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You Play the Girl: Book summary and reviews of You Play the Girl by Carina Chocano

You Play the Girl

On Playboy Bunnies, Stepford Wives, Train Wrecks, & Other Mixed Messages

by Carina Chocano

You Play the Girl by Carina Chocano X
You Play the Girl by Carina Chocano
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  • Published Aug 2017
    304 pages
    Genre: Other

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Book Summary

Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism
A Finalist for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay

As a kid in the 1970s and 80s, Carina Chocano was confused by the mixed messages all around her; messages that told her who she could be—and who she couldn't. Dutifully absorbing all the conflicting information the culture has to offer on how to be a woman, Chocano grappled with sexed up sidekicks, princesses waiting to be saved, and morally infallible angels who seemed to have no opinions of their own. She learned that "the girl" is not a person, but a man's idea of what a woman should be—she's whatever the hero needs her to be in order to become himself. It wasn't until she spent five years as a movie critic, and was laid off just after her daughter was born, however, that she really came to understand how the stories the culture tells us about what it means to be a girl limit our lives and shape our destinies. She resolved to rewrite her own story.

In You Play the Girl, Chocano blends formative personal stories with insightful and emotionally powerful analysis. Moving from Bugs Bunny to Playboy Bunnies, from Flashdance to Frozen, from the progressive '70s through the backlash '80s, the glib '90s, and the pornified aughts—and at stops in between—she explains how growing up in the shadow of "the girl" taught her to think about herself and the world and what it means to raise a daughter in the face of these contorted reflections. In the tradition of Roxane Gay, Rebecca Solnit, and Susan Sontag, Chocano brilliantly shows that our identities are more fluid than we think, and certainly more complex than anything we see on any kind of screen.

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Book Awards

  • award image National Book Critics Circle Awards, 2017

Reviews

Media Reviews

Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism
A Finalist for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay 
One of Amazon's "Best Books of 2017: Nonfiction"
One of iBook's "Best Books of August"
One of Publishers Weekly's "Books of the Week"

"Starred Review. Whip-smart...Remarkably comprehensive and enjoyably associative, the essays move quickly from the haunting performances of French actress Isabelle Adjani to The Real Housewives of Beverly HillsBewitched, and I Dream of Jeannie as allegories for the potential of powerful women to 'wreck civilization'...Incisive and witty...these essays will appeal to anyone interested in how women's stories are told." - Publishers Weekly

"Starred Review. [Chocano] interweaves relevant personal stories from her childhood and adult experiences with and entertaining and insightful review of female characters from the last 50 years of pop culture, including television, film and literature. Chocano not only looks back at her own experiences, she also writes emotionally about the realities of the world that her young daughter faces today. Each piece combines numerous, well-connected examples from the author's extensive knowledge of pop culture, with an analysis of a theme related to the various aspects of women's lives: work, relationships, marriage, sexuality, motherhood, and even math. As a result, the essays have a sound research foundation and are well documented. VERDICT: This entertaining, engaging, enlightening tour of the portrayal of women in pop culture will appeal to general readers and researchers in a variety of cross-disciplinary fields." - Library Journal

"A sharply perceptive look at the myths that constrain women." - Kirkus

"If Hollywood's treatment of women leaves you wanting, you'll find good, heady company in You Play the Girl." - ELLE

"Carina Chocano's You Play the Girl reads like a war cry. With dazzling clarity, her commentary exposes the subliminal sexism on our pages and screens." - O, The Oprah Magazine

"If Hollywood's treatment of women leaves you wanting, you'll find good, heady company in Carina Chocano's essay collection, You Play the Girl. Why, Chocano asks, does the ingenue have to choose between marriage and death?" - Elle

"In Carina Chocano's whip-smart new book You Play The Girl: On Playboy Bunnies, Stepford Wives, Train Wrecks, & Other Mixed Messages, she analyzes the 'girls' of pop culture across the decades, from Bewitched to contestants on The Bachelor (and its fictional counterpart, UnREAL) to the princesses of Frozen. Through cultural commentary mixed with personal reflections, Chocano explores the ways on-screen women have influenced her life and the way she sees the world. A-." - Entertainment Weekly, "Best New Books"

