A feminist, an outspoken activist, a woman without a college education, Midge Costanza was one of the unlikeliest of White House insiders. Yet in 1977 she became the first female Assistant to the President for Public Liaison under Jimmy Carter, emerging as a prominent focal point of the American culture wars. Tasked with bringing the views of special interest groups to the president, Costanza championed progressive causes even as Americans grew increasingly divided on the very issues for which she fought.
In A Feminist in the White House, Doreen Mattingly draws on Costanza’s personal papers to shed light on the life of this fascinating and controversial woman. Mattingly chronicles Costanza’s dramatic rise and fall as a public figure, from her initial popularity to her ultimate clashes with Carter and his aides. While Costanza challenged Carter to support abortion rights, gay and lesbian rights, and feminist policies, Carter faced increased pressure to appease the interests of emerging Religious Right, which directly opposed Costanza’s ideals. Ultimately, marginalised both within the White House and by her fellow feminists, Costanza was pressured to resign in 1978.
Through the lens of Constanza’s story, readers catch a unique perspective of the rise of debates which have defined the feminist movement and sexual politics to this very day. Mattingly also reveals a wider, but heretofore neglected, narrative of the complex era of gender politics in the late 1970’s Washington – a history which continues to resonate in politics today. A Feminist in the White House is a must-read for anyone with an interest in sexual politics, female politicians, and presidential history.
Doreen Mattingly championed various topics in her work varying from equal rights for women and gay and lesbian rights, to abortion rights. She chose to portray not only a feminist, but also a friend and did successfully so. Mattingly showed sides of Constanza that led me to both admire her for her ethics and efforts while at the same time I was angered by a political system, embodied in this case by Carter’s administration, that puts what is right or wrong on a back burner behind political expediency.
I often found myself flooded with bits and pieces of information most of which is still up-to-date and was left at the back-burner for decades now. I have to admit I found myself smitten with this remarkable woman, who struggled to do her job and fought fearlessly the remarkable men of her remarkable time.
I wouldn’t be lying if I call this a powerful and influential read, especially if you are a strongly convinced feminist at heart. Late 1970s were painted by the shades of a complex shades of gender politics, sexual politics and of course the feminist movement. The events that occurred then still resonate today, therefore I find it a must to read this profound book about being a woman.