Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise of the Unruly Woman by Anne Helen Petersen looks at reactions to ten “unruly” women, including Serena Williams, Melissa McCarthy, Madonna, Nicki Minaj, Caitlin Jenner, and Jennifer Weiner.
For the first couple of chapters, I wondered what I was getting out of this–I’m already pretty familiar with the sexist/racist treatment of Serena Williams, the obsession with Melissa McCarthy’s weight, and the debate over Hillary Clinton’s likeability. But the book grew on me, and I appreciated Petersen’s analysis of criticism of Nicki Minaj’s career in particular. On the whole, the book is more descriptive than analytical, but collecting the criticisms these women faced and putting them together in a concise way makes the issues readily apparent–more so than when we see a bit here and a bit there in the news over time. Petersen also steers clear of turning these women into idols or victims. She sees their flaws as well as the flaws of those who attack them.
The chapter on Jennifer Weiner, and her well-known campaign to get book reviewers and publishers to treat fiction by women, and particularly fiction about women’s lives, in the same way they treat fiction by men and fiction about men’s lives, was one of the most interesting and most developed. Petersen dives into scholarly theories on the development of “taste hierarchies” and their inherent elitism/classism and sexism.
If you find yourself–consciously or subconsciously–criticizing women based on their external presentation, whether related to their bodies, their clothes, their voices, or the manner in which they express their opinions, this book will help illuminate the cultural forces that lead to that criticism. It’s easy to slip into those bad habits, so even if you’re already familiar with the obstacles faced by the women Petersen covers, this book is a good reminder to work against those ingrained biases.