REBECCA TRAISTER, whose coverage of the 2008 presidential election for Salon confirmed her to be a gifted cultural observer, offers a startling appraisal of what the campaign meant for all of us. Though the election didn’t give us our first woman president or vice president, the exhilarating campaign was nonetheless transformative for American women and for the nation. In Big Girls Don’t Cry, her electrifying, incisive and highly entertaining first book, Traister tells a terrific story and makes sense of a moment in American history that changed the country’s narrative in ways that no one anticipated.
It was all as unpredictable as it was riveting: Hillary Clinton’s improbable rise, her fall and her insistence (to the consternation of her party and the media) on pushing forward straight through to her remarkable phoenix flight from the race; Sarah Palin’s attempt not only to fill the void left by Clinton, but to alter the very definition of feminism and claim some version of it for conservatives; liberal rapture over Barack Obama and the historic election of our first African-American president; the media microscope trained on Michelle Obama, harsher even than the one Hillary had endured fifteen years earlier. Meanwhile, media women like Katie Couric and Rachel Maddow altered the course of the election, and comedians like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler helped make feminism funny.
What did all this mean to the millions of people who were glued to their TV sets, and for the country, its history and its future?
As Traister sees it, the 2008 election was good for women. The campaign for the presidency reopened some of the most fraught American conversations—about gender, race and generational difference, about sexism on the left and feminism on the right—difficult discussions that had been left unfinished but that are crucial to further perfecting our union.
The election was also catalytic, shaping the perspectives of American women and men from different generations and backgrounds, altering the way that all of us will approach questions of women and power far into the future. When Clinton cried, when Palin reached for her newborn at the end of a vice presidential debate, when Couric asked a series of campaign-ending questions, the whole country was watching women’s history—American history—being made.
Throughout, Traister weaves in her own experience as a thirtysomething feminist sorting through all the events and media coverage—vacillating between Clinton and Obama and forced to face tough questions about her own feminism, the women’s movement, race and the different generational perspectives of women working toward political parity some ninety years after their sex was first enfranchised.
It was a time of enormous change, and there is no better guide through that explosive, infuriating, heartbreaking and sometimes hilarious year than Rebecca Traister. Big Girls Don’t Cry offers an enduring portrait of dramatic cultural and political shifts brought about by this most historic of American contests.
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Rebecca Traister is writer at large for New York magazine and a contributing editor at Elle. A National Magazine Award finalist, she has written about women in politics, media, and entertainment from a feminist perspective for The New Republic and Salon and has also contributed to The Nation, The New York Observer, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Vogue, Glamour and Marie Claire. Traister’s first book, Big Girls Don’t Cry, about women and the 2008 election, was a New York Times Notable Book of 2010 and the winner of the Ernesta Drinker Ballard Book Prize. She lives in New York with her family.From AudioFile:
Traister's nuanced analysis of gender politics in the 2008 election is handled superbly by narrator Kirsten Potter. Given the nearly two-year presidential campaign, there are ample sound bites that could have been over-embellished. But Potter maintains a solid presentation, providing inflection and tone but not outright impersonations of the wide pool of candidates. Her pacing and emphasis throughout the more detailed passages also make listening highly enjoyable. Traister's research is extensive and filled with an array of quotes from new and traditional media. Her skill at teasing out recurring misogynistic themes and rhetoric will change many listeners' views of the election regardless of whom they voted for. L.E. © AudioFile 2010, Portland, Maine
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