If you wanted to convince the remaining unconvinced populace that the F word is not so scary, Tina Fey would be the perfect conduit. In her new book, Bossypants, Fey, like a jocular Mary Poppins, gives readers many spoonfuls of sugar to make the feminist medicine go down. Coating incisive points about sexism with sweet comedic flare, her prose is easy to swallow, much like her infamous Sarah Palin impersonations, of which she writes “You all watched a sketch about feminism and you didn’t even realize it because of all the jokes. It’s like when Jessica Seinfeld puts spinach in kids’ brownies. Suckers!” (216-7).
In the introduction, Fey explains the book’s title, noting that as an executive producer people often ask “Is it hard for you being the boss?” to which Fey deadpans “You know, in the same way they say, ‘Gosh, Mr. Trump, is it awkward for you to be the boss of all these people?” (5).
Many sections mock female beauty norms, as when Fey discusses “Twelve Tenets of Looking Amazing Forever.” In the chapter, she relates an embarrassing mother-daughter bra fitting story, admitting that “This early breast-related humiliation prevented me from ever needing to participate in ‘Girls Gone Wild’ in my twenties” (104). Here, Fey alludes to lots of big feminist ideas – the institution of motherhood and how mothers often enforce patriarchal norms that are detrimental to themselves and their children, the hyper-vigilance expected of the female body, and the mainstream media’s sexualization of women – all in a simple couple of sentences that most who have ever worn a bra can likely relate to.
Though a celebrity herself, Fey ridicules the cult of celebrity throughout, framing it as a ruse. In her typically understated tone, she advises “You have to remember that actors are human beings. Which is hard sometimes because they look so much better than human beings” (122). Her section on magazine cover shoots reveals all the effort and artifice that goes into celebrification. Noting “at five foot four I have the waist of a seven-foot model,” Fey pokes fun at body ideals promoted in the media, offering a sort of ode to Photoshop, which she names “America’s most serious and pressing issue” (157). Acceding that “Retouching is here to stay,” Fey puts a comical spin on the inanity, arguing “At least with Photoshop you don’t really have to alter your body. It’s better than all these disgusting injectibles and implants. Isn’t it better to have a computer to it do your picture than to have a doctor do it to your face?” (161).
Later, in the same vein, she laments “I’ve never understood why every character being ‘hot’ was necessary for enjoying a TV show” (193), admitting “I personally like a cast with a lot of different-shaped faces and weird little bodies and a diverse array of weak chins, because it helps me tell the characters apart” (192).
Perhaps my favorite section is “Dear Internet” in which Fey answers some of the more insulting missives directed at her online. To “jerkstore” who claims “she completely ruined SNL” by virtue of being too celebrated because she’s a woman, Fey sarcastically agrees “Women in this country have been over-celebrated for too long…I want to hear what men of the world have been up to. What fun new guns have they invented? What are they raping these days?”
Her mantra “Do your thing and don’t care if they like it” (145) coincides with what she titles her “Bossypants Managerial Technique”:
“I hire the most talented of people who are the least likely to throw a punch in the workplace. If this is contributing to the demasculinization of America, I say hold a telethon and let me know how it goes. I don’t ever want to get punched in the face over a joke – or even screamed at” (175).
Lamenting that women, especially comedians, are labeled “’crazy’ after a certain age” (270), Fey offers the following theory on Hollywood’s infamous inability to write roles for females ‘of a certain age’: “I have a suspicion that the definition of ‘crazy’ in show business is a woman who keeps talking after no one wants to fuck her anymore.”
Fey is particularly astute about how the media (and society) is more critical of women than men, relating “There was an assumption that I was personally attacking Sarah Palin by impersonating her on TV. No one ever said it was ‘mean’ when Chevy Chase played Gerald Ford falling down all the time. No one ever accused Darrell Hammond or Dan Aykroyd of ‘going too far’ in their political impressions. You see what I’m getting at here. I am not mean and Mrs. Palin is not fragile. Too imply otherwise is a disservice to us both” (234).
Neither is Fey the overbearing ball buster indicated by her title “Bossypants” – it is just that our society, as her book so humorously reveals, still likes it women in certain types of boxes – and the boss box isn’t one of them. But, and let me put this in my bossiest tone, “Do yourself a service! Read this feminist comedic treat!”