Jessa Crispin + Me On Machiavelli For Women

Yumiko Kayukawa

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!

The Princessa

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

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57 thoughts on “Jessa Crispin + Me On Machiavelli For Women

  1. I don’t get why Machiavelli is made such a big deal of. Its good to have that understanding of things in you back pocket maybe, but that isn’t how the world works. Things aren’t a Hobbsian nightmare with everyone waiting to betray you at the drop of the hat, you can have tribes and compatriots you trust with you life, there is loyalty and there is love. It is better to lead with those things and be prepared to avoid Machiavellian types or if you really really had to use such stuff to deal with them, because hey, live by the sword die by the sword. But I guarantee you that is the wrong lesson to take away from pluto. Its about giving up a part of yourself in an empowering way, not a compulsive race to the bottom seeing who can out cheat the other.

  2. Q&A tonight is REALLY interesting – all women, all smart and passionate and full of ideas!!!

  3. my father gave me a copy of this book when I was 15 and I was entranced. Read it four or five times. Must be due to revisit.

  4. Just to say I REALLY like the sound of this book, the idea of being motivated by excitement. Listen, I have no idea if that’s true strictly for women or men – I think that may be excessively stereotyping – but it certainly rings true for me as a feminine-identified person whose lifelong vocation – writing as communication and art, ie, poetry – gets very little respect, funding or recognition in public life. We do have to go where our hearts take us, because the cost of foregoing one’s passions is too great. And I really believe that despite having spent the majority of my adult life in borderline poverty, often living with others because I can’t afford to pay rent/ had nowhere else to go, delaying money expenditure for as long as I could. The real twist is finding a way to sustain your body & soul as well as your heart in the field you love. I can’t wait to find a copy of the Princessa and read it. Thanks MM & Jessa.

  5. Happy International Women’s Day people!
    I do think we’ve fallen into a bit of a trap in terms of playing the game according to boy’s club rules (destined to either lose or turn into the thing we want to depose). I can’t weigh in on this book as I haven’t read it, but the following is a piece of writing from my new favourite human being/writer and it applies to aspects of the debate above, particularly the section: how to be friends with another woman. Hope you enjoy!
    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/02/bad-feminist-roxane-gay-extract

  6. I just read “The Vagina” and Naomi had interesting things to say about the links between creativity, neural pathways, orgasms and the complexity of women’s pelvic nerve network compared to men’s and the effective of dopamine on the brain

  7. I haven’t read either book, nor will I. I’m skeptical of any theory or philosophy by someone claiming to be a ‘super’ woman/man.

  8. Well, considering I was thinking about buying a book last week called “Ho Tactics” (4.5 stars on Amazon!), I might check this out first! lol

    I like what she says about women wanting to do exciting things, not hold power for power’s sake like men do. I’ve never aspired to be an exec just so I can have some high rolling career…but I do want to run my own business and I want it to be successful and have impact.

  9. The bitcoin alt currency has been worst hit by the ZZ than our traditional economy if you plot it against ZZ hits. I don’t think there’s going to be a massive economic reset. I do suspect we’ll move more toward androgyny and communism, but more because of fashion than toppling of existing political structures. Like Kanye said “exclusivity is the new enemy” and he is working on designing our uniforms. The biggest change I’ve seen in the past few years has been in gender norms – their (largely) gone. Good riddance.

    • What ignorant nonsense!
      It is only a gas-bomb to deflect from the agenda, which is currently globally being pushed. There is a logical and inherently good reason why nature makes a natural x and y chromosome in all its species. So, the distinction NEEDS to exist. They brainwash you into thinking that gender should be androgynous, which is why you feel depressed, confused and chaotic most of the time. You are not getting ahead. You are just a rat in the wheel. Keep going after the smelly cheese… *joke*

      • Yeah, that’s really funny.

        I’ve been listening to predictions for years that have been totally off. So, I am using my own eyes and experience to see what’s going on. Guys making out with guys at the end of the night. Men using drag as protest. What’s wrong with equality?Increased body hair options. Soon, we’ll be orange. Its only part joke. But I shared an observation. No one talked about erasing genetics.

        How or where you jumped to brainwashing and what needs to exist? No clue. Super weird. Seems you can’t hold competing ideas in your head, which is a sure sign of ignorance. Find a leader you agree with and follow course.

        • buuuut, i dont know what its like your neck of the woods, it is also fact that water has higher levels of estrogen, as well as accumulation in our food chain, men being born with more of the hormone and less testosterone, i.e yang is weakening, your passive, more adrogynous, and underneath the veneer of pride in being ‘different’ (how are you different if the mass is spreading/your all the same?) its actually a loss of vital energy force. like everything where the system we have in place is involved, the sweet fight for gender equality and acceptance of difference has been infiltrated by the smart statistics watching powers that be that see an in-way for control. sheep. it sounds paranoid maybe, but then continue eating (your watching your neighbours eat) GMO shit.

