First off, how can you not love a book called Bossypants? That’s the title of Tina Fey’s newly released comic not-a-memoir. It’s hilarious, honest – and self-deprecating just short of a fault. (The New York Times calls it “a spiky blend of humor, introspection, critical thinking and Nora Ephron-isms for a new generation ) In her book, Fey acknowledges the good, the bad and the awkward about everything from raising hell to raising kids.
Which is to say, she is Everywoman. The tragic adolescent. Pretty, but not, you know, pretty. Struggling to be taken seriously in the boys’ room. Juggling work and family. Anxious. Unapologetically ambitious. But then again, not.
We love her.
She comes clean with many of the dilemmas we all face, and what you realize is that the biggest difference between her life and ours may be that she’s funny. (Well, that and her current job. Or her paycheck. But I digress. ) One of my favorite lines in her book is this: “I don’t care if you fucking like it.”
The quote is attributed to Amy Poehler, in the days when Poehler was new to SNL, and when the writing room was a flat out boys club. (Classic line: “Only in comedy does an obedient white girl from the suburbs count as diversity.”) The anecdote goes like this: Amy had made a joke that, Fey writes, was “dirty and loud and ‘unladylike’”. Jimmy Fallon, who was the star of the show at the time, told her to stop it:
Amy dropped what she was doing, went black in the eyes for a second and wheeled around on him. “I don’t fucking care if you like it.” Jimmy was visibly startled. Amy went right back to enjoying her ridiculous bit.
With that exchange, a cosmic shift took place. Amy made it clear that she wasn’t there to be cute. She wasn’t there to play wives and girlfriends in the boys’ scenes. She was there to do what she wanted to do and she did not fucking care if you like it.
At which point, Tina Fey knew she had a friend in the writer’s room. She writes that after that, she felt less alone. (Moral of the story: look what happened to Amy Poehler: You’d have to say that speaking out ended well for her. And clearly, for Fey as well, who was the first female head writer at SNL)
Surely, we can identify with that. That feeling that we are often stuck in alien territory, looking for allies, applauding anyone brave enough to speak her our mind. And wondering why we are the ones who have to care whether the big boys like it — rather than the other way around. As Nicole Arthur writes in the Washington Post:
To Fey, this constitutes a universal rallying cry for women in the workplace. Indeed, the book’s title alludes to the fact that she is often asked a question that would sound idiotic addressed to a man: “What’s it like being the boss?” The book’s tips for women in the male-dominated workplace range from facetious (“No pigtails, no tube tops”) to resonant (“You’re not in competition with other women, you’re in competition with everyone”).
In a word. Yes.
What else many of us can relate to is her public struggle to decide whether to have a second child (FYI: she’s now five months pregnant, reports salon.com’s Mary Elizabeth Williams). She wrote about it in the New Yorker, and we wrote about it here. But think of second kid simply as metaphor, and you have another issue we ladies can all identify with, whether or not kids are in the picture, or ever will be: to wit, the never-ending shitstorm most women go through trying to combine career with the life the workplace – and to a certain extent, society itself – has cut out for us. The message is this: either we have to do it all perfectly (read: not possible) or we have to choose. One or the other, baby. Not both. And Tina Fey rocks that one, too, by coming clean with the struggle, and acknowledging she ain’t perfect. As Mary Elizabeth Williams writes, Fey has, perhaps more than any other star, “defiantly set herself outside the realm of the Queens of Having It All”:
In a passage from her new book, “Bossypants,” excerpted this past winter in the New Yorker, Fey admitted being “stricken with guilt and panic” when her daughter expressed a longing for a little sister, and how, “tired of carrying this anxiety around,” she “burst into tears” at the gynecologist’s office. That’s a real, anguished road a hell of a lot of women have been down — the fear of losing career traction as fast as you’re losing eggs, and not knowing what to do about either…
… Maybe that’s why for Fey, whose work ethic could make James Franco look like a sleepy donkey, a little break sometime in the foreseeable future sounds like a hot idea. She’s written, “What’s so great about work anyway? Work won’t visit you when you’re old. Work won’t drive you to get a mammogram and take you out after for soup … Hollywood be damned. I’ll just be unemployable and labeled crazy in five years anyway” — a statement that would be more witty if it didn’t have such a stinging ring of truth to it. And though she may crack jokes about the rigors of balance — and “30 Rock” recently confronted the dilemma via the ambitious Devon Banks and his trio of “gaybies” — it’s clear from her dazzling success that Fey is not a woman who values her work any less because she loves her child so much. But the demands of being a powerhouse on all fronts can wear a lady down.
You bet. Which goes straight to the heart of what we’ve been writing about: We’re raised with the message that we can do anything. Which translates to we can do everything. We can have it all, we can do it all, and it’s all going to be perfect.
Which is why we love our Tina Fey. Whether her well-constructed presentation of self is for real or, as jezebel.com founder Anna Holmes suggests in Newsweek, all alter ego, who cares? Because what we love is the way she flips the message. We can’t do it all. And perfection? Nothing but pipe dream. And that, sister, is exactly what the Everywoman inside us needs to hear.
Tagged: amy poehler, anna holmes, bossypants, jezebel, mary elizabeth willians, nicole arthur, saturday night live, Tina Fey