San Diego author Dr. Doreen Mattingly’s biography of Midge Constanza
By Nassim Moallem
Reading and Book Signing by Dr. Doreen Mattingly
Tuesday August 16, 2016, 7:30 pm
Warwicks Books, La Jolla, 92037
Midge Costanza wanted her life story to inspire women to become engaged with the political process—but struggled with how to do so when her own political career was full of frustrating barriers and disappointments. San Diego State University Women’s Studies professor Doreen Mattingly outlines this dilemma in her introduction before presenting us with ten chapters that do just what Midge wanted.
A Feminist in the White House is a biography that shows us a woman who tried her best to make change she believed in. She was a woman who succeeded by winning a seat on City Council, hosting the first group of openly gay and lesbian leaders at the White House, having diverse and progressive women commission International Women’s Year, becoming the first female assistant to the president.
She was also a woman who failed– not becoming mayor of Rochester, not getting President Carter’s outspoken support for abortion and the ERA, not being respected by her White House colleagues, not staying in her White House position for more than 20 months. Her failures don’t make her life any less compelling or admirable; if anything they make her accomplishments feel that much more important.
This book discusses Midge’s journey from an office in Rochester, New York to City Council, the Democratic National Convention, campaign trails, the White House, and all the way to San Diego. Midge’s fight against sexism that was severely impeded by the immense sexism she constantly faced.
Throughout the book I felt like I was living alongside Midge. I watched her learn about how feminism applied to herself, juggle her advocacy for LGBTQ rights with her own ambiguous sexuality. I watched her try and get the Equal Rights Amendment be a priority for the Carter Administration. I watched her spend long nights in her office replying to mounds of constituent letters because she really believed every person mattered. I watched her yearn to believe in her dear friend President Carter, and feel the worst betrayal from him. The mounting frustrations she faced build so well in the book that her final resignation from the White House had me in tears alongside her.
Midge is certainly a hero in my eyes after reading this book, but she is an atypical hero. She doesn’t save the day—she fights to get through each one.
She charmed people with a quick joke and struggled to have a personal life alongside her political one. She was a woman whose high school yearbook predicted she would the first female president of the United States. Midge was brilliant and flawed. She was human. There is something truly refreshing in reading about someone who was not perfect and still tried to change the world she was a part of.
“I knew I was going to live my life instead of just exist through it. I’m sure there are a lot of people along the way who haven’t agreed with how I’ve done it. So be it. I have to know who I am,” Midge said in an interview. A Feminist in the White House is a testament to her having done just that.
Nassim Moallem is currently an SDSU undergraduate student in Women’s Studies and Political Science with aspirations to run for office herself one day. She is a student activist who has worked on an end to campus sexual violence as well as divestment in support of Palestine. You can follow her on Twitter @nasmoallem