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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Bitchfest...Review by Joanne Rendell

Bitchfest: Ten Years of Cultural Criticism from the Pages of
Bitch Magazine, edited by Lisa Jervis and Andi Zeisler

Brace yourself, I’m going to use the F-word. Ready? Are you sure? Okay, take some deep breaths. One….Two…Three…. FEMINISM!! There, I said it. Now, you can pick yourself off the floor, dust yourself off, listen up, and perhaps buy a new book.

Feminism, for too many people these days, has become a dirty word. It has come to signify ball-busting women burning their bras. Or, at the very least, women who want to bitch about their poor lot in life. “Oh, just get over it,” is the silent (or not-so silent) shout of too many powerful people who think that feminism is now defunct or irrelevant.

But, as the fantastic new book Bitchfest: Ten Years of Cultural Criticism from the Pages of Bitch Magazine shows, there is nothing unnecessary about feminism. In fact, we need it today as much as we needed suffragettes fighting for our right to vote at the beginning of the 20th Century or Betty Friedan telling us in the sixties that staying at home and washing dishes wasn’t our inherent destiny.

Okay, so maybe we can grab our blackberries and head for the office, or go to the ballot box and cast our little X. However there are still many forces at work making us – and our daughters, sisters, and mothers – the “second sex” (to use Simone de Beauvoir’s famous phrase). Indeed, these forces are at work in the very place many of us love best: popular culture. Within the magazines and books we read, the films and television we watch, the music we listen to, and the blogs we peruse, in other words, women are frequently getting the rough end of the deal.

Sometimes it’s obvious. We are all aware of the abundance of skinny, pouty, barely-dressed women and girls on TV, pop videos and movies. And we’re all pretty certain this contributes to low self-esteem (and, at worse, eating disorders) among young women. However, there are many other subtle – yet equally insidious ways – that popular culture makes us the second sex.

And that’s what Bitchfest is all about.

The book brings together an array of essays (originally published in Bitch magazine) which think critically about the messages skulking behind our favorite TV shows, books, movies, newspapers, and music. Jennifer Pozner’s contribution to Bitchfest is a good example. Among other things, it points out that, while The New York Times talks about Condoleezza Rice’s dress size and “girlish laugh,” we never hear “Donald Rumsfeld’s inseam measurements.” And while a CNN panel spends time describing Hillary Clinton as “bottom-heavy,” and “bitchy,” Rudy Giuliani’s comb-over is never considered newsworthy.

Everything from slasher fiction to reality TV to fat suits in Hollywood are similarly exposed, unpicked, and unpacked in Bitchfest. And the articles show that, although we shouldn’t just dismiss the popular culture we love, we need to consider how its messages and narratives powerfully – and often negatively – effect women’s views of themselves and their lives.

Not only that, the book’s articles are as enticing and fun as their titles suggest. Just check out, Lisa Moricoli’s Latham’s “Double Life: Everyone Wants to See my Breasts – Until Your Baby Needs Them.” Or Jennifer Newens’ “The Paradox of Martha Stewart: Goddess, Desperate Spouse-seeker, or Feminist Role-Model?” Or Tammy Oler’s “Bloodletting: Female Adolescence in Modern Horror Films.”

Margaret Cho says that Bitchfest is “essential reading for the modern woman.” And that, I would add, includes every Rolemommy too. So read Bitchfest for your own sake and the sake of your daughters, sisters, and mothers.

Believe me, it’s bitchin’! To purchase a copy of Bitchfest, Click Here.

Review by Joanne Rendell (see Joanne’s Rolemommy column, “A Laptop Naptime Mama”