I mean, it’s not like I wasn’t going to like Bossypants. Chmon. I pre-ordered this book the minute I heard about its existence, as I’ve spent the better part of the last few years idolizing Tina Fey as both creator and star of 30 Rock. Friends of mine know I’ve long felt a kinship with Liz Lemon. Frumpy dresser? Check. Devoted fan of junk food, with an emphasis on items whose key ingredient is cheese or cheese-flavored? Check. Inability to translate motivated responsible work persona into personal life? Check. Unabashed fan of reality television? Double freaking check.
So I was a little surprised when about 50 pages into Bossypants, a subtle theme was emerging. This book was…kind of about being a woman. About being a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field (comedy, not television) a theme I’ve only recently read about in another enjoyable lady memoir: Kathy Griffin’s (who, ironically, is given a bit of a shout-out in Bossypants: “If you could turn gay from being around gay people, wouldn’t Kathy Griffin be Rosie O’Donnell by now?”) Yes, this book was just a little bit about how even the suggestion that Tina Fey being a successful boss is something worth highlighting inadvertently separates her from the legions of unhighlighted male bosses who have come before her, as though signing paychecks with a vagina is like a dog walking on its hind legs.
Now, pause: In the few moments of my life that I’ve bothered to seriously consider feminism and/or workplace discrimination, I’ve had mixed feelings. Naturally, I acknowledge it’s out there—wage disparities are hard to argue with—but whether I’m just generally apathetic, or have read too many Ayn Rand books—note: I have read zero Ayn Rand books—I sometimes find myself taking a bit of a Booker T. Washington approach (look it up, kids).
I’ve also wondered whether it’s always a bad thing to have someone expect less of you. Now, I’m speaking from a completely biased point of view. Where I work, the department heads are all women. My editor is a woman; our publisher is a woman. So I’ve been fortunate enough to exist in an environment where, if anything, I need the occassional sports talk (I don’t watch sports, but enjoy listening to such talk and then interjecting with uninformed sarcastic commentary. This is not, on the other hand, something you can do when talking about say….birthing methods).
But seriously, if people think you’re capable of less than you are, aren’t you ultimately in a better place to blow their minds (assuming you’re given such an opportunity). Just like Becky/Icebox in hit 1994 movie Little Giants: Her athletic prowess was doubted by a young Devon Sawa (easily my most intense pre-teen crush) and then she melted his face with her mad footballing skills.
This is something I think about every time someone says that I “don’t act like a normal 25-year-old.” What does that mean? I’m capable of holding conversations not about beer? I manage to get in to work before 10 a.m.? I own clothes without sequins? But hey, if all I have to do to seem “older” is perform like a normal adult, which I biologically am, then awesome: Step back world, and be wowed by my ability to dress myself and respond to emails in a timely fashion.
Now in fairness, publishing isn’t a typically sexist industry, of which there are plenty and of which comedy is one. So it would be fair to say sexism is something Tina Fey has experienced more than I have. I watch standup comedy: There is a definitively skewed male-to-female ratio. It also seems a woman can’t be considered funny unless she tells jokes about periods and/or anecdotes of her encounters with irregular penis shapes (for the record, both funny).
Anywhos, the book: Yes, Bossypants is funny. Yes, it’s pretty much everything you wanted. There’s nerdy young Tina, whose early life suggests she was not so much destined for greatness as for community theater and ownership of between five and six cats. There’s upstart young comedian Tina, who encounters titans in her field and learns everything she needs to know for a future career, half of which she ignores. There’s 30 Rock creator Tina, Sarah Palin Tina, wife Tina, mother Tina (the only part of the book that made me vom a little, but really just a little) and just generally accessible and likeable and both unintentionally and intentionally hilarious Tina. There are a few choice mentions of in-person Alec Baldwin, and a play-by-play of Tina’s on-set encounter with Oprah. There’s a lot of cryptic Lorne Michaels stuff and some pretty sweet childhood photos.
But what you really come away with from Bossypants (somewhat ironic because in a way it’s the point Fey is trying to dispel) is that Tina Fey isn’t just a successul person; she’s a really successful woman. As someone who’s long idolized Fey as a comedian, writer and lover of comfortable sweaters, this above all things was the surprise for me. I’ve always dealt with my own distinct lack of femininity by surrounding myself with guys, by embracing my tomboy to compensate for my inability to wear heels for more than 30 seconds without rolling an ankle. Fey, on the other hand, has done it by embracing her awkward feminity, by surrounding herself with and admiring other strong women, by elevating powerful females when given the opportunity and by writing a book that basically says “When you ask me how I ‘juggle it all,’ you’re demeaning me. So fucking stop asking.” Ironically, that takes some balls.
Men will enjoy this book, assuming they can deal with 250 pages sans explosions (see how I transition from questions of gender equality to rampant stereotyping?) but women will really enjoy it. Somewhere along the way, Tina Fey became a bit of an icon for us intelligent ladies. Yes, because she made it cool to be smart and funny before gorgeous. (For the record, I can’t tell you how many guys I’ve heard say they would “totally bang Tina Fey” and yet the whole brown hair/glasses/smart/funny thing hasn’t exactly been netting me future husbands.) Yes, because she’s unapologetic about herself, while I feel near-constant remorse for my somewhat cruel sense of humor and inordinately large collection of sweatpants. And yes, because 30 Rock is one of the funniest shows on television.
Bossypants reminds you of all those things. But ladies, you’ll like it because it also reminds you that Tina Fey is first and foremost…normal. Just a normal woman with a job she worked for and a husband she loves and a kid whose poop she’s had to clean out of a one-piece bathingsuit. Just a woman who in one week met Oprah, did a Sarah Palin impression to an audience of 10 million and planned a Peter Pan-themed birthday party for her three-year-old. Just a woman who wants you to know that every starlet on a magazine cover has her dress taped in the back because no one is that thin. And you know what…if that woman can be our icon, amid the Gwyneths and Anistons and Angelinas and I’m just naming other random famous women here, then she deserves a medal. Or at least a New York Times bestseller.
AUTHOR: Tina Fey
PAGES: 275 (in paperback)
ALSO WROTE: n/a
SORTA LIKE: Official Book Club Selection meets Nora Ephron
FIRST LINE: “Welcome Friend, Congratulations on your purchase of this American-made genuine book.”