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.


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