Thursday, January 6, 2022

90s Bitch: Media, Culture, and the Failed Promise of Gender Equality by Allison Yarrow


This is an exhausting read. I was chatting about this with my friend the other day, about how even though books about feminism is so important, reading them can make you feel drained and angry. I think what is so chilling about Yarrow's work is that it completely reframes many of the pop cultural phenomena and historical events from my childhood. I grew up in the 90s, so I was too young to understand all the sexist and transphobic rhetoric people were spewing about Janet Reno, or understand why my parents might have exchanged a side-eye when I wanted the Lisa Frank makeup sets they sold at Target that unfailingly contained copious amounts of body glitter.

90s B**** has the advantage of hindsight. We, as a society, are now equipped with an entire toolbox of language used to describe injustice of all kinds. And in this book, Yarrow examines many significant 90s events from a critical lens. Some subjects broached are Beverly Hills: 90210 and how women and sexuality were portrayed on television (revisited again with the older set via Murphy Brown). She talks about the way female musicians were either denigrated or sexualized, from grunge artists like Courtney Love to feminist rockers like Fiona Apple and Paula Cole, to pop idols like the Spice Girls and Britney Spears. There's also retrospective on things like the Lorena Bobbitt and Amy Fisher trials, the O.J. Simpson trial, the Bill Clinton scandal, the lambasting of Hillary Clinton and Janet Reno, and so much more.

I liked this book a lot and I think the author had some great talking points. She also talks about them in a really engaging way, which made this a more accessible read for me. I do think that perhaps she was a little over-ambitious in tackling so many different facets of media and culture and politics, and that it might have been better if she had written this book instead as a series of books, each focusing on and dissecting one of those elements. She also uses some silly language, like b****ification, which I have a hard time even saying with a straight face. It feels like an oversimplification of what really went on in the 90s, which was a toxic blend of double standards, infantilization, sexualization, gaslighting, strict imposition of gender norms, while at the same time preaching that all things are indeed equal.

Would recommend this to people who are interested in pop-culture commentary and feminism. It's a great jumping off point and brought back a lot of good and bad memories for me.

4 out of 5 stars

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