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‘Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud’ With Anne Helen Petersen

‘Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud’ With Anne Helen Petersen
10 May
8:08

You know the type: the woman who won’t shut up, who’s too brazen, too opinionated—too much. It’s not that she’s an outcast (she might even be your friend, or your wife, or your mother) so much as she’s a social variable. Sometimes, she’s the life of the party; others, she’s the center of gossip. She’s the unruly woman, and she’s one of the most provocative, powerful forms of womanhood today.

The following are highlights from a conversation with Anne Helen Petersen about her book, Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman. To hear the full conversation, click the link above or subscribe to our podcast.

Sarah Aronson: How many hours of  Williams’ sisters tennis matches, Hillary Clinton stump speeches, Nicki Minaj music videos, and Keeping Up with the Kardashian episodes, among others, did you watch in the name of research for this book?

Anne Helen Petersen: Laughing

I spent a very long week watching every episode in which Kim Kardashian is pregnant in, which is more than you would think. It was actually a wonderful week and I highly recommend it, especially if you think the Kardashians are stupid because it’ll change your mind about why people watch the show and why people find Kim Kardashian compelling.

You have a PhD in Media Studies, and I want to know what is it like to sit next to you and watch an episode of ‘Girls,’ ‘Mike & Molly,’ or ‘Game of Thrones’?

When I was growing up my mom, who never called herself a feminist but was absolutely a feminist, would sit next to me and call my attention to things. Like when we were watching “The Little Mermaid,” she’d be like, “Oh, isn’t that significant that she lost her voice in order to get a man,” or she wouldn’t allow us to watch MTV unless we were sitting there with her.

I remember watching the Counting Crows video for “Mr. Jones”—this was like, probably 1994—it’s just the band playing and in the background there’s a woman in a flamenco dress, which is a lyric in the song and my mom’s saying, “Why are there close-ups of this woman? Why are they objectifying this woman?” and I would be like, “Uh, mom. You’re the worst! Shut up.”

But those moments obviously have stuck with me for some time, but I never do that myself. I don’t have kids but I have been a teacher for a long time. Even when I was a teacher it wasn’t like I was sitting in the audience next to my students saying, “Pause. Look at this!”

I think part of being a media critic is teaching yourself to be able to enjoy something—actually take pleasure in watching a television show, reading a book, listening to a song—but then also not shutting off those parts that think critically about it. I believe pretty fiercely that analysis doesn’t necessarily destroy pleasure. It enriches the pleasure.

So, I don’t talk during it, and I usually don’t talk right after it. I love going to movies by myself for that particular reason, because I love just sitting with my own reaction to the movie for a long time. But I always do want to discuss it in an interesting way, whether that’s an hour from then, whether that’s a week from then, or writing a piece about it.

Break

In what ways have you become more unruly with age?

I was a huge people pleaser growing up and I still crave other’s approval but I think I’m more okay with not always being nice, or being perceived as nice. I think most women are taught that is your natural mode of being towards the world: in our emails, in our thank you notes, in our interactions with the grocery store clerk, in everything we have to be kind, nice, cheery, ebullient. I’m still really nice to the grocery store clerk—to waiters—all the people who deserve that sort of treatment and it’s much easier out here in the west because they’re nice to you back. . .

But I think for me now, I don’t feel the need, as much, to always apologize. A new way I’ve heard, if you’re late for a meeting or something, instead of saying, “I’m so sorry and giving an excuse,” you’re like “thank you for waiting for me.” Instead of blaming myself or taking that posture of “I’m always messing up and I need to overwhelm you with kindness in order to make up for that,” just arriving at this baseline of like, we both respect each other let’s start here.

I’ve also started emailing like a man which is this tactic that one of my colleagues taught me. She did this experiment where she emailed like a man for a week, which is just like one sentence replies, that are like: “Fine,” “Great,” you know that sort of thing, and it’s wonderful.

Is it liberating?

It’s totally liberating and it just takes less time and I think that maybe there are people out there who are like, “Oh, she’s kind of terse,” but if you meet me in person I’m not a terse person and so I think we spend so much thinking through how our online actions are perceived and you just can’t control every part of it and so I try to be as authentic to myself and be careful in places where it matters and try not to care as much in places where it doesn’t.

About the Book:
From celebrity gossip expert and Buzzfeed culture writer Anne Helen Petersen comes an accessible, analytical look at how female celebrities are pushing the boundaries of what it means to be an “acceptable” woman.

You know the type: the woman who won’t shut up, who’s too brazen, too opinionated—too much. It’s not that she’s an outcast (she might even be your friend, or your wife, or your mother) so much as she’s a social variable. Sometimes, she’s the life of the party; others, she’s the center of gossip. She’s the unruly woman, and she’s one of the most provocative, powerful forms of womanhood today.

There have been unruly women for as long as there have been boundaries of what constitutes acceptable “feminine” behavior, but there’s evidence that she’s on the rise—more visible and less easily dismissed—than ever before. In Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud, Anne Helen Petersen uses the lens of “unruliness” to explore the ascension of eleven contemporary pop culture powerhouses: Serena Williams, Melissa McCarthy, Abbi Jacobson, Ilana Glazer, Nicki Minaj, Madonna, Kim Kardashian, Hillary Clinton, Caitlyn Jenner, Jennifer Weiner, and Lena Dunham. Petersen explores why the public loves to love (and hate) these controversial figures, each of whom has been conceived of “too” something: too queer, too strong, too honest, too old, too pregnant, too shrill, too much. With its brisk, incisive analysis, Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud will be a conversation-starting book on what makes and breaks celebrity today.

About the Author:

Anne Helen Petersen received her PhD in media studies from the University of Texas, where she studied the industrial history of the gossip industry. Today, she writes about culture, celebrity, and feminism for Buzzfeed News. Her first book, Scandals of Hollywood, was featured in The Boston Globe, Time, NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, Bitch, the New York Post, and The Rumpus. She lives in Brooklyn.

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