          • “your passive, more adrogynous, and underneath the veneer of pride in being ‘different’ (how are you different if the mass is spreading/your all the same?) its actually a loss of vital energy force.”

            Who?

            ” it sounds paranoid maybe, but then continue eating (your watching your neighbours eat) GMO shit.”

            What?

            I’m starting to feel like no one read what I wrote. I don’t know if you are agreeing with me or accussing me of something.

          • Geminibird – you get it.
            Far from being paranoid – everything you list is concretely used as part of the agenda of systematically manipulating the human species (man/woman) on various levels.
            Which is why the first post was ill-informed: “The biggest change I’ve seen in the past few years has been in gender norms – their (largely) gone. Good riddance”.
            No. Nothing has ‘gone’ in any measurable percentage! – If anything, people are being deceived at a massive rate now, than ever before in human history – due to homogenisation made possible through technology and global communication (amongst other factors). As a result, chaos and confusion exists now at higher levels than ever before.

            • Do you know what “gender norms” means? I’m talking about how men and women socialize with each other. So, them changing, that would be, as you put it, the same as “homogenisation.” Or, put more plainly – no one know what to expect from each other.

              Still, I can’t be for gender equality and against it at the same time.

              • If you think about it logically gender equality is a myth – because gender needs the construct of society for it to have the moniker -‘equality’. The society that we have now globally is devised in a certain way to manipulate its participants on all levels – through their health, food, what they watch, wear, how they spend their money, how they are educated, which countries are deemed ‘good’ /’bad’, how to think about sexuality and so forth. List is endless. The ‘manipulation’ is not for the greater good of the individual. (Anything that is going to be beneficial, truthful or in harmony does not need manipulative tactics, right?) Everyone is affected one way or another because we participate in our societies – whether we go to work, purchase a coffee, shop for food, drink water, have an opinion on a celebrity, select an outfit, etc. The only thing that matters is: understanding that men and women – apart from having differing physiology in how their bodies are created – share both a ‘masculine’ and a ‘feminine’ spirit, within their singular self. This knowledge is powerful. All human beings are affected by their inner feminine + masculine. The duality within. It impacts one’s mental state, physical state, as well as etheric/spirit state. When the masculine/feminine (may also be referred to as ying/yang, father energy/mother energy etc.) is unbalanced or unwell in a human, their natural, innate, and powerful encompassing potential is diminished. The ‘gender wars’ is a carefully constructed schism to create more disparity and separation within the individual. Which, is why you observe that nobody knows what to expect from each other, (reason being – because they are disjointed within themselves).
                This thread is getting longer than intended. The criticism to your post was not intended to be personal, so please do not take it that way. It is just a discussion, which hopefully, readers take from it something to further develop their own truth and understanding of themselves.

  10. I remember reading Machiavelli in junior high school, he was considered a cautionary tale, not a role model. But that was back in the era when we worried our draft number would come up and we’d end up in Vietnam with an M-16. Both men and women had to join their power to end that war. Guerrilla theater performances of Lysistrata were common. I thought we had learned these lessons.

    But apparently not. A horror story was just published in Forbes, although they somehow believed this was an article about enlightenment in the workplace. The article was entitled “Female company president: “I’m sorry to all the mothers I worked with.” She was working her way up the corporate ladder, denying women jobs when they got pregnant, scheduling appointments deliberately at times when it would most inconvenience mothers picking up kids from daycare, and generally making it impossible for her workers to have any life other than her company. Oh but eventually now SHE had kids and the shoe is on the other foot. Now she quit and started a new company, she is a Superwoman, making sure that women can have it all. Her new startup company will totally disrupt the social order of oppressed women in the workplace (yeah right). Her job is to connect corporations with women temp workers who can work at home, telecommuting while barefoot and pregnant, and at minimum wage without benefits. And Ms CEO negotiates the salaries and does the payroll so she gets a cut of every dollar you make. Now you can make 67 cents per each dollar men make, but it’s all good since you’re getting paid the 67 cents by a woman. Oh better make that 65 cents, she gets a cut. And she has found a team of dedicated women executives who are just as dedicated to each other, and their mission of exploiting oops I mean supporting women in the workplace.

    So the reality is quite different than up in the Ivory Tower. Perhaps booksnobs might find it educational to get a job down with us mere untermenschen and see what working conditions are really like, when you have to actually show up for work every single day instead of jetting off to Berlin on a whim, to learn what it is like to scramble for our daily bread, rather than standing atop the gleaming parapets, pronouncing her prescription for our problems:. Let them eat cake!

