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 status 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 most 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, like the 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 the 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)