Pretty Bitches: On Being Called Crazy, Angry, Bossy, Frumpy, Feisty, and All the Other Words That are Used to Undermine Women

Edited by Lizzie Skurnick. Seal, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-1-58005-919-0
Journalist Skurnick (That Should Be a Word) curates a sharp-witted and intimate essay collection examining how language is used to disempower women. Each piece addresses a single word, as writers including Laura Lippman, Dahlia Lithwick, Rebecca Traister, and Meg Wolitzer take on ostensibly admiring adjectives (nurturing, sweet), outright slurs (shrill; crazy), and veiled insults (ambitious; feisty). Guardian columnist Afua Hirsch’s “Professional” explores how women are viewed in the workplace, while essays by South African writer Lihle Z. Mtshali and Asian-American memoirist Beth Bich Minh Nguyen address the cultural stereotypes behind yellow-bone and small, respectively. The collection’s confessional nature—feminist critic Kate Harding wrestles with identifying as a victim after a sexual assault, and novelist Jennifer Weiner admits that being called fat has the power to “shut me up and shut me down”—packs a punch but leaves little room for charting concrete solutions. The diverse contributor list offers new perspectives on mainstream, white-dominant culture, even though the essays largely share a similar and somewhat traditional notion of what femininity connotes. Nevertheless, this eloquent inquiry into how language enshrines gender stereotypes will resonate with feminists, wordsmiths, and fans of the personal essay. Agent: Victoria Skurnick, Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary Agency. (Mar.)
Reviewed on : 12/11/2019
Release date: 03/03/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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