cover image Off with Her Head: Three Thousand Years of Demonizing Women in Power

Off with Her Head: Three Thousand Years of Demonizing Women in Power

Eleanor Herman. Morrow, $29.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-309567-0

Bestseller Herman (Sex with Presidents) delivers a brisk and witty examination of the “organized smear operations” aimed at powerful women from ancient Egyptian ruler Hatshepsut to U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris. Contending that female leaders have faced a “clear pattern of vilification across the millennia,” Herman identifies consistent critiques lobbed against “powerful individuals suffering from chronic no-penis syndrome,” including “overweening ambition,” “shrillness,” “unlikability,” and “sexual deviancy.” The book’s second half offers the strongest defense of Herman’s thesis, as she includes commentary by Hillary Clinton, Australian prime minister Julia Gillard, and other contemporary women leaders on the media’s obsession with their sartorial choices, facial expressions, and voices; the death threats they received; and the misogynistic attacks they faced from political opponents. Herman also lucidly analyzes the “misogynoir” endured by women of color including Vice President Harris and U.S. congresswoman Maxine Waters. Some eye-popping statistics are tossed in without adequate context, as when Herman claims that Henry VIII executed 70,000 people, and she overstates how much recent scholarship has rehabilitated the reputation of the 16th-century French queen Catherine de Medici. Still, Herman marshals a plethora of evidence in support of her cause and draws incisive connections between the past and the present. This feminist history enrages and entertains. (Sept.)