Review: ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ by Rebecca Traister

by Kim on October 19, 2011 · 10 comments

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Title: Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women
Author: Rebecca Traister
Genre: Nonfiction
Year: 2010
Acquired: Bought
Rating: ★★★★½

A Bonus Post: After you finish reading my review, I suggest heading over to Book Riot where I wrote about how this book led me down the bibliography rabbit hole and some of the other books about women and politics that I’m hoping to read.

Review: Rebecca Traister’s goal in Big Girls Don’t Cry is a big one — to tell the story of women and the 2008 presidential election, a story of the country and its culture and how the public figures in this race showed how far the country has come and how much further there still is to go when it comes to addressing sex and race in our public discourse. As Traister explains in the intro of the book,

Though a presidential election is by definition a political event, the cultural shifts made visible and made possible in 2008 took place well beyond the scope of purely presidential politics. …

Political breakthroughs begat cultural breakthroughs begat comedy breakthroughs begat political breakthroughs. The country was in a steady revisionist conversation with itself, with voters, with candidates, with pundits, with entertainers. It was a wild, dizzying ride.

I worry that explanation about what Big Girls Don’t Cry is about makes it sound like a dry political book, which is absolutely not the case. Traister, a young, feminist journalist who wrote about politics and gender throughout the election, does tell a political tale, but she embeds her own experiences and reactions to the story, giving the book some emotional energy and a way to engage with the discussion personally too.

The book necessarily spend a lot of time talking about Hillary Clinton and the primary contest against Barack Obama, which makes sense given that her run for the Democratic nomination for president was a hugely historical moment and brought out some really complicated issues about race and gender.

However, I almost think I liked the section after Clinton was out of the race a little bit better — probably because some of the most memorable moments of the election came after Sarah Palin was announced as John McCain’s running mate. Traister covers this part of the election cycle with equal enthusiasm, including a fantastically funny section on female comedians and this impact on the election. I was so happy to be reminded of Amy Poehler’s Sarah Palin rap on SNL’s Weekend Update, which still makes me giggle uncontrollably when I watch it.

If there’s any one lesson to take from the book, it’s that discussions of sex, race, and politics are — despite years of advancement for women and people of color — still complex and, often, difficult. The 2008 presidential campaign brought them all uncomfortably and necessarily to the forefront, and we’re lucky to have journalists like Traister who are willing to explore the implications in an engaging and thoughtful way.

Big Girls Don’t Cry is a highly recommended read.

Other Reviews: Bonjour, Cass! |

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Bettina October 19, 2011 at 6:03 am

The review made me think of a trailer that’s been floating around the interwebs recently of a film called “Miss Representation”, which focuses on the role of women in leadership positions and how it is portrayed by the media. I found it quite shocking, because it really made me think about a few things I just tend to take for granted, but all things considered, they’re actually quite sexist. Here’s the link to the trailer on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gkIiV6konY

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Kim October 20, 2011 at 6:26 pm

Thanks for the link — that looks fascinating. I hope I can watch it.

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Amused October 19, 2011 at 11:23 am

I haven’t read a lot of political books but this does sound like one I would like since it discusses more about the cultural aspects of it. Great review!

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Kim October 20, 2011 at 6:27 pm

I don’t normally like contemporary politics books, but I think this is more of a cultural book even though it’s about an election.

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Trisha October 19, 2011 at 6:03 pm

Politics frustrates me, but this book sounds like something I could get into.

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Kim October 20, 2011 at 6:30 pm

Definitely, I thought of this book when you posted about being interested in some race and gender issues. This book covers a lot of that.

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Kristin October 29, 2011 at 9:54 pm

Yay! I’m glad you liked it… I still haven’t finished it. Freakin’ law school books… so dense, so time-consuming (but still pretty interesting to me). Between this post and your Read-A-Thon one, though, I’m getting super-jealous of your reading material. I can’t wait until I get a break from school so I can pick up a few of the ones you mentioned.

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Kim October 30, 2011 at 12:58 pm

Yeah, I’m sure law school reading is very, very slow. I can’t wait to hear what you’re reading when you get a break :)

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