Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud (CBR9 #45)

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We are entering the period of time where the cultural upheaval that Hillary Clinton losing the White House will have on our literary intake. Out early is Anne Helen Petersen formerly of The Hairpin and currently of Buzzfeed, who is known for her incisive long reads on culture, celebrity, and feminism. This book literally grows out of her election night response article “This is How Much America Hates Women” where she began grappling with what last year’s election reaffirmed about American society.

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud is the spiritual successor to Trainwreck by Sady Doyle which I reviewed earlier this year.  Doyle’s writing works to make you angry at how we treat women, and how we always have. But the tone of the book isn’t “look at all these terrible things that others have done to women” it is instead, “look at how our societies have been built to bring down women”. It is this distinction, which changes that book from what could have been an angry rant into a well-paced, well-spoken examining of culture. Petersen’s does nearly the same thing, even highlighting the historical relevancy of the type of women she is setting out to discuss and how actions like there’s can be found any time in history that women are pushing against what constitutes “feminine behavior”.   Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud focuses itself on current examples through the frame of unruliness. Unruly women are the type who question, interrogate, and challenge the staus quo.

Petersen highlights ten women from various arenas of public life, and investigates their own personal unruliness. Ranging from Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer (Too Gross), to Madonna (Too Old), and Kim Kardashian (Too Pregnant) Petersen’s trademark incisive cultural commentary is on display from page one. My only true drawback, which is why I have rated this four stars, is that in some ways we don’t have the necessary distance to truly examine some of the phenomena that Petersen is discussing, and at times this book feels rushed – as though the editing process was sacrificed to get it on the shelves so quickly.

Here’s some of my favorite quotes from the book:

Serena Williamson: Too Strong

“Whatever the intent, it was the opposite of what mot of America – and the sporting world in particular – had come to expect as the norm for dealing with issues of race and racism, which is to say, not to deal with it at all.” (6)

Melissa McCarthy: Too Fat

“it’s no coincidence that several of her roles were originally written for men, or mapped onto traditionally “male” genres, lie he buddy cop film, the spy movie, or the ghost-busting narrative – McCarthy’s characters have the confidence and shamelessness of a pompous white male.” (39)

Nicki Minaj: Too Slutty

“… it was also about a celebrity seeing the publicity game for what it is – calling out Grigoriadis’s questions not because they were aggressive, but because the assumptions behind them were reductive, sexist, and purposely incendiary.” (93)

Hillary Clinton: Too Shrill

“Postfeminism was in full and powerful effect: Why think about the overarching significance of sexist attacks on the First Lady, if you’ve been told te goals of feminism have already been achieved? Clinton’s image, like so many signifiers of second-wave feminism, felt like a real drag.” (143)

Jennifer Weiner: Too Loud

“As Weiner’s experience makes clear, part of the difficult, essential work of unruliness is shaking the status quo so thoroughly, so persistently, so loudly, that everyone – even the very women behind the agitation, many of whom have internalized the understandings they fight so tirelessly against – can see their value within it.” (209)

This book is read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it however we want (with a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society.

Unmentionable (CBR9 #37)

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One of the questions I receive most often at my job as a educator at historic sites is “wouldn’t you love to live back then?” For reference, that encompasses a period of time roughly 1820-1920 and the answer is a resounding no. I am all about indoor plumbing, air conditioners, and not being considered property. This book, Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners by Therese Oneill lays out all the ways life was downright terrible for women life was during that same approximate period.

For most people this would not be considered a beach read. For me it absolutely is. Lumenatrix coined the style of this type of book as “accessible non-fiction”, which I completely agree with and am now stealing. I’ve always thought of it as “non-fiction with a sense of humor” like Mary Roach’s books. Therese Oneill is wonderfully sarcastic and direct in her prose, and the structure of the book is well thought out and easily followed. Oneill moves naturally from one aspect of daily life to the next laying out all the differences for life of women in the firmly upper middle class then to life today.

For me, the best part of this book is the way in which Oneill weaves in primary resources, both visual and print into her narrative. While I already knew much of what Oneill discussed, having access to her resources was a bonus to me. So much so, that I immediately passed it along to Ale since she is researching Victorian ladies and their unmentionables for an upcoming project.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Wonder Woman and Break from the Usual

Mostly this blog space is dominated by my work for Cannonball Read. Over the years more and more of my free time and energy has been placed in that wonderful community and our goals.

Over there, many are comics aficionados. It was never something that worked for me as a reader. I did not grow up going to the comic book shop, I never read the stories of the legions of heroes.

I also spent my cartoon years in a Disney rabbit hole. Gummie Bears. The Rescuers. Darkwing Duck. What can I say, I’m a child of the early 80s. Batman: the Animated Series was just not on my radar even though by rights it should have been.

