The Princessa – Machiavelli For Women – by Harriet Rubin has prompted some of the bitchiest comments and repartee i have ever seen on Amazon.
It’s one of those books, like The Rules in its day, where some people swear it altered their life trajectory rapidly upwards and others denounce it with unusual venom. Some of the most successful women i know have been loving The Princessa – anything to gain a little edge in the Zap Zone.
So Jessa Crispin’s review of it is below – she is way more erudite than me and regularly contributes to the New York Times, as well as running the genius book blog Bookslut.
The reason i haven’t read it yet is that i thought the original Machiavelli – The Prince – was applicable to women. He apparently wrote it in jail, to suck up to Lorenzo Medici and it’s gleaned from Cesare Borgia’s, um, example. So the operating systems of two of the most luxe, complex and hardcore men in history, distilled into a series of axioms. These days you could just as easily call it The Sociopath but it is still a classic and fascinating treatise on power.
Basic take-home message from Machiavelli: no matter where you’re at in the court/your realm, establish Ruthless C**t Enterprises Inc but just don’t tell anyone that’s what it is. Render yourself immune to flattery so as not to be swayed by crap and do what thou wilt because you’re the damn Prince already. Proles don’t get it. ideals are perhaps an irrelevant luxury. Lie if you need to, obviously, but kill anyone who deceives you. Machiavelli was the original “means to an end” guy.
He was also totally ZAP – Lilith in Capricorn Rising at 12 degrees, squared by Uranus in Libra at 12 degrees, Pluto in Virgo opposite Mars in Pisces, Sun in Taurus, Moon in Aquarius. Neptune on the Midheaven – always the signature of a reputation that endures well beyond one’s actual time.
Forget about channeling alleged archangels – someone should channel Machiavelli to give us his thoughts on the current economy and geopolitics. I mean, it’s not like ruthless pricks and prickettes have gone anywhere since his era, right?
Okay so here is Jessa on The Princessa – Machiavelli For Women!
Girls, I have found your new guru.
A friend and I were kvetching at the bar about our business problems. My freelancing friend had an idea, but she was not sure how to present it to prospective employers. A woman she knows had suggested, “Just do it the way a guy would: write up a letter saying how great you are, how great your idea is, and send it to everyone in the business.”
“Yuck, don’t do that,” I counseled. I had been on the receiving end of too many guys’ “brilliant” ideas. Often times the ideas had nothing to do with my own business and so were totally inappropriate, and about 20% of the time they couldn’t even manage to spell my name right in the pitch letters. “We can’t spend all of our time bitching about clueless jerkface men and then go about trying to do things exactly the way they do them.”
And this is true, and something that comes up a lot in Harriet Rubin’s Princessa. this flawed idea that because we are women in a working world that was designed for and by men we should behave like men in order to succeed. Rubin states this explicitly: success so won is perhaps not worth having.
Think about the few women CEOs in public life. Have their companies (Yahoo and GM being the most obvious examples) been reformed to more woman-friendly and egalitarian places of business? With more reasonable work hours and generous benefit packages, including maternity and paternity leave and childcare? No. Strive like a man and once you get to the top you’ll find yourself so consumed with staying there that you will continue to play by his rules. It is all you will know how to do.
So what are the rules of the Princessa? In direct contrast with the seize power and hold onto it at all costs of Machiavelli’s Prince, Rubin suggests alliances, relationships, and psychological insight. But mostly, it is her desire and her need for excitement that will guide the Princessa through her work and love life.
I was skeptical. So often when we get business advice for women, we either get Lean In instruction manuals on how to be more like men in the workplace, or we get Erotic Capital, which advises women on how to manipulate and scheme.
Rubin lays down the law: no manipulation. No lying. Honesty and vulnerability and the ability to listen can be used as strategic weapons, and she shows you how. Because the end result here is not to work 120 hour weeks, heading up some capitalist monstrosity and earn the respect of your mostly male board by turning yourself into one of them. It’s a good life the Princessa wants: adventure and excitement over the high salary, stimulating work over big bonuses.
Women don’t want things that men want — it’s a wild generalization, and yet it rings true. Think, she writes, of the early days of aviation. Women were all over that field, doing daring and inspiring things. Amelia Earhart, Amy Johnson, Bessie Coleman, Beryl Markham, Matilde Moisant. Once it became an industry, with set flight plans and ideas to make flight profitable, women disappeared. Now air travel is a male dominated field.
Same with the early days of film. Women were the directors, writers, and producers of some of the most experimental and wild silent films, and now fewer than 10% of studio films are directed by women. And, amazingly enough, once men take over these fields and then start to write their histories, women’s contributions are conveniently forgotten.
Let men play with power, Rubin suggests. Find a life that is meaningful and passionate and inspiring instead. It’s not security and safety a woman needs. She writes:
“The peace that a princessa thrives under is a ‘wild peace.’ It is the feeling in your heart after great excitement: the feeling of satiety, or certainty, when all the world’s concerns drop away and beauty like a lazy white foam rises up to take their place. It is the effortlessness after the effort.”
So yeah, I’m into it. I underlined some things in this book, I’ll admit. And I know now what I would tell my friend: you spent years building up relationships, use them now. Be an archer, not some scattershot lunatic. And, I’d ask her, what is it that you want?.
Jessa Crispin is the editor of Bookslut and Spolia, and her book, The Dead Ladies Project, will be released by the University of Chicago in the Fall of 2015. If you’re interested in a tarot reading, specially designed for writers and other creatives, contact Jessa here.
Image: Yumiko Kaykawa