Saturday, March 12, 2011

Book Review: Big Girls Don't Cry

I saw reviews of this a couple times last semester in my goings-about of the feminist blogosphere (that's really a word, spellcheck??), but when my cousin sent me an article with an excerpt I knew that it had to go on my Amazon wish-list. Mom mom bought it for me for Christmas (she swears she came across it independently and thought of me and not on my wish-list), and I started it pretty soon afterward, but hadn't had a lot of time for reading.
Eventually I got into the habit of reading a little every time I went to the gym and really started getting into it, and finally finished it this week during spring break.

Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election That Changed Everything for American Women is a pretty damn exciting book. I was a voter in 2008, and pretty highly invested in the election, but reading this made me realize how really dumb I was. I've always been better about keeping up with everything going on in Celebrity Land than I have with Politics Land, and I was a lot less informed in 2008 than I thought I was. I don't think I would have changed anything about how I participated in the election, but I wish I had been reading more about it in real time, not just retroactively.

Rebecca Traister is a really awesome author, let me start with that. She's a journalist who has done a lot of political and women's issues coverage, and she was all over the 2008 election so the whole book feels like a treat to have it all laid out for you. (I'm saying this because some authors/journalists, AHEM Maureen Dowd, get really into name-dropping and it makes reading their work unbearable, but Traister is not like that at all.) And what I really liked about it is that, I mean, it is at times an emotional read. There are facts and interviews, but you would be hard-pressed to find someone, I think, who did not have strong, emotionally-based feelings about the 2008 election, then or now. And she wasn't a rah-rah Hillary fan either. Traister began as a John Edwards supporter, and had never had strong positive feelings for Hillary, which she explains. As she discusses in the book, women's issues with feminism, politics, and female politicians are complicated, and a sort of "problem that has no name" a la Betty Friedan in The Feminine Mystique.

The book goes through the Hillary Clinton campaign, the Sarah Palin mess, the media's obsession with Michelle Obama, as well as how women reacted to all this Lady Business (as in politicians who are ladies, not periods or anything) being in the news. And Traister is so right on in this book. With observations like, "What Palin so beguilingly represented... was a form of female power that was utterly digestible to those who had no intellectual or political use for actual women: feminism without the feminists" (236), you can't help but think "Oh, snap!" to yourself as you read. Or at least, I couldn't. At one point I was reading about Hillary Clinton's success in the New Hampshire primaries, which came right after some really sexist comments from Chris Matthews (and perhaps some of her success can be attributed to his sexist comments right before the primaries about how she couldn't win), and the whole description was so on point, and so also in line to how I had felt about Hillary, that when Traister came to the part about Hillary winning I like actually reacted by saying, "yes!" to myself. Out loud. At the gym. I knew what happened and I got sooo wrapped up in what was happening anyway.

I really recommend this book. I have a much deeper understanding about the intersections of politics and women in the 2008 election, and what that means now, because of it. It's great.

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