Rating – 5/5 stars
Date Finished – July 28, 2017
61/120 in 2017
Publication Date – June 20, 2017
In as many chapters, Anne Helen Petersen examines ten women “who occupy all different corners of the mainstream, from the literary world to Hollywood, from HBO to the tennis court. It includes several women of color, but the prevalence of straight white women serves to highlight an ugly truth: that the difference between cute, acceptable unruliness and unruliness that results in ire is often as simple as the color of a woman’s skin, whom she prefers to sleep with, and her proximity to traditional femininity.”
I was totally in as soon as I read that paragraph. Petersen’s admission that you are likely to be white if you are a woman who is also powerful and unruly is alarming and absolutely true, and that fact alone tells me that we have so much more work to do. I really, really adore the premise of this book – the idea of unruliness is new to me – I first heard the term in Roxane Gay’s recent book Hunger (also a 5/5 for me), and I am so smitten with the concept of unruly women. (As far as I can tell, the term was coined in 1995 by Kathleen Rowe in her book The Unruly Woman.) I don’t think I’ve been called unruly, but I have absolutely felt shame for being unruly, and I have shamed other women for unruliness. That casual dismissal of unruly women is heartbreaking and unacceptable. For me, this book was a call to arms to protect the unruliness in myself and defend it in other women – both in my own life and in the public eye.
Each of Petersen’s chapters is a profile of one woman and an element of her unruliness – what she is “too much of.” Some chapters include: Madonna (Too Old), Melissa McCarthy (Too Fat), Serena Williams (Too Strong), and Nicki Minaj (Too Slutty). Each chapter demonstrates how each of these women is unruly, and how they are discredited and discounted as a result.
My personal favorite chapters were Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobsen (Too Gross), Hilary Clinton (Too Shrill), and Jennifer Weiner (Too Loud). I loved the examination of Too Gross, Too Shrill, and Too Loud in their corresponding chapters – those were a few types of unruliness that I hadn’t considered, and that I found so interesting, especially Jennifer Weiner’s charge of being “too loud.” I didn’t even know who Weiner was, but I was so intrigued by her criticism of the publishing establishment and how it discounts female authors and their work at every turn.
I do have one major complaint – for Petersen’s example of “Too Queer,” she chose Caitlyn Jenner. As she admits in the text, Jenner is not “too queer” at all. High profile, yes. Publicly transgender, yes. Unruly? Not really. Petersen argues that the women who Jenner chooses to surround herself with, and who are the feature of her reality show (I Am Cait), are unruly. They are “too queer,” yet somehow Jenner’s is still the name in the title. Jenner’s chapter included interesting discussion of Jenner’s queerness and her public transition, both of which fit in the book neatly, but I do feel that Petersen’s schtick was ineffective in this case. I think we could have had all the same discussion if this chapter were named for one of the other women whose story Jenner has shed light on – and theirs are the names that should be highlighted. I should remember them!
There are so many times in my life where I feel sexism that I can’t explain or point directly to – leaving me to believe (or be told) that I’m being too sensitive. It’s so empowering to sharpen my understanding of that sexism and practice calling it out, recognizing it in myself, and standing strong in my own unruliness. Petersen’s book is a manifesto of sorts, and it will have a place on my shelf for years to come.
I can’t say enough about this. Buy it. Read it.