WINNER OF THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FOR CRITICISM
A FINALIST FOR THE PEN/DIAMONSTEIN-SPIELVOGEL AWARD FOR THE ART OF THE ESSAY
“If Hollywood’s treatment of women leaves you wanting, you’ll find good, heady company in You Play the Girl.” —ELLE
As a kid in the 1970s and 80s, Carina Chocano was confused by the mixed messages all around her; messages that told her who she could be – and who she couldn’t. Dutifully absorbing all the conflicting information the culture has to offer on how to be a woman, Chocano grappled with sexed up sidekicks, princesses waiting to be saved, and morally infallible angels who seemed to have no opinions of their own. She learned that “the girl” is not a person, but a man’s idea of what a woman should be – she’s whatever the hero needs her to be in order to become himself. It wasn’t until she spent five years as a movie critic, and was laid off just after her daughter was born, however, that she really came to understand how the stories the culture tells us about what it means to be a girl limit our lives and shape our destinies. She resolved to rewrite her own story.
In You Play the Girl, Chocano blends formative personal stories with insightful and emotionally powerful analysis. Moving from Bugs Bunny to Playboy Bunnies, from Flashdance to Frozen, from the progressive ’70s through the backlash ’80s, the glib ’90s, and the pornified aughts – and at stops in between – she explains how growing up in the shadow of “the girl” taught her to think about herself and the world and what it means to raise a daughter in the face of these contorted reflections. In the tradition of Roxane Gay, Rebecca Solnit, and Susan Sontag, Chocano brilliantly shows that our identities are more fluid than we think, and certainly more complex than anything we see on any kind of screen.
Produced by special arrangement with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. “The Ingenue Chooses Marriage or Death,” “Bad Girlfriend,” “The Kick-Ass,” “Surreal Housewives,” “Celebrity Gothic,” “A Modest Proposal for More Backstabbing in Preschool,” and “Girls Love Math” first appeared in a different form in the New York Times Magazine. Portions of “Real Girls” and “Big Mouth Strikes Again” appeared in the Los Angeles Times, and a different version of “Thoroughly Modern Lily” was first published in Salon. The author is grateful for permission to reprint lines from “Miley Cyrus Is Just Trying to Save the World” by Allison Glock (2015), courtesy of Marie Claire, Hearst Communications, Inc.