ASK Musings

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September 2017



Too Fat Too Slutty Too Loud by Anne Helen Petersen

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for: Those interested in a detailed analysis of the different ways women are seen as not conforming (unless you’re interested in those who are too old – that chapter was not great).

In a nutshell: Buzzfeed writer Petersen looks at ten different women and how each can be an example of being too ‘something’ that women aren’t meant to be, and how they use that to subvert the system.

Line that sticks with me: “To call Clinton ‘too’ anything is to authenticate and fortify power, broadly speaking, as the proper province of men.” (p 158)

Why I chose it: The premise is pretty cool.

I read this book while on vacation, and so was able to consume it chapter by chapter, reading pretty much each one in its entirety. I highly recommend going that route, because each section can stand alone as its own story and analysis.

Ms. Petersen’s premise is that there are many different ways that women can be ‘too’ something for society, and that some women use that as a means to fight the systems that oppress us. Specifically, she looks at being too strong, fat, gross, slutty, old, pregnant, shrill, queer, loud, and naked, and associates one woman with each of these characteristics. She recognizes that her list is overwhelmingly white (80%), cis (90%), and straight (unclear how each woman identifies, but I’d say probably in the 80-90% range). Given that, she can’t get too deep into any one area because by picking a representative archetype of the ‘too’ characteristic, she necessarily ends up limiting herself.

But that’s not to say that each chapter only looks at the woman she chooses. Some focus more on the specific woman than others, but each does explore the broader implications of some other individuals who have faced down the condemnation around the unruly behavior (e.g. she discusses Roseann Barr in the ‘too fat’ section that focuses on Melissa McCarthy).

The chapter that I found the must anger-inducing is probably the Serena Williams one, because she has been treated so blatantly unfairly over the years, from the sexism to the racism to the misogynoir. She’s robably the greatest athlete of all time, but, y’know, she has muscles and is a black woman, so of course she gets a ton of shit. I also was a bit teary-eyed after reading the Hillary Clinton chapter (’too shrill,’ because of course); that does not bode well for when I pick up her book next week.

What I found interesting was that, for the vast majority of the sections, Ms. Petersen seems to be on the side of the woman fighting the system. She’s picked someone who is kind of like ‘fuck you, I’m going to do what I want’ to fit the adjectives, and explores how these women have done it in a supportive manner. She is a bit ambivalent in the Melissa McCarthy chapter, but even that one she does see McCarthy as generally not caring about her size in a way that sees her obsessing over reducing it. I suppose she’s also more critical in the Caitlyn Jenner chapter (’too queer’), but overall makes a strong argument.

But the stand-out exception to me is the chapter on Madonna (’too old’). In the other chapters, Ms. Petersen makes argument about how these women are fighting back and don’t give a fuck, but she takes real issue with how Madonna has chosen to represent that. Her analysis is primarily that by choosing to be so into keeping her body fit, Madonna is not rebelling against age, but simply conforming to the ideas of beauty. Which … perhaps? But this analysis doesn’t fit well with the rest of the book. I think there’s an interesting discussion to be had there – is it more harmful to fight the system by keeping one’s body fit into one’s 60s and demand to be seen as sexy, or to lessen one’s regular workouts so that one can age in a more ‘traditional’ way and then demand to be seen as sexy? I’m not entirely sure, and I don’t think Ms. Petersen is either, which is why I feel like this chapter either belongs in another book, or she should have picked a different woman to represent that adjective, given how the same analysis doesn’t seem to hold in the other chapters.

I still recommend this book despite the three stars (usually I go with four+ for my strong recommendations) as I think there is some interesting cultural commentary here.

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