Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Big Girls Don't Cry - Rebecca Traister

Big Girls Don't Cry
Title: Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women
Author: Rebecca Traister
Publication Date: 9/14/10
Pages: 352
Genre: Political / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I can't remember
Date Completed: 9/1/16

Summary: The 2008 presidential election had more major female players than any previous one. The impact of this shift is explored in depth by Traister.

What I Thought: This completely engrossed me. For the week or so I was reading it, I could not shut up about it. I thought about it near constantly, particularly in light of our current political cycle. 

While I think even a casual political observer could identify the 2008 election cycle as a major one in terms of gender equality and prominence on the national political stage, Traister digs much deeper. She looks in depth at Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, Michelle Obama, and women in the media such as Tina Fey or Katie Couric who played large roles in the political conversation that year. She talks about feminism and sexism and the struggle we have in properly identifying either. The whole conversation is one I'm interested in anyway, admittedly, but this book did such a wonderful job with exploration and exposition of the ideas involved. 

I could talk for hours on this subject. Discussion over why Palin's expensive wardrobe was scrutinized while male candidates' pricey suites or Ferragamo shoes are overlooked captivates me. Traister's long look into the Obama vs. Clinton, racism vs. sexism debate was particularly interesting. As I was in college at that point and still not fully plugged in to politics the way I am now, I don't think I really understood what a conflicting choice that was for so many Democrats. After all, how can we really classify one form of marginalization as worse or better than another? 

Traister herself remarks in the introduction that simply to have a book listing the sexist offences lobbied in the election would be useless. As she says, 
"Yes, there was misogeny...but that is not the revelation of this book. To say that Hillary Clinton faced sexism is practically meaningless. She was the first woman in American history to get within spitting distance of a nomination for President. Of course she faced sexism. It's far more interesting to examine the sometimes unlikely directions from which that sexism sprang, as well as the racism and classism that were often in high relief and aimed at other candidates, and why the manifestations of these prejudices still surprised us."
One thing I want to state clearly is that Traister does not enter this conversation from an unbiased perspective. While she does remain relatively neutral on some issues, she exposes her opinion quite clearly on others. She's honest about her own political leanings throughout the process; that I had no problem with. I would expect her to share her own journey from John Edwards supporter to Obama voter as part of the narrative. I am enough of a critical thinker at this point in my life to recognize that no one is without bias, particularly when it comes to politics; I can still enjoy reading her book and learning from her insight without agreeing with every last policy point. The only moment where her bias became obnoxious to me came at the end of the book. While discussing Palin, Traister questions whether a woman like can truly be both a feminist and pro-life. She seemed to come to a conclusion that the two must be mutually exclusive. I take major issue with this as I am both a feminist and pro-life. I know this is a common disagreement in feminist conversations, and I am glad Traister addressed it, particularly in evaluation of Palin's feminist credibility. I definitely disagree on her conclusion, however. 

The book is so interesting. I really cannot stress that enough. Traister offers a wide-angle perspective on so many facets of a race that, truly, changed our history. And now, as we live out another history election cycle, it seems all the more interesting to recognize the issues at play, particularly in regard to gender. 

Quote I Loved: "Good intentions don't render anyone incapable of disrespect or condescension... Words are often both spontaneous and sexist."

Rating: ★★★★☆
Will I Re-Read: I actually might, which is rare for me with nonfiction. At least, I'd like to read more about this topic.
If You Liked This, Try: The News Sorority / HRC / The Presidents Club

A Reduced Review: A fascinating look at how the 2008 American presidential election rocked the world of gender politics, what it changed, and what it didn't. 

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