But as an adult I have found and crafted an interest in the mechanics of pop culture. I am endlessly fascinated with actor’s processes, the production web, black listed scripts, Hollywood history, media representation, and the comings and goings of each year’s movie offerings by major studios. I have probably consumed 6 hours of podcasts and many articles on Alien: Covenant and I have never watched a single Alien movie. But the process, the lore, and the production decisions interest me. I’m the gal having an in depth discussion about sequels v universe stories with friends and colleagues, regardless of whether I’ve watched the product in question. The theory is enough.

It also means that over the past decade (thanks Marvel Cinematic Universe) that I have educated myself in the worlds of comic characters. I am by no means a scholar on the subject, but I am conversant. My experience as an MCU fan though, has taught me that sometimes the theory isn’t always enough.

Marvel has its fair share of powerful female characters. Sometimes we even get to see them on screen. But in its 25 years of existence Marvel Studios (formerly Marvel Films) has never produced a female led property. Reasons are given, excuses are made, media forecasters have their opinions and we are left without even this much in representation.

I admit to being late to fully understanding the disparity in representation and its cornerstone in modern feminist movements. As a young person I had Leia. She already was. Many of the books I read as a young person (after being a late reader to begin with) were female focused and driven. My movie and television intake was relatively limited, but in all honesty the “token girl” in movies and television shows didn’t feel weird to me because I was so often the only girl hanging out with the boys in my neighborhood.

Then we moved and I went through puberty and I started to see the world through slightly different eyes. But in my immediate life I was more concerned with racial issues with my best friend being of a different race than me, and dealing with constant blow back in some cultural arenas (that friend and I – over the course of 26 years – have rarely NOT been separated in a crowd. People assume we aren’t together).

But now my focus has been brought to seeing women as we are, and as heroes. Jessica Chastain in the closing ceremonies at Cannes just railed against the way women are portrayed, still, in media. 

So I will be going to see Wonder Woman. Even though I have never seen the 1970s series or read a single word over her many stories.

It might feel small, like a pebble tossed into the ocean, and in some ways it is. But, it is also me using my limited consumer dollars to support something I believe in. The MCU has done its fans a disservice, and for that I will take my money to the competitor for the first time since the current model DC Cinematic Universe has been underway. I was going either way, but I am ecstatic that the reviews are so glowing. It will make those dollars even more sweetly used.

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The Geek Feminist Revolution (CBR9 #20)

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Kameron Hurley’s collection of essays is incredibly prescient to the world around us, as women continue to suffer an unheralded epidemic of violence. In The Geek Feminist Revolution Hurley isn’t just focused on that, but she brings around the idea that the type, quality, and diversity of pop culture we consume and produce is directly affected by the cultural norms which lead to the erasure of women in public spaces, and the violence experienced by this group and others who are erased.

I wish I hadn’t returned this book to the library already. This book clocks in at less than 300 pages, but it is broken up into four sections, and each of those sections contains probably a dozen essays. Hurley writes sci-fi/fantasy novels, is a copywriter for a Marketing firm as her day job, and is a consistent blogger who writes 1500 – 3000 words a day. What that translates to for this work is that there are far more essays than I can recall to tell you about (that, and a fair amount of awe.)

Instead, I’ll talk about the themes these four sections bring together. The first section, Level Up includes essays about improving the craft of writing and the importance of persistence. It was very good, but not necessarily, what I had signed up for with this book and took a bit of time to get through. The Geek section discuss various media and conversations around them. The essay Wives, Warlords, and Refugees: The People Economy of Mad Max particularly spoke to me (so much so that I took a photo of the opening page) and the next chapter about True Detective season one and the monsters as men narrative it tells had me nodding my head in agreement, even though I never watched that show. These chapters break open important discussions about what behaviors are normalized in society.

Let’s Get Personal is exactly what it says, stories about Hurley’s life to this point and the personal struggles and victories that got her to now. Probably my least favorite section because by this point it felt very repetitive.  The last section, Revolution deals with fandom’s recent dust-ups and a call for revolution, for change, in how fans and creators alike deal with reckoning with their privilege.  This last section includes Hurley’s Hugo Award winning piece for Best Related Work in 2014, We Have Always Fought which discusses the ways in which tropes do the erasing of lived experience.

