The feminist essay collections seem to keep coming and I love it! Is it fair to say that some of the best essayists these days are women and some of the best writing is on feminism? If you haven’t heard about You Play the Girl: On Playboy Bunnies, Stepford Wives, Train Wrecks, and Other Mixed Messages by Carina Chocano, add it to your list!
Chocano is a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine as well as a film critic for the Los Angeles Times, Salon.com and Entertainment Weekly. Her work has also appeared in quite a few other magazines as well. You Play the Girl is her first collection. Chocano blends film, TV, literary and cultural criticism into a wonderful mix of essays that she fits together by carrying the motif of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland throughout. The essays usually start with a movie or TV show and expand from there.
The Girl. We all know her. She’s the pretty, fun, flirty, sassy but not aggressive, innocent but still somehow wise girl that every man is supposed to want but who doesn’t really exist. But yet she keeps appearing in movies and on TV and even in literature and women are told by the culture that this is who and what we should strive to be no matter how utterly unrealistic such a woman is.
Like the title says we get essays on Stepford wives and Playboy bunnies, but there is also a fantastic essay on Disney princesses that rips apart Frozen and its alleged feminism because it doesn’t end with a marriage. There are also take downs of Flashdance and Pretty Woman and a host of other popular movies that will make you swoon because someone has finally said what you have been thinking all along. Chocano susses out the mixed messages girls and women are inundated with and says things like this:
Puberty is a disturbance. You change, like a werewolf. It causes upheaval, perturbations — in your body, yes, but also (mostly, when you are a girl) in others’ bodies and words and attitudes. It transmutes the world. It’s not that you lose control of your body so much as that you lose control of the way your body is interpreted. our body becomes an alien body, a question rather than a statement. The same culture that once hijacked it as a symbol of its inviolable purity and innocence now finds this transformation unbearable, and blames you for defiling it, for allowing it to happen.
But it isn’t all movies and TV. In one of my favorite essays Chocano talks about childcare. I was astonished to learn that during WWII the U.S. government ran daycare centers and the most any woman had to pay for a child was fifty cents a day. That’s about six dollars in 2017 cash. The daycare centers were part of the war funding bill so when the war ended, the centers closed in spite of women raising such a ruckus about it that Eleanor Roosevelt herself wrote a newspaper article on the topic. In the 1960s when Nixon was president Congress actually passed a bill to create government run daycare centers but Nixon vetoed it because Pat Robertson said it wasn’t a good idea for the government to “interfere” with the family unit. So we can thank Pat Robertson and spineless Nixon for a lack of good, affordable daycare for everyone.
The book takes up serious topics but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be funny and entertaining. I frequently found myself chuckling and this made me laugh out loud:
Immersing yourself in literary theory as an impressionable young person is a little like squinting at a piece of toast until the face of Jesus materializes. It’s a slight perceptual shift (all you have to do is unfocus your eyes) but risky, because there’s no going back to plain toast after Jesus.
Keep an eye out for this one and read it if you get the chance. You will be glad you did.