A BuzzFeed culture writer examines how some high-profile women defy cultural stereotypes about femininity.
Donald Trump’s recent election as president marked “the beginning of a backlash [against women] that has been quietly brewing for years. Petersen (Scandals of Classic Hollywood, 2014) offers thought-provoking profiles of controversial women who “question, interrogate or otherwise challenge the status quo.” She opens with tennis star Serena Williams, who defied the sport that made her famous not only by being black, but also by “her body…her personality, her resilience and her fortitude.” While winning championships and lucrative endorsements, Williams has also had to fight against tennis’ “double standard of decorum” that gives more room to male players to display their anger on the court than it does women. Like Williams, perennial rebel Madonna is also known for her outspokenness and daring. But as she approaches her 60th birthday, ageism has become an issue. Rather than accede to cultural norms and gradually withdraw from public life, however, “Oldanna” dares to make the statement that an aging female body can still be “sexual, powerful and visible,” despite the fact she built her career on celebrating youth and beauty. Among the most problematic of all the women Petersen examines is Caitlyn Jenner. In her pre-transition life as the ultra-masculine Bruce Jenner, she was the father of a famous reality TV family. Since her much-heralded coming out, she has adopted a culturally palatable mode of femininity, which she has coupled with a desire to deepen her understanding of gender nonconformity. But as the author points out, “Jenner’s openness” to such explorations has come at a cost, including low ratings for and the eventual cancellation of her reality TV show. Through incisive analysis of the ways in which contemporary society polices femininity, Petersen reveals the fraught relationship between women and celebrity. The author also profiles Melissa McCarthy, Hillary Clinton, and Lena Dunham, among others.
A sharp, compelling collection of social and cultural criticism.