catfight - a sort of book review via personal reflection
December 18, 2003 05:22 PM

I've been reading Leora Tanenbaum's Catfight. You can tell from the hot pink cover it's intended to be "feminist lite" (defined in my book as nonfiction work ostensibly about feminism but mostly a shallow examination or praise of women), but it's more substantial than that.

It suffers, as her first book Slut did, from a tendency towards magazine-ish writing. She'll posit a personal hypothesis, summarize a wide range of interviews and other books, then tidily wrap it up. In covering so much from so many sources, each chapter serves more as a summary of related topics than as a presentation of any specific point. Magazines do that a lot. Coupled with her conversational style (which I absolutely love), it's a very easy read that leaves you feeling like you haven't consumed much. The feminist nonfiction equivalent of chick-lit.

I'd like Tanenbaum to write a memoir. What has interested me most about her books so far is her personal response to the things she researches, and the bits of personal history she brings up. I suspect that a book focused on her that touched on some of the themes of her research would be more substantial, and might ultimately say more about the topic of female competition than what she's written on the subject.

Part of my dissatisfaction with her books is that I think they're really intended for you to be thinking "hell, yeah" along with her, not posing new information to you. So, if you don't find you identify heavily with her ideas, if you don't see yourself perfectly reflected in them, you don't get the rousing experience you might otherwise have had. It's the same problem Cunt poses for readers - either you completely identify, you radically disagree, or you find yourself wishing she'd dive in with a bit more detail. Of course, Cunt is polemical. Tanenbaum's work lacks Muscio's raving passion.

So, why don't I identify with Tanenbaum's ideas?

I'm very competitive. Most of the time, though, I find my competitiveness isn't what she's actually talking about in Catfight. She's talking about the "backstabbing bitch" competitiveness that is supposed to characterize women's interactions. The assumption being that women's competition follows roughly this pattern:

1. Woman A sees Woman B is somehow better off.
2. Woman A believes herself lesser for Woman B's success.
3. Woman A pretends she doesn't notice.
4. Woman A is angry.
5. Woman A sublimates her anger by devaluing Woman B's accomplishments.
6. Woman A believes herself better than Woman B.

My experience of my own competitive feelings is that they're more open and more directed at myself.

But then, I may not be the target of this book. I mean, I'm "off-grid" in the ways of women, to an extent. Marriage and children aren't goals for me, I'm fat, and I'm not single. As far as most of the objects of competition are concerned, I'm not anyone's Woman B, and my own Women B are often very unconventional (i.e. I envy other feminists' energy and organizing capabilities, or other artists' funky lifestyles). Realizing this as I read the book left me both depressed (*sniff*, I'm not worth competing against) and pleasingly self-righteous.

So, it's really only at work where I have the opportunity to experience this kind of competitiveness, and there my environment, which encourages both competition and collaboration, plays a big role in opening up competition.

Speaking of which. One thing I'd hoped to gain from this book is some perspective on women's work situations, particularly where ambition and advancement were concerned. I haven't found it in Catfight, at least not yet. Maybe there's another book I should be reading on that specific topic?

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your wicked thoughts

I wish I could say it was better for men but 'dogfight' is the rule. I work in a place that is half union and half non union, and the men on each side truely hate each other. It's disgusting.

these are the thoughts of Subversity on December 21, 2003 02:54 AM

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