'Knowing Your Value': An MSNBC Host Tells Women They're Doing It Wrong

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Understanding the mixed messages in Mika Brzezinski's new advice book for women in the workplace

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Weinstein Books

You're doing it wrong. This is a message most women receive from about age 6 until, presumably, death. After decades of learning that being ourselves is tantamount to inviting failure, whether in love, friendship, parenting, career, or overall happiness, we can only assume that we'll recline on our deathbeds and be informed that, over the course of our last few minutes on this mortal coil, we've been far too "clingy" (Not the best way to get people to mourn your passing!), yet much too "bossy" and "overbearing" with the nursing staff (You catch more bees with honey!), and also so "controlling" (Stop trying to influence how your children remember you! For godsakes, let it go!) and "neurotic" (It's just death, everybody does it. You're overthinking this!) and too "emotional" (Can't you see that you're making your children uncomfortable?) but also too "cold" (Seriously, when was the last time you gave your husband a blow job?) and too "vain" (I can't believe you're trying to hide your bed pan at a time like this!) but also too "resigned" (That hospital gown isn't doing you any favors!). We will say goodbye to our friends and family knowing one thing, beyond a shadow of a doubt: They're just not that into us.

In her new book, Knowing Your Value: Women, Money, and Getting What You're Worth, Mika Brzezinski, cohost of MSNBC's Morning Joe, urges women to ask for the raises they deserve. Although the book is well written and packed with pragmatic advice, it might just as easily be titled, You're Doing It Wrong Again, Dummy. Naturally we already understand the basic thrust here, and it appeals directly to some part of our lizard brains, the part that's been conditioned to sizzle and spark at the sound of certain words, words like "self-sabotage!" and "wrong!" and "bad!" We've heard these same directives over and over again during the course of our lifetimes, after all, sometimes with the derogatory tone, sometimes with a nurturing, hand-holding, ya-ya sisterhood tone in its place. From Women Who Love Too Much to Lies Women Believe to Nice Girls Don't Get The Corner Office, books about how women mess up their lives have crowded our bookshelves for decades. Brzezinski's missive combines the two messages common to these books: 1.) Stop being yourself, at all costs. And 2.) You go, girl!

More specifically, Brzezinski asserts that women are self-sabotaging because they a.) don't ask for what they want and need at work because they b.) feel lucky just to have the job and c.) place a lot of emphasis on feeling appreciated and needed, plus they d.) assume that if they work very hard and make themselves invaluable, that someone up above will notice and then they'll be rewarded for it. In other words, women are polite, grateful, considerate, and hard-working and they believe that these are qualities that will make them successful in the modern workplace. Ha ha ha ha! What fools!

In response to her own work woes (she fought for a raise from NBC for years, and still reports that she's paid much less than cohost Joe Scarborough), Brzezinski solicits input from a long list of successful professionals in her book, from Newsweek/Daily Beast editor Tina Brown to money guru Suze Orman to businessman and birther Donald Trump. Most agree with Brzezinski that the workplace can be a tough place for women. So why does the conversation shift so quickly from What's Wrong With The Workplace to What's Wrong With Women? "We are our own worst enemy," Obama senior advisor Valerie Jarrett tells Brzezinski. "Somehow it's unseemly for women to promote themselves. We think that there's a meritocracy that's hierarchical, and the people at the top make the decisions about what promotions are based on." Hold on there. Shouldn't the workplace be a hierarchical meritocracy, ideally? Can we at least take a second to mourn the fact that it isn't, before we explore the folds of our ignorance yet again?

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Heather Havrilesky is the author of the memoir Disaster Preparedness, published by Riverhead Books in January 2011. She was TV critic at Salon.com for 7 years and co-created the cartoon Filler for Suck.com. More

Heather Havrilesky is the author of the memoir Disaster Preparedness, published by Riverhead Books in January 2011. She was TV critic at Salon.com for 7 years and co-created the cartoon Filler for Suck.com. She has contributed to NPR's "All Things Considered" and has written for numerous publications, including the New York Times, Bookforum, the Los Angeles Times, New York magazine, Washington Post's Book World and The Awl. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two daughters.
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