I didn’t mention this in my last post, but I’ve also been listening to, and recently finished, Anne Helen Peterson’s book Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman. I decided to listen to this because it’s the first pick for Book Riot’s “Persist,” a feminist book club. The book club is run on Instagram Live (a new thing for me, and one I will never use for myself), and the way it works is a Book Riot staff member talks about the book live and people can send in comments, so there’s some back and forth with the audience. It’s an interesting experiment, and one that’s been fun to follow along.
As for the book itself, it’s the kind of nonfiction that I approach with trepidation, not because of the topic, but because its ten chapters cover one “unruly” woman each, and I often find that format boring. It’s hard to make the give-the-theory-in-the-intro-and-apply-it-over-and-over-again-in-the-chapters format consistently fresh and interesting. Peterson does a pretty good job with this, though, mostly, I think, because each chapter has not only a different unruly woman to discuss (not interesting enough in and of itself), but it looks at a different type of unruliness in each chapter: too pregnant, too shrill, too queer, too fat, too slutty, too loud, etc., so there’s a wide variety of material.
Her definition of “unruly” is kind of a mess: the degree of unruliness in each chapter varies a lot, as does the degree of intentionality: some examples purposefully set out to break rules and cause trouble (Jennifer Weiner, Madonna) and others break rules just by existing (Caitlyn Jenner). All of her examples are celebrities, which is done purposefully in order to look at unruliness as it happens in the public eye, but are celebrities really the most interesting examples of unruliness available? It is interesting to look at how the celebrity status of these women limits their ability to be unruly — they need to follow SOME rules in order to remain popular — but I’m not sure they are the best sources to look at to study female unruliness in and of itself.
But there are a lot of interesting ideas packed into the chapters, and Peterson does a wonderful job of telling the women’s stories and also placing them into historical and intellectual contexts in a relatively short book with lively, entertaining writing. I particularly liked the chapters on Hillary Clinton (too shrill), Jennifer Weiner (too loud), and Lena Dunham (too naked). If you’re into audiobooks, Peterson reads the book herself and does a good job. The book was good company during my commute and laundry-folding sessions when I had some listening time to give it.