Wednesday, January 13, 2010

It's Not That I'm Bitter

Who wants a free book? When I said yes to that question, Harriet sent me Gina Barreca's It's Not That I'm Bitter. I'm going to tell you what I thought about it and then pass it on to one person who leaves a comment indicating interest in reading it.

Since I'm an inveterate re-reader, I don't often jettison a book, but this one isn't the kind of book I usually pick up (making it my next entry in the Critical Monkey contest), and parts of it really ticked me off.

Don't assume I'm going to get all excoriating about it immediately, however. I liked reading parts of this book. I like the part where she points out that Anne Bancroft was only 6 years older than Dustin Hoffman when she played the part of the older woman in The Graduate. I like the part where she explains why the few lines spoken by Padme in Star Wars make her long for Princess Leia's snappier dialogue.

I really like the part where she says that women shouldn't try to live according to popular sayings, singling out the one that advises us to "work like you don't need the money, dance like nobody is watching, and love like you've never been hurt" and revising it to "love like you don't need the money, work like nobody is watching, and dance like you've never been hurt." (It's that last one that really gets me, of course--I wish I could!)

I would have liked the part where she says "we need to stop obsessing over hymens, husbands, and hangnails and once again direct our attention outward to the larger issues of financial equity, economic justice, and the creation of genuinely significant opportunities for women in all workplaces" except that this sentence comes near the end of a 218-page collection of essays in which she has already confessed that "I'm twenty pounds overweight and I worry about the shape of my eyebrows" (40), "I feel guilty about having another woman clean my house" (102) and that "we didn't think that telling girls they shouldn't feel any shame about their bodies or sexual urges would mean that our daughters (or our granddaughters or kid sisters) would be eagerly participating in blow-job parties at age twelve" (163-164).

The parts about weight issues, eyebrow shape, clothing choices, problems remembering to floss, and baby-boomer nostalgia are either irritating or soporific for me. Making fun of hymenoplasty is easy, Gina; it's taking responsibility for the "free love" philosophy you admit that you helped to popularize that's hard.

I also reacted negatively (as I often do) to the hand-wringing over employing a cleaning woman; if she's not paying the woman enough, why doesn't she either pay her more or fit cleaning her own house into her busy schedule? (Update: this is a burning issue in The Chronicle of Higher Education.) (I had a silent moment of schadenfreude recently when a friend who has a cleaning woman revealed that her adult daughter has never learned how to clean a toilet).

The cover of the book actually says it all--the title appears across the torso and ample hips of a woman's body in an old-fashioned full slip, and the subtitle runs in a banner across the crotch: "How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Visible Panty Lines and Conquered the World."

Is there anyone else out there who already saves her worrying for issues more pressing than underwear (so to speak)?

15 comments:

kittiesx3 said...

Yeah I'll pass on this one--I get cranky enough when people lecture me about how I should hate WalMart (which sorry but given my economic situation, that's not an option and I mourn that the nearest WalMart is a solid hour's drive south of me). Sometimes positions like that and the ones you've described in this book are possible only if you have enough money or enough time or something to make those choices real. Otherwise it's just an exercise in hand wringing. I'll pass.

Harriet said...

In fairness, Jeanne, I did try to warn you. I found this book so unbelievably trite and excessively, thoughtlessly glib that I couldn't bring myself to review it. Waste of ink.

Jeanne said...

Elizabeth, there's a good South Park episode about Wal-Mart and hand wringing.

Harriet, I should have mentioned that you tried to warn me! I see getting rid of a book as a statement in itself.

FreshHell said...

Hmmm, yeah, I don't need to read anymore books like that one. Frankly, if I could afford to pay somebody (anybody) to clean my house, I'd do it in a heartbeat without a teaspon of guilt. Why guilt? Someone needs that job. I would dearly like a clean house. I just wish I could pay them to do it.

Jeanne said...

FreshHell, at least your children are nearing the age when you can begin teaching them to do some cleaning. (I did wait until this year to introduce cleaning with caustic chemicals.)

Kristen said...

Hmmmm. Gina was a prof when I was in grad school. Seems to me she's still writing the same book she was then and there's still nothing original in it (I Feel Bad About My Neck anyone?). I do feel minor twinges of guilt sometimes over the things that we as a society have been taught to think shameful but then I buck myself up and remember I am accountable to myself. Hope you find someone willing to take the book off your hands. ;-)

Lori L said...

No thank you - I'll pass. The last thing I need to do is read a book like this. It really sounds too sophomoric for me. And if
I could pay for a cleaning woman I would do so in a heart beat.

PAJ said...

Perhaps you could offer this book to a woman I know who used a copy of What to Expect: The Toddler Years to level her daughter's crib. Her children are older now (no cribs), but she might need something to level the pool table in her basement.

Jodie said...

Visible underwear lines? I worried about them when I was sixteen, then I moved on.

It does seem people write books like this presume the lowest common denominator of womanly self-awareness/confidence sometimes. Most of us strike our own balence between society's version of beauty and our own (moderated by factors like 'I just don't have time to obsess about my...if I want to make any money')and we all have our own rather irrational beauty quirks that really make no difference in the greater scheme of things(like I don't care what my eyebrows look like but I'd never leave the house without using concealer) but they don't dominate our lifes, or reach the level of obsessive compulsive ticks that stop us from getting on in the world. Sometimes I feel that it's taking the time to have the kind of discussion found in this book that stops us from using our time more effectively and changing the world.

Jeanne said...

Kristen, ha, I had just compared this book to I Feel Bad About my Neck while talking to someone on Facebook!

Lori, At least I found something to like about this one. I'd hate to think that every time I read a book I wouldn't ordinarily pick out for myself I'd hate everything about it--that would make me seem overly predictable...

PAJ, she'll have to comment herself to get it!

Jodie, The frustrating thing (I think this was frustrating Kristen, too, from her comment) is that G.B. actually says something like that--that women need to stop worrying about the trivia. But she doesn't succeed at taking her own advice.

Jodie said...

Perhaps she should try writing a book about the important issues we should be focusing on rather than the ones we shouldn't be focusing on, with helpful hints on how to work effectively against the media image of women?

Jeanne said...

Jodie, Isn't that going to be YOUR book someday? :-)

Rebecca :) said...

Yeah, I don't worry about panty lines in the first place.

And if I did I certainly wouldn't go around telling every other woman not to. I am not a hypocrite. And I don't appreciate people who are. Therefore, this author can keep her book to herself.

Thanks for the warning, Jeanne! :)

Jeanne said...

Rebecca, I don't think she means to be hypocritical, which is almost worse, really.

Old Bookworm said...

Jeanne, I love your comments about this book! It is not one that would have interested me; I have enough issues from my Oklahoma upbringing to fill my own volume of hand wringing if I was so inclined. Suffice it to say I'm all for women doing their own thing, teaching our children to take care of themselves and let the chips fall where they may. Who cares about panty lines when you've got chin hairs to contend with. :)