By dianna anderson
May 23, 2011
Tina Fey (star of NBC’s 30 Rock, and former head writer on SNL) writes in the introduction of her new best-selling memoir, Bossypants, that this “American-made genuine book” has something for everyone, “whatever your reading needs may be.” And to an extent, she’s right. If you’re reading the book to find controversial statements to prove her “liberal bias,” you will definitely find them. If you want to know more about life for a woman in male-dominated show business, you will find plenty. And if you want humorous anecdotes about working on the set of two popular network shows, you’ll get that too.
Bossypants is not without its issues, though. The first five or so chapters read like a conversation with a woman suffering through an uncomfortable interview about her childhood. It is not a subject Fey seems particularly willing to discuss, which makes sense considering she is a pretty private person on the public scene. Each chapter seems to suffer from a lack of thesis. It’s unclear what her point is in telling certain stories, and when she does arrive at a thesis, it seems forced, almost as though her editor had to rein her thoughts back in and did not succeed very well.
The good thing about these first few chapters, though, is the humor smooths over any rough spots that do exist. For example, in chapter three, when she is discussing different beauty styles women are expected to have and achieve, she cracks jokes about Kim Kardashian being created by Russian scientists. When discussing her relationships with theater friends, she cracks a joke about Xanadu, and so on. For every serious thought, there’s a humorous joke immediately following, as though to soften the blow.
The result of this writing strategy is a book that brings down the reader’s defenses with humor and makes the serious discussions of feminism in the workplace, being the first female head writer on SNL and being a working mom go down easier. This book could have easily gone off the deep end into the caricature of feminism that everyone seems to have—the ugly woman screaming about how her bra is a symbol of the patriarchy and how men suck. But when Fey tells a story about how the producers of Second City Improv in Chicago (of which she was a member before going to work on SNL), the casual sexism she encounters is seen for what it is—men being sexist by assuming “audiences don’t want to see a sketch between two women.” Instead, Fey deftly responds with humor: “This made no sense to me, probably because I speak English and have never had a head injury.” She places the blame where it belongs—on the sexist policy—without playing the victim, a tough thing for any feminist writer to achieve.
And that is the real gem of Bossypants: for every mythical “angry feminist” that gets complained about, Fey proves that feminism is not a method for bashing men, but simply recognizing that women are human beings. Her book offers an insight into the world of a woman of who refused to let others restrict her based on her biology, and who reacts to the casual sexism that a female comedy writer encounters with the tools available to her—humor and scathing wit.
Fey gets measurably more comfortable when she gets to the chapters discussing her work on 30 Rock and SNL. She discusses her hiring process for writers, her work to get the show on the air and her amazement that the show turned out to have a life of its own. She brags without appearing to brag, and discusses the challenges of being a woman in a man’s world without letting anger overwhelm and distance a male audience.
Overall, Tina Fey’s Bossypants is a good read and a great window into the life of a realistic feminist—a woman who is a capable and successful career woman and a loving person. She writes about the struggles of being a working mother, but doesn’t bash stay-at-home moms. She covers sexism in the workplace without turning herself into a victim, and she is a good representative of what millions of women around the world have been trying to do for hundreds of years—be recognized for the human beings they are, not for the men they may marry, the kids they bear or the body they have. If you’re at all interested in what a feminist looks like, this is the book for you.
Dianna Anderson spent most of the day watching 30 Rock on Netflix after writing this review. She writes about the Church, social justice and women’s issues over on her website: http://www.diannaeanderson.net.