PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

A Spoonful of Humor Makes the Feminism Go Down in Tina Fey's 'Bossypants'

Captivating while innocently disorganized, Bossypants makes the most palatable (and hilarious) argument in history that the glass ceiling is starting to crack.


Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Length: 288 pages
Author: Tina Fey
Price: $26.99
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2011-04

You already know that Bossypants is hilarious. You knew the minute you saw “by Tina Fey” printed on the front cover. Or, if you weren’t sure, you asked someone who was reading it and they told you it was amaaaazing. That person is right. It is amazing, but not because it’s smartly, sometimes scathingly, funny and chock full of wit. It’s amazing because Tina Fey is a strong, mature, honest, generally classy human being, and not afraid to show it. Furthermore, she can teach you how to be one too, even if she has to trick you into it by hiding her wisdom inside a seemingly harmless, generally cute pseudo-memoir.

Of course, when it’s not harmless or cute, Bossypants is a cautious but incisive look at what it’s like to be woman in a man’s world. As the executive producer of 30 Rock, Fey holds a role that’s not common for women. Fey is too sophisticated to address feminism head on, and as result we’re left feeling almost ashamed for thinking it was difficult for a woman to “have it all”.

Not that Fey makes it sound easy. She writes about the first weekend she performed as Sarah Palin, which coincided with shooting Oprah’s cameo on 30 Rock and her daughter’s Peter Pan-themed third birthday party. Apparently, Oprah questioned how Fey would pull it off and she notes, “when Oprah Winfrey is suggesting you may have overextended yourself, you need to examine your f*$king life.” Fey sneaks in her charming self-deprecation, but at the end of the day (and the chapter), she has put Oprah on 30 Rock, established her wildly famous Sarah Palin impersonation, and served a pretty elaborate birthday cake in the shape of Captain Hook’s pirate ship. In fact, the pirate ship is the last image in the chapter.

It almost seems like Fey has intentionally ended the chapter this way to trick us into admitting what we really think about women with careers. “Yeah, it was the peak moment in her professional life, but all she could think about was her daughter. Women....” Fey’s narrative is a big screw-you to this attitude. Oprah came on her show, she made comedy history, and she is daring you, no matter who you are, to deny the awesomeness of that pirate ship cake. The thing is, you can’t. The cake is awesome, and so is she.

Fey leaves us guessing a bit about her priorities, but never doubting the fact that she pulls off the impossible on a daily basis. Of course, one of the impossible things that she pulls off is being a woman in comedy. She writes that she applied to Saturday Night Live because she heard they were looking to diversify and observes, “Only in comedy does an obedient white girl from the suburbs count as a diversity. ”

Ironically, or maybe intentionally, one recurring concern Fey raises in her book is that people don’t think women are funny on stage without men present. She recalls how when she performed with Second Stage in Chicago, the gender balance in any trouble was weighted towards the male side to avoid putting two women alone in a scene together.

Thus, not only does she value the now famous Hilary Clinton/Sarah Palin because of its overall success, but also because it was living, fire-breathing proof that two women could rock the world on stage, and without a man present. In a sense, it was a case of life imitates art imitating politics. Fey and Amy Poehler broke the glass ceiling in comedy just Clinton and (in a very different way from Clinton) Palin did in politics. Fey writes as though this triumph was a secret, making the case that nobody fully noticed the subtext of the scene or the situation as it unfolded.

Perhaps the same sneakiness is a theme in Bosspants. In some respects, it's meandering and even a bit random; there’s an entire chapter on fake beauty tips that leaves us chuckling while simultaneously muttering, “I don’t get it.” The book is undeniably choppy, but it’s a credit to Fey’s many achievements that we keep on reading. Her message is distinct but light; her feminism is neither aggressive nor flimsy. At the end of day, the book is powerful proof that things have changed. Fey writes about everything from summer theater to Saturday Night Live to breastfeeding with rambling, confident abandon because she’s famous enough to do it, even without any men present on the stage.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.


Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.


Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.


MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of September 2020

Oceans of Slumber thrive with their progressive doom, grind legends Napalm Death make an explosive return, and Anna von Hausswolff's ambient record are just some of September's highlights.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.