    • Glad you told that story, Charles. It illustrates my point so beautifully.
      As does the female surgeon all over the Australian news today who has been telling females trainees to just suck up sexual advances in hospitals. There’s no point trying to fight the sexist culture, she says, since those who do find they can’t get a job.
      Machiavelli to a tee…and why Rubin’s advice is ignorant of the reality of counter-revolutionary pressures that dog those who DO make it.

      • Charles, you are so on the point. I think it sometimes comes down to privilege and the drive to keep hold of it – gender is kind of secondary.

        Re the Oz surgeon comments, as a senior staff specialist doctor working in Australia for a Very Long Time, these comments really surprised me. suck it up? I don’t think so. Shake it off is what those women need to do, every time. Yes, I have experienced discrimination because of my gender, but never punitive reprisals for politely declining a sexual invitation. And I was a student in the first intake at my university to have 50% women in first year medicine. (1974, if you care).

      • But I gotta ask: why the strong feelings against Jess Crispin, Charles? (Am thinking back to Cap stoics post where you made comments similar to the “booksnobs” comment here?).

        So she introduces busy blog-reading types to books they might not otherwise read. But clearly she is somewhat skeptical about Rubin’s prescriptions herself, if you read her comments above closely?

        And irrespective of what you think of her choice of books or her comments on said books, its not like she’s forcing anyone to read them (or in your terms, to be “a booksnob”) is it?

        For all you know, she and Rubin are, like quite many other people I know who read non-fiction from time to time, well acquainted with the realities of working within big corporate machines where the mantra is work smarter but the reality is a sword impelling ‘work harder and faster and take work home or be replaced” hanging above their heads.

        It is also more than feasible that they resented the bullshit of the late capitalist corporate productivity-rhetoric as much as you and I do ( or got retrenched!) and decided to try self-employment instead.

        If they’re making a living without exploiting anyone who works for THEM – and you don’t know that they do/don’t – then good on ’em, I say.

        • I wish we had capitalism. We have massively harmonized abuse hierarchies masquerading as capitalism. I wish we had discourse. We have puppet shows, left hand versus right hand while the invisible hands pick your pocket. I have a friend who writes for Spin mag, I know when he has a book coming out for distribution because he starts leaving political comments on his FB, even though he is completely apolitical in outlook and humor. Why? He has to serve his master.

          • So what IS capitalsm, PU?

            If you’re longing for the small-to-medium sized business productive capitalism lauded by Adam Smith in his early days, know that even HE foresaw that it was all going to hell in a handbasket once the joint-stock company (corporation) was invented. Besides, he thought that self-interest was only a good thing as long as their was some kind of strong human conscience tempering man’s propensity for greed/bullshit. In that way, he was as utopian/romantic as Marx was about class…

            Marx – hopelessly naive in his political ideas, but spot on re the evolution of capitalism as a form – did not forseee the internet. But he did see the last, long stage of capitalism as that where financial/speculative capital (the master) and spin (rather than productive investment) ruled, and that is how it is.

            This IS capitalism, my friend, and if the world’s finance ministers can’t even agree on basic rules that might protect us from another GFC, then that is how it is going to be in our lifetimes (think you are about my age, right?)

            Wish I could think up a system that might replace it without bloodshed. So do most of the other people I know who really give a shit about/have spent most of their lives pondering all this.

            • Capitalism is great as in what was mooted for by the mentioned above forebear. It goes South when greed is applied. Pure n Simple.

              • The world’s finance ministers don’t invent rules to protect “us”, they invent rules to protect themselves from “us”. Capitalism, as Smith saw, would discourage the need for finance. One self-finances through one’s productivity. It is less of an “ideal” than a simple classification. You can’t denote the “failure” of a single classification out of context i.e. if the classification is true, it is made no less true if nothing in real life falls under it. Be wary of “ideals” but curious of classifications … is good enough for me. C is for cookie.

        • Also, the phrase “women don’t want things men want” – is as true as it is volatile in its ambiguity (it starts the 8th paragraph juxtaposed as a climax statement). Charles likely latched onto that. I certainly did, as I latch upon a formula within a spreadsheet that potentially inflects results towards noise. Men and women crave food, and shelter, and assuming those, individual personalities flourish. Some will crave companionship, others wealth, others a sense of control, others want smallness and delicacy, others lively conversation, or art, or to perform acts of service, large and small. Still others are waiting to know what they want. I’m not about to make statements that ascribe one’s individual problems in the universe to only 50% of the species.

          • Beautifully libran moon attempt to balance debate via segway from talk of “booksnobs who inevitably live in Ivory Towers” to gender bias, PU! (PS. Read the actual book).

