231 - BOOK REVIEWS Gender Images in PA: The Debate Is...

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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 be done. 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 women” (91). 12. Why do the gender distinctions between volunteer and professional work persist (122)? 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 same function? 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 REFERENCES 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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