By Gail Picco (October 22, 2020)
She Proclaims: Our Declaration of Independence from a Man's World, Jennifer Palmieri, Grand Central Publishing, July 21, 2020, 208 pp., $24.71
She Proclaims: Our Declaration of Independence from a Man's World by Jennifer Palmieri lays out a modern day woman-focused declaration of independence, laid out in 13 sections. Each chapter proclaims a truth. While doing so, she describes the framework of the patriarchy, how it works and how she bought into it for a large part of her career.
Jennifer Palmieri has had a long career as a political professional. The blurbs for her book—from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, former president of Planned Parenthood U.S. Cecile Richard and senior Obama advisor, Valerie Jarrett—illustration her connection to serious influencers in American political and activism. She worked as communications director for presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and ran communications for the Hilary Clinton presidential campaign.
“all the things I intuited about women growing up. I also absorbed all the lessons that told me men were more interesting and held the power, but I knew the reality was more complicated than that. Power is a possession men hold, but powerful is what women are.”
Yet she says, she could see that, “despite all the strength, wisdom, and power women had, they were not valued as much as men.”
During her work life, she says she avoided advocating aggressively for her female colleagues because she didn’t want to fall into the stereotype of women seeming like they required special attention. “I was therefore very careful about picking my battles,” she writes.
Although the book is compelling throughout, Palmieri’s behind-the-scene sequences were absorbing. She has been working in politics a long time.
Monica Lewinsky was Palmieri’s intern, who she described as smart, hardworking, diligent with a good attitude. She says the “people who pursued President Clinton through the Ken Starr investigations and impeachment did not care about the welfare of Monica Lewinsky—quite the opposite.”
“I watched Monica’s life blow up in spectacular fashion … watching footage of Monica’s mother leaving an interview with the FBI, crumpled over in distress. She looked physically broken…The zeal with which prosecutors and FBI sought to intimidate her unnerved me. In every photo, Monica looked hunted.”
Men use “shame and intimidation” against women as weapons in their battles against each other. “It is in our power to decide if we will allow men to use these weapons against us, and we proclaim that we will not.”
In Chapter 12, Palmieri’s proclamation is that “We proclaim that we value women of all ages” and recounts advice she received from a friend while she was in her forties. “This town is hard for women over fifty … You need to start building something of your own while you are in your forties.”
The idea will resonate with women over fifty.
Palmieri's book is a re-iteration of how the patriarchy continues to keep women from powerful positions. Her experience in the Clinton campaign gives a number of examples of how this plays out. It is a line many of us have heard before. She may have called the book She Nevertheless Proclaims, She Persists in Proclaiming or She Nevertheless Persists in Complaining. The battle has been going on for a long time and some of what Palimeri says we’ve heard before.
Yet, the call bears repeating.
While Jennifer Palmieri focuses on American politics, a simple glance at our own house here in Canada reveals a shocking imbalance. All ten provinces are run by white men. Of Canada’s three the territories, one has a female premier. One in five mayors in Canada is a woman.
Palmieri’s business is politics and that’s the world she describes. At 208 pages, it’s almost a pocket size book and a breezy read, written by a political insider. Given the pandemic, the clarion call from Black Lives Matter, and the apparent disintegration of our powerhouse neighbour to the south—and the very environment in which Palmieri is working—it is advisable for us to keep on top of what she lays out in She Proclaims. Gaining political power must go well past the performative and drive all the way to becoming change-making. The road is long.
(Gail Picco is editor in chief of The Charity Report an publisher of Gail K. Picco books, an imprint of Civil Sector Press.)
Other reviews by Gail Picco
The reputation of philanthropy: A history of the facts September 18, 2020
Rachel Maddow: On the biggest stories of the day May 8, 2020
Feeling that you belong (or not) March 6, 2020
One of the best books ever written in the English language February 22, 2020
How far up the river do you really want to go? January 28, 2020
On the Block for 2020: The Truth January 14, 2020