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Pretty Bitches: On Being Called Crazy, Angry, Bossy, Frumpy, Feisty, and All the Other Words That Are Used to Undermine Women

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Leading women writers examine the power of the words that are used to diminish women Words matter. They wound, they inflate, they define, they demean. They have nuance and power. "Effortless," "Sassy," "Ambitious," "Aggressive": What subtle digs and sneaky implications are conveyed when women are described with words like these? Words are made into weapons, warnings, pr Leading women writers examine the power of the words that are used to diminish women Words matter. They wound, they inflate, they define, they demean. They have nuance and power. "Effortless," "Sassy," "Ambitious," "Aggressive": What subtle digs and sneaky implications are conveyed when women are described with words like these? Words are made into weapons, warnings, praise, and blame, bearing an outsized influence on women's lives -- to say nothing of our moods. No one knows this better than Lizzie Skurnick, writer of the New York Times' column "That Should be A Word" and a veritable queen of cultural coinage. And in Pretty Bitches, Skurnick has rounded up a group of powerhouse women writers to take on the hidden meanings of these words, and how they can limit our worlds -- or liberate them. From Laura Lipmann and Meg Wolizer to Jennifer Weiner and Rebecca Traister, each writer uses her word as a vehicle for memoir, cultural commentary, critique, or all three. Spanning the street, the bedroom, the voting booth, and the workplace, these simple words have huge stories behind them -- stories it's time to examine, re-imagine, and change.


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Leading women writers examine the power of the words that are used to diminish women Words matter. They wound, they inflate, they define, they demean. They have nuance and power. "Effortless," "Sassy," "Ambitious," "Aggressive": What subtle digs and sneaky implications are conveyed when women are described with words like these? Words are made into weapons, warnings, pr Leading women writers examine the power of the words that are used to diminish women Words matter. They wound, they inflate, they define, they demean. They have nuance and power. "Effortless," "Sassy," "Ambitious," "Aggressive": What subtle digs and sneaky implications are conveyed when women are described with words like these? Words are made into weapons, warnings, praise, and blame, bearing an outsized influence on women's lives -- to say nothing of our moods. No one knows this better than Lizzie Skurnick, writer of the New York Times' column "That Should be A Word" and a veritable queen of cultural coinage. And in Pretty Bitches, Skurnick has rounded up a group of powerhouse women writers to take on the hidden meanings of these words, and how they can limit our worlds -- or liberate them. From Laura Lipmann and Meg Wolizer to Jennifer Weiner and Rebecca Traister, each writer uses her word as a vehicle for memoir, cultural commentary, critique, or all three. Spanning the street, the bedroom, the voting booth, and the workplace, these simple words have huge stories behind them -- stories it's time to examine, re-imagine, and change.

30 review for Pretty Bitches: On Being Called Crazy, Angry, Bossy, Frumpy, Feisty, and All the Other Words That Are Used to Undermine Women

