This was a secondary optional pick for one of my IRL book clubs (I’m in two now and it is great; the next person I see making fun of book clubs gets a virtual punch in their sensitive bits—book clubs are friendship, books, and food, fuck you) and I’m glad I read it, although it was a far from a perfect read. When it was on, I really enjoyed it. When it was off, steam came out of my ears.
The perspective this book takes is to reexamine basically the entirety of mainstream pop culture and news from 1990 to 1999 through the lens of how GIRL POWER WAS A LIE. And Yarrow does mostly make a compelling case. From inside the 90s things seemed pretty progressive. Looking back, things were gross.
She takes a look at nearly everything in the scope she’s set for herself (I think to the book’s detriment): TV, movies, the music industry, politics, and big news stories. I thought she served the real-life stuff well (examination of real life figures like Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopes, Marcia Clark, Monica Lewinsky) and did a pretty poor job of talking about the fictional stuff. Those sections were more miss than hit for me, because she doesn’t take the time to provide context for most of the things she’s discussing. The exception to this is the Beverly Hills 90210 section. Lots of context there, and it’s no accident that section goes so much better than when she tries to talk about anything else, when it feels like she’s just cherry-picking examples to prove her points, and often picking bad examples that don’t actually apply if you are at all familiar with the TV or movie she’s talking about. I lost it when she called Dana Scully a harpy, implying that the character was a shrew created by a man to make the male lead look better, and then didn’t come back to listening to the book for a while. It must also be noted that even though the 90s themselves were full of awful or non-existent queer or non-white pop culture, the book doesn’t do super well by them either.
I actually really liked the sections on Marcia Clark, Monica Lewinsky, and Anita Hill the most. The news coverage of women in the 90s (and let’s be honest, still today for the most part) was disgustingly misogynistic, but like in a sneaky way. We were so steeped in it most people didn’t even realize. She does a good job showing the ways that various parts of culture collided to portray these women the way it did, and the feedback loop of people creating culture and then being fed and reinforced it.
To sum up, this book is worth a chance, but I wouldn’t buy it. Get it from the library or listen to it on SCRIBD.