Monday, June 19, 2017

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: She navigates the world with the swagger of a mediocre white man

I didn't know much/anything about Anne Helen Petersen or her book when I was scanning through Netgalley, but when I saw the title Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of Unruly Women I said YES this sounds like a book that is right my wheelhouse. So I was pretty excited when I was approved for a copy in exchange for a review.
Petersen looks at the boxes contemporary women are put into and looks at women in pop culture who are decidedly outside these boxes, in at least one category. From this central theme, Petersen gives us a collection of essays on celebrity women who are "too much". Serena Williams who is too strong, Nicki Minaj who is too slutty, Melissa McCarthy who is too fat, Jennifer Weiner who is too loud, and so on. These are women who have operated outside the rules for the appropriate way they should behave and have been able to transcend these limitations and remain (or even become) as popular as they are.

As I said before, I didn't know anything about Petersen and I was a little worried when in the intro she mentions that she works at BuzzFeed. Whether accurate or not, I think of BuzzFeed as the place to take a quiz about which type of grilled cheese I would eat if I went to Hogwarts (smoked cheddar with fig jam on country white bread for Ravenclaw, obviously*) or a gif reaction list about some '90s nostalgia. While these things are entertaining they did not set super high expectations that I would get something insightful in this collection. I'm happy to report that I was so, so wrong.

NOT that credentials or a graduate degree mean you're going to be able to write something worth reading, I will say that Petersen has a Ph.D. in Media Studies, and the essays have a far more academic bent than I was expecting. Which, for me, was GREAT and made this book exactly what I wanted. From her intro
Each chapter starts with the thesis of a particular woman's unruliness...and unravels the way this behavior has been historically framed as an affliction at odds with proper femininity. The more you analyze what makes these behaviors transgressive, the easier it is to see what they're threatening
And so we get an analysis of 10 women who refuse to sit down and shut up. This doesn't mean the essays are gushing praises of these women. There is criticism to be had (looking your way, Caitlyn Jenner) but most of the focus is on their transgressions and the reactions to it, from the media from the population.

Ultimately the book is hopeful, because for the most part the woman succeeded in breaking through these boundaries without crashing and burning. Petersen says the book is a celebration, but also cautions that it should be a warning, a reminder to remain supportive of women, in the media and your everyday life, when they are breaking the rules for how women are supposed to act in order to properly perform femininity and hopefully "the only rules a woman will have to abide by are those she sets for herself."

Gif rating:
*It probably goes without saying, but Imma say it anyway that I have no idea if said quiz currently exists but if not, could it please?

Title quote from location 861

Petersen, Anne Helen. Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of Unruly Women. Plume, 2017. NetGalley