Book Club: Big Girls Don’t Cry

by | March 2, 2011
filed under Feminism, Politics

Welcome to the 2nd installment of the highly informal Gender Focus Book Club.

Rebecca Traister’s book Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women was recommended by reader Lisa W. Here’s what she has to say about Traister’s exploration of feminism in the 2008 US Presidential election:

“Rebecca Traister’s book isn’t like every other book about the 2008 election, though many of these do discuss women. Big Girls Don’t Cry discusses women and feminism by not only looking at the treatment of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin – she includes others such as Michelle Obama, Barack Obama, and even John McCain – but also looks at the most important person in the process: the impact of the election on voters, most specifically female voters. Not only is it a great analysis, but it’s also funny and honest, and connects with the reader.”

I also really enjoyed Big Girls Don’t Cry. The aspect I found most interesting was Traister’s analysis of two interlinked divides in the feminist movement which became very apparent in 2008: the generation gap between young feminists (bloggers like Jessica Valenti and Melissa McEwan) and older women (Geraldine Ferraro, Hillary Clinton); and the gap between those who felt gender was more important than race, and vice versa.

Traister puts herself outside all of these camps, pointing out that generationally she’s in-between the second-wavers and the younger feminist bloggers. As an Edwards supporter, not initially a Hillary or Obama supporter, she was sympathetic to those who believed in the historic power of electing a woman president, as well as those who felt you could be a feminist and not support Hillary. From this unique perspective, Traister does a great job chronicling not just sexism and racism experienced by the 2008 candidates, but also how the whole race impacted the feminist movement and women voters in the United States.

The other key contribution of Big Girls Don’t Cry is Traister’s coverage of sexist and racist media coverage, which is thorough and insightful. For example she looks at the coverage of Hillary’s crying episode and discusses how the media reacted mostly negatively, while on the ground voters (especially women) tended not to see it as a problem. Traister’s analysis of the crying double standard for male and female politicians is especially relevant in light of the rise of John Boehner.

Finally, I appreciated Traister’s gender analysis of the internal workings of the Democratic and Republican campaigns, including looking at how Edwards and Obama enlisted feminist bloggers, and how Hillary Clinton failed to do the same or to reach out to feminist organizations that might have made natural allies.

Has anyone else read this book? I’d love to hear your comments. Next up in our highly informal book club is Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, which was recommended by Jessica and Em on our Facebook page. As always, if you have any suggestions for other books you’d like to see reviewed here, let me know.


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