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I was kind of hoping this would be a book of the sort one could quietly send to female relatives who are allergic to the word feminism but who might be open to the idea of being more assertive, but instead it is an absolutely classic demonstration of the fact that we cannot dismantle the master's house with the master's own goddamn tools and also that the reward for trying to change the system from within is (at least) twenty years of boredom, where boredom is defined as 'having to be in this system at all'.

I don't know, maybe I'm being too hard on this stupid little book. The author has noticed that women are culturally encouraged to be nice at their own expense, and that this is a bad thing, and that a mechanism used for social control in this direction is calling women names. The book is an attempt to reclaim one of those names. This is an agenda I support.

However. The best way I can describe it is that the author is not well-enough grounded in theory to follow through with some of her arguments, and therefore keeps tripping over massively problematic things she hasn't considered. As in, there is a point where she says:

When we don't acknowledge our Inner Bitch, we get pimples. Or we get fat. Or too thin, controlling, manipulative, whiny, weepy, or hysterical.

I JUST. I DON'T EVEN. This book is not written at a level where I am willing to take that as irony. You know what isn't helpful? Using the same social control mechanisms you're trying to discredit. She used the actual word hysterical, I mean, really.

And so I get the depressing feeling out of this that it isn't meant to be in any way genuinely subversive-- it is meant to help foster the culture of female exceptionalism. What Hilts is basically saying (sometimes outright) is that if a woman can learn to shrug off this particular insult and be assertive in a specific set of ways, she can be a boss at her job and gain more economic power. That is in fact literally true, yes. But she also says that one can't expect all women to do this (whyever not?) and that when one meets another person who does this sort of thing, one probably won't get on with them (I don't take that as a given, either), and she falls over backwards every so often to assure the reader that actually being bitchy means that you're being a more supportive and in fact nicer person really because when you give support you mean it-- which, again, is true, but I don't trust the ideological bases of the way she keeps saying it.

I don't know. This book wasn't written for me. I've never been called a bitch in my life: my single-gender high school preferred homophobia and slut-shaming to gender-specific insults that would have too wide a target base, and after high school I have been in social contexts which are more or less explicitly feminist. I do not understand non-queer dating practices and have never followed them, thus eliminating a good half of the angst that Hilts is trying to combat in her audience, and I have since a fairly young age treated my personal appearance as a set of voluntary signifiers I manipulate to say various social things, none of which have much to do with wanting to appear sexually attractive as defined by others. (I like how I look, and therefore it comes across as attractive, but that's different.) Hell, I don't at this point particularly identify as female. So maybe there are people for whom this could be really helpful.

It's just, if we're going to have a bouncy pop-culture-y feminist-liberation-without-using-the-words-for-it self-help manual, couldn't it at least be actually feminist?


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