Review: Bossypants

So I’m a Tina Fey fan girl. Aren’t we all? Bossypants, her comedy memoir, is a recent addition to my bookshelf, and a very welcome one at that.

[Photo Source]

But not everyone has been quite so enthusiastic. There seems to have been a lot of criticism that Fey doesn’t go into sexism in comedy writing/performing enough, that she glosses over the real issues at stake. But Fey is not a professional feminist. She is not Jessica Valenti, she is Tina Fey. She writes comedy, and this book is no different. And for a comedy memoir it’s pretty damn feminist.

It’s written almost like a series of sketches, with breaks in the story for amusing bits, such as her responses to some Internet trolls. This is not a warts-and-all kind of story, there’s no tragic confession and Fey barely mentions her family and her husband. This isn’t sordid scandal. I was disappointed only by the lack of ‘Mean Girls’ based stories, as that was the moment I discovered Fey’s brilliance and remains one of my favourite bits of her work.

My favourite bit was the last chapter. That was where I felt the comedy mask slipped a bit, and the neurotic worrying about where to go from here reminded me of pretty much any woman I’ve ever spoken to. The stress of being torn between what you want, not knowing what you want, wanting to do what other people want and expect from you, not knowing what they want, feeling obligated and confused is probably something that everyone can relate to. Or maybe I’m just neurotic. But to me this really summed up what it’s like to ‘have it all’.

This whole book seems to be about ‘having it all’, trying to work and be a mum and a wife and a friend and keep it all together. And what I liked was that it was possible for Fey to discuss all the difficulties of juggling so much, but that it didn’t come out as a treatise on working mothers as a whole. Her vulnerability, her ‘triannual’ sobfest in her office doesn’t make her a bad mum or a bad employee/r, it just makes her human. Like all of us are. It is possible to have it all, you just have to try not to expect too much from yourself.

It is inspiring to someone like me to read about someone as successful as Tina Fey’s problems and compare them to my own anxieties and insecurities, but to realise that it is not a barrier to success. This is a feminist book because whilst Tina may not want to go and march and make a noise about the sexism she has experienced, she demonstrates perfectly that you can be a woman and be successful in a fast-paced industry. This is a feminist book, although you might not notice if you’re not already a feminist. She addresses sexism, she addresses double standards and the unrealistic expectations put upon women. And whilst she maybe doesn’t deal with them in quite the way that feminists would like, the very inclusion of them is surely as much as we can expect from someone whose job is not to break down the patriarchy, but to make fun of it, and of everything else.

I have been thinking a lot recently. as you may have noticed (or not, since not many people read this blog…), about the realities of being a feminist. About how it’s hard to be one, how you face conflicting viewpoints on how to behave – torn between following the feminist part of you, who knows what’s going on, and the part of you who’s been socially conditioned to behave against those feminist principles. To me this story about a feminist photo-shoot and the use of Photoshop sums up nicely exactly what I’ve been thinking about:

If you’re going to expend energy being mad about Photoshop, you’ll also have to be mad about earrings. No one’s ears are that sparkly! They shouldn’t have to be! You’ll have to get mad about oil paintings – those people didn’t really look like that! I for one am furious that people are allowed to turn sideways in photographs! Why can’t we accept a woman’s full width? I won’t rest until people are only allowed to be photographed facing front under a flourescent light…

Some people say it’s a feminist issue. I agree, because the best Photoshop job I ever got was for a feminist magazine called ‘Bust’ in 2004. 

It was a low-budget shoot in the back of their downtown office. There was no free coffee bar or wind machine, just a bunch of intelligent women with a sense of humour. 

I looked at the two paltry lights they had set up and turned to the editors. “We’re all feminists here, but you’re gonna use Photoship right?” “Oh, yeah,” they replied instantly. Feminists do the best Photoshop because they leave the meat on your bones. They don’t change your size or your skin color. They leave in your disgusting knuckles, but they might take your some armpit stubble. Not because they’re denying its existence, but because they understand that it’s okay to make a photo look as if you were caught on your best day in the best light. — Tina Fey, Bossypants 

To me, that’s the reality of feminism. Whilst we fight the good fight, we still have to live in the world we’re fighting against. And so it’s okay to sometimes concede a little to the patriarchal ways of doing things. We can’t expect everyone to be superwoman and not to care about superficial things. And that’s kind of what this book is like, Fey still has to sell copies and keep up her image, and so she slips in some feminism rather than making it all about that. So I leave you with that thought, and encourage you to buy the book, if only to make you look ridiculous trying to laugh silently on a long train journey…

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