The Bossypants Backlash

When I was working at NY magazine a thousand years ago, Tina Fey was honored at a luncheon the magazine was hosting. Fey went up to accept her award and said (at least this is how I remember it):

“A lot of young women come up to me and ask, ‘What advice do you have for me? How can I get where you are?’ And I tell each of those women the same thing… ‘Back off bitch, I’m working this corner.'”

That joke previewed a theme of her book: “You’re not in competition with other women. You’re in competition with everyone.

Tina Fey is so enchanting. She has ’90s credentials, but seemingly without the ’90s angst. She is just plowing ahead being brilliant and ambitious. She pays homage to the Second Wave (as in her praise of Jane Curtin). She addresses feminist in-fighting on her show. And now she has a memoir about her childhood, career and family.

I read it in one plane ride. I found it super enjoyable, and I loved what she said about how she hates being praised for her indie credibility, because really she was just trying to make a mega-hit like Cheers.

She’s so refreshingly even-handed and honest about issues like the supposed “war” between “mommies”:

So I’ve been surprised by the reviews complaining about her book being more David Sedaris than Proust, and wondering whence the backlash to what seems to me like an objectively friendly book from a genuinely charming person.

My guess: it’s the old ’90s theme: anything light or silly is suspect; seriousness confers importance. This bias parallels what Fey described on NPR as a suspiciousness of pretty ladies’ success. On the whole Olivia Munn-Daily Show to-do, she said:

I find it interesting that Olivia gets people who go after her sometimes on these sites — because she’s beautiful, I think is part of it. I think if she were kind of an aggressive, heavier girl with a Le Tigre mustache posing in her underpants, people would be like, “That’s amazing. Good for you.” But because she is very beautiful, people are like, “You’re using that.” It’s just a mess! We can’t figure it out.

Talking in her book and in interviews about crying at work, women with mustaches, and having major ambition so openly and in such good faith has to qualify her for some kind of feminist of the year honor. Quick, someone give her another award, just for the acceptance speech.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “The Bossypants Backlash

  1. skull snap

    I’m not sure I like the idea that we’re all “in competition” as artists, writers, performers, etc. A woman who broke through barriers of sexism not wanting to give other women advice? Not very feminist in my book. Seems greedy, selfish and narcissistic.

  2. annapurna

    i split from the feminist movement in large part because of its utter and complete lack of humor and ability to recognize humor (especially in its most intellectual forms). fey is dead on about competition and olivia munn. good looking, hilarious feminists? the world isn’t ready for that shit, and neither are feminists.

  3. skull snap

    I realize that she’s trying to be funny. But it’s a tongue in cheek kind of funny. Meaning…she kind of really means it. She probably doesn’t want to give advice to other women because she sees them as competition.

    Nice passive aggressive jab at me there girl though.

  4. skull snap

    Not to mention, as someone who lives in Hollywood and works in the entertainment industry, I can say first hand that her attitude is very typical of the prototypical narcissistic, fame and power-hungry Hollywood person. I’m not saying she sucks or is a bad person, but that attitude is what makes Hollywood more challenging for women than for men. Even more so, I’ve met people who are more successful than I am and they are ALWAYS up for giving me advice and guess who they usually are — MEN.

    Imagine if Kathleen Hanna had said no to girls asking for advice. She doesn’t see girls as competition, she sees them as allies and recognizes the value in women working as a united force. There are male executives who are vying to bring women down. Don’t believe me? There is a quote from a deadline article that pretty much sums up the bullshit that women are up against: “Tipsters told me that the studios weren’t touching any new film comedies that featured women until they saw how Bridesmaids did. “And they’re hoping it tanks or at least does business they can put a negative spin on,” one source emailed. “Talk to Natalie Portman about the double-talk she’s enduring over Best Buds, a female stoner comedy she’s trying to set up. When Will Ferrell or Adam Sandler or Seth Rogen tank, there are no ramifications. It’s ugly out there.” ” http://www.deadline.com/2011/05/first-box-office-bridesmaids-looking-to-open-to-20m-weekend-priest-17m/

    I agree with Fey’s comments about Oliva Munn.

  5. annapurna

    it’s not just hollywood, though. the attitude that you describe is something i’ve experienced first hand while working on a research-based PhD – women in research are vigilant about protecting their territory, and it made being a female grad student with a female advisor incredibly difficult because on some level they make it known that they don’t want you to succeed and suddenly it becomes very personal. i think that at the heart of the matter is the distribution of power and what women have had to go through to get that power – in many ways that can shape their attitudes towards other women.

    i bring this up because i think that our different experiences might be the discrepancy in how you and i interpreted the humor. for me, fey’s comment was something i saw as more of an under-handed acknowledgement of “how things are” regardless of what profession you’re in, and not something that she actually meant. and i don’t doubt that some men are out to bring women down – but i also think that there are plenty of women out to bring other women down as well. we are easily our own worst enemies.

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