As I mentioned, these four sections are linked by Hurley’s main thesis: that all we have to better ourselves in this world is persistence, hard work, self-awareness and perspective. She is not wrong, and while this book is far from perfect, it is a good and healthy addition to your reading diet.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Men Explain Things to Me (CBR9 #17)

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I do not really do New Year’s resolutions, but my informal one this year was to read more about topics I should be more informed about, and specifically more feminist reads. As with most of the good things I read these days, Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit was already on my radar. I was familiar with the eponymous essay’s conceit: that Solnit was treated to an older gentleman explaining her book to her without realizing that she had written it, or that it had in fact been written by a woman. But, I hadn’t taken the time to find the essay or this collection. It was time to remedy this.

The best compliment I can give Ms. Solnit is that she has a definitive voice to her writing. I watched an interview that she gave (about climate change and other things), and in it her voice sounded exactly as I had expected it to, based on reading her writing.

This book (a quick 150+ pages) is a collection of essays, nine in total in this updated version, and the first was great. But perhaps the ones that hit closest to my heart were the ones where Solnit talks about the staggering statistics of violence perpetrated against women by men. We aren’t discussing an epidemic. A public health crisis which seemingly never ends in the United States, due in no small part to the fact that we won’t name the beast. The silencing of women is at the core of this book, the concept linking the essays. We are silenced in personal, professional, political, and cultural spaces, and this book gives some discernment into this shared experience. Of course I suggest this book to everyone, but it should absolutely be read by all the men, even the good guys. We need them calling out the “nice guys” and general asshats.

Read it.

And his name is Voldemort, you might as well use it. He’s going to try and kill you either way”. – Minerva McGonagall, Deathly Hallows part 2

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Trainwreck (CBR9 #10)

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I’m rating this one 5 stars not because it’s perfect (although I feel it is pretty close) but instead because it is perfect for right now. In Trainwreck, Sady Doyle unpacks the ways that society judges women who dare to live too big a life and how historically “too big a life” has been pretty darn small.

I was already in an angry feminist headspace last November when I read badkittyuno’s review and her description of the book as a journey through the cycle of trainwrecks in modern pop culture and the stories of the historic trainwrecks who came before sounded right up my alley. When I finished All the Single Ladies and We Should All Be Feminists at the end of last year I decided to add more feminist reading to my list, and Trainwreck moved to the head of the line.

Badkittyuno was exactly right; Doyle’s style of writing will make you angry at how we treat women, and how we always have. But, the tone of the book isn’t “look at all these terrible things that others have done to women” its “look at how our societies have been built to bring down women”. It is a distinction, which is important, and changes this book from what could have been an angry rant into a well-paced, well-spoken examining of culture. The women she chooses to highlight, from Mary Wollstonecraft to Billie Holiday to Britney Spears (the ultimate modern trainwreck), are perfectly encapsulated and Doyle makes sure to highlight that almost all of these women have written for themselves. Doyle takes the time to point this out in order to tell us that we should go back to the source, as she should not be the end all be all of these women’s narratives.

I still believe the patriarchy harms everyone, and feminism aims to heal through equality of options and choice. However, it’s also incredibly important to realize what internalized messages we have all taken onboard and work to undo them. Trainwreck is a place to start, because recognizing the pattern means we can begin to undo it.

Even if you aren’t in an angry feminist mind space right now, this is still a funny, sharp-witted book and I would completely suggest making time for it in your reading diet.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

We Should All Be Feminists (CBR8 #78)

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Raise your hand if you have been called a feminist as a derisive term.

Raise your hand if you have ever had to explain to someone that feminism is, in fact, not the hatred of men or the wishing to take something away from them but rather believing in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.

Raise both your hands if you’ve experienced that from someone younger than you.

My hands are raised.

I am, on the best of days, probably a lazy feminist. It has taken me a long time to reckon with the idea that the idea of equality, and not pressuring any gender into socialized expectations, is apparently radical. I just didn’t fully understand that I had to be out proselytizing the good word about feminism. That’s where my privilege shows.

Ms. Adichie, in her 50 page book-let, lays out for her audience (and it is a rather specific one, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t extrapolate out to a larger one) what this crazy feminism thing is, and how it’s for everyone. It’s both as simple and as beautiful as that. The patriarchy harms everyone, and feminism aims to heal through equality of options and choice.

Following the election results here in the United States I have realized that I need to be better educated about the causes I believe in, and willing to put some skin into the game. In that goal, there will be a lot more books in my CBR9 reviews about issues of social justice and feminism. Ms. Adichie’s book is a great place to start in order to give your brain some food. The Read Harder Challenge task I used this book to complete is “read a book aloud to someone” so I now have a recording of it in my own voice, to go along with her TEDxEuston talk.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. Registration for Cannonball Read 9 is open through January 13, 2017. You can sign up to read and review 13, 26, or 52 books for the year. Think of it as a personal challenge with the philanthropic side effect of saying “Fuck Cancer!”