  1. 4 out of 5

    Schizanthus Nerd

    While I’d never heard of a couple of the words explored in this book before, including yellow-bone, most have been attributed to either myself or women I know. I expected to get fired up reading this book and assumed I’d finish it with an overwhelming need to fix something, anything, everything, like I did after reading Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture. Unfortunately, while some chapters stood out to me and made me want to know more about their authors (these are marked with 😊) I coul While I’d never heard of a couple of the words explored in this book before, including yellow-bone, most have been attributed to either myself or women I know. I expected to get fired up reading this book and assumed I’d finish it with an overwhelming need to fix something, anything, everything, like I did after reading Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture. Unfortunately, while some chapters stood out to me and made me want to know more about their authors (these are marked with 😊) I could take or leave others and even had a few ‘did you seriously just say that?!’ moments with one author. For each chapter I’m including a quote that either spoke to me, said something I wanted to remember about what I’d read or most accurately summed up my experience of reading it. Warning: I don’t usually include swearing in my reviews but a couple of the quotes I chose include it. Preface by Lizzie Skurnick 😊 I began to realize these words weren’t pinpricks. They weren’t the punishment. They were the justification for the punishment: the jobs we lost, the promotions, the houses, the money, our respect, our bodies, our voices. Introduction by Rebecca Traister 😊 “But now I mostly hear it as an aggressive word, a mean word, a word that suggests that the act of fucking itself is mean and aggressive and often particularly aggressive toward women … It’s really a shame.” Too by Adaora Udoji I didn’t yet know how easily that word could be weaponized against me as a woman, used against any woman, pulled from the ever-ready “stay in your place” toolbox. Professional by Afua Hirsch Woman are disadvantaged by ideas of the “professional” before we even walk through the door, because to be truly professional is to conform to the ideal on which it is based: an elite, white man. Effortless by Amy S. Choi We can’t change our culture when we lie about what the culture is. We can’t accept ourselves until we stop pretending that we already do. Princess by Carina Chocano A princess was nothing if not a pretty doormat, a machine that suffered abuse and exploitation nobly and exquisitely, not to mention without complaint. It was this quality - more than her hotness or her duets with songbirds - that caught the prince’s attention: how gracefully she endured abuse. Then he married her, turning her nobility of spirit into the other kind. Making her status official. Ugly by Dagmara Domińczyk The word for ugly in Polish is brzydka - which sounds eerily close to the word for razor blade, which is brzytwa. And for most of my formative life, ugly cut me. Quick and to the bone. Shrill by Dahlia Lithwick Shrill is much less about what the speaker is saying, as it turns out, and more about the listener’s capacity to cede ground. Shrill, in other words, is the word people use to signal they aren’t ready to listen - not to your voice, but to what you’re actually saying. Lucky by Glynnis MacNicol It was, I discovered, possible to live a notable life as a woman who had never achieved either of the two things women were noted for: being a wife and giving birth. Mom by Irina Reyn According to linguist Roman Jakobson, the reason ma is a root of the word for “mother” in so many global languages is that this is what babies are capable of saying first. Mature by Jillian Medoff Chuckling, Fuck Face let his eyes go from my breasts to my face then back to my breasts. He stared at me with intent, as if we were sharing a sleazy secret. “Jill sure is mature, isn’t she?” Ambitious by Julianna Baggott Here’s the message that I received early on: male ambition is good and necessary. People assume that any man who’s gotten far in his career has a lot of it. Female ambition, on the other hand, is dirty. It’s selfish. It’s ugly. Female ambition is suspicious. It comes at a cost. It’s necessary to get ahead - we’re told - but if a woman uses it to get ahead then she’s sacrificed her soul. And she’s going against society’s virtuous goal for her: motherhood. Victim by Kate Harding And it is true that any attempt to sort human beings into categories necessarily shaves of some of our humanity, replacing each unique individual with a type. Disciplined by Laura Lippman Anne Lamott once wrote that she thought if people knew how she felt when she was writing, they would set her on fire. That seemed about right to me. I knew no more powerful feeling, that was for sure. Yellow-Bone by Lihle Z. Mtshali 😊 Yellow-bone is a loathsome term that we borrowed from American blacks. Though it refers to all light-skinned black people, in South Africa, it is mostly used to refer to light-skinned black women. Yes: people are woke, black pride is a thing, and #melaninpoppin is a popular hashtag. But black men post pictures of light-skinned black women, writing that the “yellow-bones” will give them beautiful kids. Zaftig by Lizzie Skurnick Because what if we reclaimed zaftig - and, like my grandmother, left the proportion of lipid to lean out of it entirely? What if we took out the sexy part, too? What if we made it, like my grandmother did, about being strong? Crazy by Mary Pols When Natalie Portman spoke at Variety’s Power of Women event in 2018, this was part of her speech: “If a man says to you that a woman is crazy or difficult,” the Oscar-winning actress said, “ask him, ‘What bad thing did you do to her?’” Small by Beth Bich Minh Nguyen Being small was another way of being silent, and that’s what white people were always expecting of me too. Funny by Meg Wolitzer Being funny, or at least trying to be, felt like a real part of me, and I never questioned it - until suddenly I did. Sweet by Monique Truong These too are compliments: sugar, honey, candy, sweetmeat, honey bun, honey pie, sugar pie, sweetheart, sweetie, sweet cheeks, sweet lips, sugar tits, and sweet piece of ass. The slippery slope from compliment to insult begins with sweet. Nurturing by Racquel D’Apice My frustration lies with the people who say “Women are more nurturing” but mean “Women are nurturing and emotional rather than practical and logical,” which bleeds into “In a family, someone should stay home with the kids, and I think the people who should be doing that are women.” Pretty by Stephanie Burt To be pretty is to be appreciated and girly but small and impractical and, also, perhaps, defenseless. Intimidating by Tanzila Ahmed Society has all these expectations of how women are to show up in this world. Be yourself, they say. Be less of yourself. Be independent, but not too intimidating. Take care of yourself, but make a man feel like he can take care of you. Be everything, but not too much. Good by Tova Mirvis 😊 You are allowed to change. You are allowed to decide what you believe. You are allowed to think what you think, feel what you feel. Tomboy by Winter Miller Tomboy is someone else’s idea about my gender. Aloof by Elizabeth Spiers Strong, silent women exist. Yet women who exhibit emotional control (women are always emotional!) and are taciturn in social situations (and they never shut up!) don’t get the benefit of being “strong, silent types.” In women, that alchemy of reserve and resolve makes a lot of people uncomfortable. They are people at once feminine and at odds with traditional ideas of what femininity connotes. Exotic by Emily Sanders Hopkins 😊 They didn’t ask him his race; they just typed “white.” (Maybe race is just what you look like to white people.) Fat by Jennifer Weiner 😊 And there it was. Fat. The other F word. Feisty by Katha Pollitt Feistiness takes the unpredictable, dangerous energy of anger and renders it funny and harmless. To call someone feisty is to imply they are in the one-down position. It’s the one-word version of “You’re so cute when you’re mad.” Content warnings include mention of eating disorders, racism and sexual assault. Thank you so much to NetGalley and Seal Press, an imprint of Perseus Books, for the opportunity to read this book.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sahitya

