One Woman Seizes Control of Life
Marcia Chellis Triumphs Over a Disastrous Marriage and Rebounds With a Recovery Plan
Marcia Chellis' Ordinary Women, Extraordinary Lives would be more aptly titled Eight Women Who Lucked Out. The author's subtitle, "How to Overcome Adversity and Achieve Positive Change in Your Life," outlines the intent of the book, but fails to deliver a derivative story line.
The book's format is simplistic; Chellis gives a self-satisfying rendition of her own "extraordinary" journey from alcoholism and a bad marriage to sobriety and single working motherhood. Then quoting other psychologists and self-help writers, Chellis outlines the process she used in her recovery, a pseudo-scientific plan she dubs "self-empowerment."
Of course, self-empowerment involves five stages toward success, all guaranteed to salvage any woman's life. These include: accepting, networking, choosing, shifting and mentoring. Following her triumph, Chellis continues to encounter women who are on the rebound from similar ordeals. Amazingly, she determines that all these women have discovered these women have discovered these same five steps on their own, regardless of the nature of their individual problems.
Chellis supports her multi-step plan with pop-psychology notions of women as conditioned nurturers and effective relationship builders. And according to her, it is these nurturing relationships which are the foundation of any woman's successful completion of the plan.
To further illustrate the truth of her claims, Chellis chronicles the life struggles of eight women. Not surprisingly, each woman has a dramatic life story as a survivor of a debilitating accident, sexual and physical abuse or substance addiction.
Disappointingly, the book does not even fulfill the reader's appetite for lurid details since each woman's tale of woe is told in the third person by Chellis' squeaky clean narration. As a result, the portrayals are bland and devoid of detail. Each woman's personal voice is lost amidst Chellis' smug and patronizing commentary.
Despite Chellis' claims that each woman suffered setbacks on her route to selfempowerment, each portrayal is a finished success story. Any adversities, complications or relapses of the women are glossed over by Chellis' shallow analysis. It seems that all of these "Unfortunate" women were fortunate enough to have caring support networks, sufficient financial resources and an endless array of opportunities.
This brings the reader back to the question of empowerment, a very feminist notion. But this book's message and Chellis' voice are far from feminist. Instead of recognizing the societal and cultural barriers that women contend with, Chellis chides readers not to "blame the system." The absence of minority women from the lower echelons of society highlight the book's and the author's tenuous conclusions.
Once again, the popular press has failed to truly acknowledge the real adversities of race, class and gender facing women. Instead, we are told to find the faults in our own characters and strive to become extraordinary. It is true that the women of the book did face and over come extreme obstacles, but Chellis never examines the nature of the obstacles themselves and why our society has defined them as such.
Discrimination against the handicapped, limited economic opportunities for women and the stresses of family life are described not as larger, societal problems but as personal failings that women must overcome.
Chellis should be urging society to become a bit more extraordinary, because not all women will be so lucky. The fact that women have to become "extraordinary" is a revealing condemnation of the real recovery that needs to be made--that of the society they live in.