Recommendation: Better this than Instagram
Where to read: It kind of is summer reading, tbh
Read with: Rosé
In brief: This deals with some tough subjects but I would still classify this as light reading. It won’t rock your world and many of the ideas explored in it are probably familiar, particularly to younger female readers who have had ample opportunities to think about or experience most of these issues. That said, it is a good read.
I’m not always the greatest fan of the essay collection however this is rather well done. Part of the enjoyment is her writing style, particularly her gift for cutting vitriol and a flare for imagery. But she has also put material together on a interesting spread of topics, from the wedding industry to UVA to social media.
Her opening essay, ‘The I in the Internet’ looks at five broad questions: ‘first, how the internet is built to distend our sense of identity; second, how it encourages us to overvalue our opinions; third, how it maximises our sense of opposition; fourth, how it cheapens our understanding of solidarity; and finally, how it destroys our sense of scale.’ Commentary on the utter fuckery that is internet culture is probably an oversaturated field and I don’t think there’s anything in here that is particularly ground breaking but she writes so well it’s easy to go with it. Her comments about “slacktivism”, the conflation of commenting, liking and posting with political action, are particularly trenchant.
Her commentary on literary heroines is similarly conventional but poignant as she argues that female characters tend to evolve from ‘from innocence in childhood to sadness in adolescence to bitterness in adulthood – at which point, if hadn’t killed yourself already, you would simply disappear‘. It’s a good point selectively made, noting that she cherry picks supporting texts while ignoring some relevant counterexamples, but loathing Fifty Shades and Twilight is not particularly original. She does, however, pick up on the trend towards deeply and explicitly traumatised heroines I’ve long hated in YA and “chick lit”. This is not to say that male heroes in YA are not traumatised however they are often endowed with perhaps unrealistic resilience and are seldom defined by their response to those traumas, whereas female heroines are either left to wallow or have their entire story arcs defined by their reactions.
There is a lot more I could go into but one common theme I found particularly interesting is the idea of complicity in broader systems we are inescapably part of. For example, she decries market-friendly, capitalist pop-feminism (you know, the kind where you can buy a Dior ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ tshirt for $860) but acknowledges that websites like Jezebel where she worked were part of that pop-feminist ecosystem. Similarly, we can hate the gig economy, Amazon or Facebook, but we are still using those services, either by default or by lack of meaningful alternatives.