    More of a solid 3.5 but I’m rounding up. I knew I had to read this book as soon as I saw the title. Every single word that the authors discuss in this collection of essays has a history of dehumanization and insult when attributed to women, even though some of them don’t feel so on the face. Some of these personal stories were very relatable, some interesting to get to know while others didn’t leave that much of a mark - but ultimately, this is a noteworthy collection of essays, not just to under More of a solid 3.5 but I’m rounding up. I knew I had to read this book as soon as I saw the title. Every single word that the authors discuss in this collection of essays has a history of dehumanization and insult when attributed to women, even though some of them don’t feel so on the face. Some of these personal stories were very relatable, some interesting to get to know while others didn’t leave that much of a mark - but ultimately, this is a noteworthy collection of essays, not just to understand the implications behind using these words, but also to see if there are ways we women ourselves are using them to put down other women or if we can reclaim them for ourselves. Too by Adaora Udoji The author really drives home the point that woman are shamed and made to question themselves very often because they are “too” much of something, and that it’s a word which is used over and over to make women shut up and stick to their lanes. The author talks about how it affected her personally and how important it is for us to not let go of our voice and keep telling our stories, even if they are too much. Professional by Afua Hirsch As a black woman studying to be a barrister, the author talks about how the word “professional” in and of itself is a barrier to her and most women like her, how professional standards are often defined in a way conforming to White men and anyone not automatically falls short of those standards. From being told to tone down the voice, to dress properly to not keeping natural hair, the burden of being a professional is too much on women and the author tells how it took her very long to realize that she didn’t have to conform to those standards which were never made for her anyway. Effortless by Amy S. Choi This was a very important essay about women (especially of color) are expected to adhere to white beauty standards but we are also expected to make looking beautiful feel effortless; how we should never talk about all the things we have to do and juggle and buy to get that perfect look and behave as if we just wake up that way. The author’s message that - if we put all the time that we use to make everything look effortless into actually loving ourselves the way we are and just talk openly, we would save so much effort - felt really important and resonated with me a lot. Princess by Carina Chocano The author talks about how nothing much has changed in the depiction of princesses in pop culture from her childhood to her kindergartener’s childhood, it’s still a young girl without much agency who is swept away by a prince. My hope is that we are seeing little changes these days and that they will get better in the future. Ugly by Dagmara Domiñczyk Ugly is a word that is often used to make a woman feel powerless says the author, and there’s always a lot more meaning hidden behind using that word, but people use it because it’s easy. She asks us to embrace ourselves, both the beautiful and ugly sides of us, and whichever we want to be whenever we want to be. Shrill by Dahlia Lithwick This was a brilliant essay and something I felt deeply in my heart - how shrill is a word that is used for women not because there’s something wrong with our tone but because we have dared to speak up in a public space, and how we have been conditioned to lower our voice and soothe the men around us so that they can finally listen to the actual crux of the matter. And the author justifiably asserts that in recent times when we are having more discussions about female anger, she doesn’t care who calls her shrill anymore and she will express her unfiltered opinions. Maybe we should too. Lucky by Glynnis Macnicol The author talks about how the word “lucky” is used almost as a sly remark while referring to her because she is a forty year old single women - the meaning behind its usage that she has escaped all the responsibilities women are supposed to have like marriage and motherhood and is leading a charmed life, but she is never congratulated for her accomplishments like a man would be. Everything about her is attributed to “luck” and not all the hard work she had put in over the years. But she also understands that she is lucky indeed to be born in a generation when women can lead independent lives and have control of their destiny. Mom by Irina Reyn I think the author was talking a bit about imposter syndrome and not feeling worthy of the word, but I unfortunately didn’t understand the message in this essay. Mature by Jillian Medoff The author talks about the dichotomy of the word mature - how when she was young it meant her body was too noticeable and men couldn’t stop staring or commenting on her big breasts; but now as a fifty five year old professional, mature means she is too old and slow and