                • cap moon !!, haha, hate blowing cash on books made out of bad ideas…then again if the skimming drew me in, I’d lay down the $ no prob. 😉

              • Wasn’t saying that everyone should read it! It was just that PU was implying (without having read the book) that Rubin “ascribes the problems of one individual in the universe to only 50% of the species” – which she doesn’t…

                • If Jessa is attempting to sell via contextual controversy, well done, but if she is going to sell to a Virgo Moon, a screen shot of the first paragraph so that I may review the typesetting and font would do fine.

      • Both articles were appalling. Redemption? What because you had zero empathy and you’ve chanelled your new situation to work for you not by shunning mothers but using them?
        And don’t complain, give blow jobs? Wtf???
        I witnessed one of these kinds of women at my previous workplace systematically marginalise and push out her part time staff (all mothers and all filling in at hours where we needed extra staff) she belittled, berated and even made formal complaints against them. This was accepted as non discriminatory because she had kids. Never mind they were late teens and she worked the hours she wanted…
        Oh I rant.
        Empowered yes. At the expense of others ? Well, that’s what’s wrong with our world. Me me me.

    • You can’t venerate a martyr without creating one first. This is the motivation twist to human sacrifice, ritual cannabalism, and those that piss down your back to sell you an umbrella.

      Wonderful comments, and wonderful triple heads-up from Ms. Crispin and MM on what appears to be revolutionary – people loving themselves so much they do nothing but spread love.

  11. I did buy this book, when it first came out, aeons ago. Suspect Pluto had just entered the Scorp part of my 1st house, and I had a particularly sociopathic (female) boss to deal with who was also undergoing a Pluto transit – except she had a Scorpio Sun.

    I think it helped at the time. It was certainly one of those “women: value yourselves and your innate strengths’ calls to action, and on that score, I applaud Rubin.

    Nevertheless, I wasn’t totally convinced that her attempts to turn Machiavelli on his head made for a coherent and believable narrative in places. Much like the Communist Manifesto, it had the luxury of ignoring the realities of what happens to people when they get power, and want to keep it, against the inevitable counter-revolution.

    But having also read the original – The Prince – what I AM convinced of, is that the last thing we need is Machiavelli coming back to tell us his thoughts on the current economy/geopolitics. He is the ultimate Plutocrat in Cap type who has no interest in anything but personal gain. And there’s plenty to gain if you’ve got no ethics – today, as back then.

  12. Aries-Libra, S Node-N Node, Mars-Venus…

    With Jupiter Rising, Pluto in 7th house Libra, & Mars-Venus in 8th house Scorpio, I have the same wants as men plus a whole lot more wants.

    What I don’t want is to read either of these books.

    • The notion that women should let men play with power while women flit around seeking some variety of pretty fulfilment worries me (but if that fulfilment includes ca$h, maybe. Maybe this is just my issues). imo, it is *utterly essential* that women become familiar , comfortable with power in its various forms. study political science, the theories, the breakdown of different forms of power, it was so fascinating to see it laid out like this. because then we know the tools which are at our disposal Maybe to any scorp worth their salt this is as obvious as breathing but not for me.
      Knowing is one thing, wielding is another, isn’t it .

      • In saying political science, this is not because politics, but because that is where many of the interesting ideas live.

      • I don’t think obvious… In my case, it’s experience: I’ve studied law, I’ve worked in law, have had matters before the Court personally… As for gender biz, I minored in Women’s Studies, have been active as an activist… Spent many years working for nonprofits in human services– that’s a great lesson in politics & power! Ugh. But anyhow, I think as a Scorp I’m a fast learner when it comes to any kind of power structure; my 9th house North Node in Sagg describes an excellent student 🙂 So not obvious, but gleaned through doing. Knowing is just stuff in your head. Wielding power is a supreme responsibility. Right on.

      • Right? “Women, forget about being in powerful positions” sounds pretty patriarchal to me.
        I think the message of not trying to beCOME men is an obvious yet sometimes easily forgotten and hard thing to do, when men do have so much power in the world.
        I love when women counsel to not try and be the men that oppress us. I think this is a very charged subject to try & explain or write on, because people are bound to explode on either side. I’m giving this author the benefit of the doubt in that I think she is really meaning, “be powerful in different ways than men,” but I have not read this book and don’t feel extremely compelled to.

        Am I the only one who wonders why we have 10,000 different “how to be” manuals, when there is no ONE way for anyone to be? Being a woman doesn’t mean you are a replica of all other female wants/needs/desires. We are all different, and all of us are fucking beautiful in our differences.

        I wholeheartedly agree on more maternity leave etc etc from women who are in the positions to decide these things.

  13. I dont think some girls bothered waitng for this , enter Kathy Jackson, friend of the hospital cleaners, porters and dementia sufferers.

    Did someone say “piece of work “

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