, however, is everyone in public administration should read
this book. Translate it, challenge it, teach it, and use it as a guide to empirical research.
Kenneth J. Meier Texas A&M University
Dolan, Julie. 2000. The senior executive service: Gender, attitudes and representative bureaucracy.
Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 10, no. 3: 513–29.
———. 2002. Representative bureaucracy in the federal executive: Gender and spending priorities.
Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 12, no. 3: 353–76.
Duerst-Lahti, Georgia, and Rita Mae Kelly. 1995. Gender, power, leadership and governance. Ann
Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Guy, Mary E. 1992. Women and men of the states: Public administrators at the state level. Armonk, N.Y.:
M. E. Sharpe.
Kelly, Rita Mae. 1991. The gendered economy: Work, careers, and success. Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage.
Stivers, Camilla. 2000. Bureau men, settlement women: Constructing public administration in the
progressive era. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.
Warner, W. Lloyd, Paul P. Van Riper, Norman H. Martin, and Orvis F. Collins. 1963. The American
federal executive. New Haven: Yale University Press. The Debate Continues: Camilla Stivers Responds
Some people think feminists regard men as the enemy. But with enemies like Ken Meier,
who needs friends? Ken is right: in the decade since the ﬁrst edition of Gender Images, the
times, they haven’t been a-changing. No wonder this review sends a tremor of optimism
through a heart grown philosophical. At last, a chance for some dialogue!
To stay within tight space limits, no more is possible here than to suggest future conversations. From the book’s issues, Ken has derived a rich menu for empirical research.
Cued to the review, here is a similar menu for future political-philosophical debate:
Nature vs. nurture. The big question is not how much of each as it is what difference should the differences make? In my view, gender images are socially constructed and they are real (especially in their effects). The more we think that
women are from Venus and men from Mars, the easier it is to conclude that women
belong in the kitchen and men in the boardroom, or that women are emotional and
men are rational. Can we make gender a description rather than a prescription?
“Barbie says, ‘Math is hard. ” Science has been a male realm since Abelard ordered
Eloise to get herself to a nunnery. It is not that women prefer soft data, it is that
Western culture associates hard data with masculinity. Barbie has had a damned
hard time breaking in, Ken. Women of a certain age (i.e., mine) like to tell about
how guys refused to sit next to them in physics class, for fear of contamination by ...
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