"The cultural formulas that Chocano identifies are frustrating, but her readings don't deny them their fun…In the tradition of a long line of women writers, Chocano wants to make sense of this sort of enchantment and understand what kind of education it is offering up, and to whom." - New York Times Book Review

"Three sentences into You Play the Girl I already felt like cheering. Carina Chocano is a first-rate cultural critic whose specialty is constructing dead-on feminist analyses of such sinister artifacts as the relentless 'Frozen' and the various horrifying iterations of Barbie. Chocano is unusually skilled at dismantling the toxic underpinnings of such pop-culture mainstays, motivated in part by her desire to help her young daughter confront 'a world that literally never stops yelling at her that her primary value is sexual.' And Chocano demolishes the dismal shibboleth that feminists can't be funny, wielding abundant wit with a devastating sardonic edge." - Washington Post

"Pop-culture critic Carina Chocano's smart, colorful, and compelling collection of essays, You Play the Girl, unpacks the ways movies, TV, and advertising sculpt perceptions of who and what women can and cannot be. Chocano achieves the right mix between personal essay and clear-eyed criticism, between high culture and low (discussion of Virginia Woolf leads into the 'Ghostbusters' reboot and the attendant trolls). We get a sense of her formative pop-culture experiences ('The Philadelphia Story'; 'Bewitched'; 'Flashdance') as well as dips into feminist history and the tension between being yourself and being a person people are comfortable with. 'You could choose to be a person or you could choose to be loved,' Chocano writes. It is not a pessimistic collection, but it shows that the myths and narratives of female identity are still in place and largely shaped by men." - The Boston Globe

"[A] memoir/pop culture takedown of the way women are characterized by the media...The author is both a brilliant, funny analyst, and a terrific yarn-spinner...razor-sharp." - Los Angeles Review of Books

"Chocano draws out brilliant insights from across the decades...witty and sharp...[Chocano] weaves her observations into a fascinating history of women's economic and social progress." - The Sunday Times (UK)

This information about You Play the Girl was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

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Cathryn Conroy

Smart, Sassy, and Imminently Readable Essays. But Beware! They Are Also Emotionally-Charged
When actress Isla Fisher did an interview to promote the movie "Wedding Crashers," she was asked how her appearance in it had changed her career. She said it hadn't, acknowledging there weren't many comic opportunities for women in Hollywood. "All the scripts are for men and you play the girl."

How is it that women, beginning when they are little girls, learn how to "play the girl" in society? In these 21 smart and sassy essays, author Carina Chocano expounds on all the mixed messages with which women and girls are bombarded from the time they are old enough to watch Disney movies. Be sexy. No, be smart. Wait, be both. Do this. No, you can't do that. And all these messages have one thing in common: They are what men want the ideal woman to be.

Creatively framed using some of the confusing messages Alice was assailed with during her bizarre adventures in Wonderland, Chocano explores her topics largely by examining popular culture, especially movies and TV shows—from "The Stepford Wives" to "Real Housewives," from Playboy to "Pretty Woman," and from "Sex in the City" to "Mad Men." (An earlier gig as a film critic makes her rather good at doing this.) She is especially adept at zeroing in on exactly what it is about these films and TV shows that tell women who and what they should be and why this so often makes us uncomfortable.

While each of the essays is imminently readable, I found I enjoyed the book far more by reading one or two essays a day and no more. Because this is such an emotionally-charged topic for most women, it felt like psychic overload when I read more than that. That is, the essays are powerful enough that I really needed time to think a bit between them.

While I recommend this book for all women, I especially recommend it for men, who may never have realized the emotionally damaging and intellectually intimidating mixed messages in our popular culture that is directly aimed at the psyches of their beloved wives, sisters, and daughters.

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Author Information

Carina Chocano

Carina Chocano is a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine. Her writing has also appeared in Vogue, Elle, Rolling Stone, and many other publications. A former staff film and TV critic at the Los Angeles Times, she has been a TV and book critic at Entertainment Weekly and a staff writer at Salon. She lives in Los Angeles.

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