sliding into obsolescence and may not be considered worthy of her job despite her decades of experience. Mature is a word that might have a gender neutral positive meaning but it never does when applied to a woman of any age. Ambitious by Julianna Baggott Ambition in a woman in definitely scorned and the author talks about how she was derided directly or just as an aside about how she could possibly be balancing her writing while being a mother of four, their point being that her ambition to publish and her later success made her a bad mother. And while she doesn’t necessarily believe in reclaiming the word, she thinks ambition just means figuring out what we want to do and desiring to do it well. Victim by Kate Harding I understand the author’s wish to be called a victim and not a survivor because that’s her choice, but at times I slightly felt she was dismissing the others’ choice to call themselves survivors. Or maybe I misunderstood it. I just didn’t completely get what the author was trying to say except that we should be able to choose individually what we want to be. Disciplined by Laura Lippman The author’s story about how she was repeatedly called disciplined and organized for being able to write one mystery novel per year while working and winning awards, but never a genius or natural because that word is usually reserved for men. She is absolutely right when she says that neurotic and eccentric men are hailed as geniuses while women who work jobs, fulfill their passions and also run a home and take care of children are never called the same for being able to do it all, maybe even derided for being so passionate about their dreams. So she has decided to not wait for anyone and claim whatever word she wants for herself. Yellow-Bone by Lihle Z. Mtshali The author’s take on how colorism and the self-hatred of being too dark persists until today despite decades after abolition of apartheid in South Africa, really resonated with me. It’s so painful to know that while black people won political power, the influence of white people on economics and culture still remains and their standards of beauty are still considered the norm. Zaftig by Lizzie Skurnick While talking about how much hardships they overcame on both her Black and Jewish sides of the family, the author wonders if she is squandering their legacy by spending too much time worrying about her weight, and if she should instead reclaim the words that were used as slurs against her. Interesting food for thought. Crazy by Mary Pols The author’s personal experience itself wasn’t relatable but when she talks about the word “crazy” is used to talk about any woman who doesn’t fit the boxes the men have made for her, when she tries to be more, or when the men are trying to gaslight women to cover up their own mistakes - it was too hard not to resonate because we have all heard it. The word has been so extensively used that even we women shame ourselves for being called crazy and the author implores us not to fall into that kind of self-hatred and just be what we want to be. Small by Beth Bich Minh Nguyen Small is not a word I would have associated with myself because I was always the tall one, and even the big one. But the whole idea of small being used in the context of making ourself take up less space, diminish ourselves and not voice our thoughts loudly is something I feel deeply about and I don’t know when I’ll get into the process of unlearning it all, I’m so glad that the author is much more comfortable in her body and confident in herself that the word small doesn’t bother her anymore. Funny by Meg Wolitzer I’ve never been a funny or humorous person, but I still felt it when the author says how her over my expression of humor and being funny and acting it out became a bit distasteful to other men as she grew up because in our gendered society, it is they who are allowed to express themselves fully but women never have the same freedom. Sweet by Monique Truong Tracing the origins of how sugar became such a prominent food group with its link to slavery and colonization, and using the example of Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford, the author talks about how we just love to diminish the worth of a woman and all her qualities and accomplishments to the single word “sweet” as if that single word can encompass the complete personality of a woman. Nurturing by Racquel D’Apice The author talks a lot about how giving birth to a baby doesn’t make anyone a natural at nurturing, but loving and and trying to take care of the baby gradually does. And that is why she says it is very condescending when men use the word nurture in terms of saying women are good at it because they are more emotion rather than practical or logical. I thought the author did a great job trying to dissect this myth about nurturing and talking about it as a realistic process that anyone can and should develop. Pretty by Stephanie Burt The author tells us that pretty is often used as an infantilizing word, meaning not really beautiful, not upto the mark, not perfect. But it all stems from the patriarchal beliefs that feminine presentation is somehow weak. And that’s why as a trans woman who transitioned late in her life, the author talks about embracing the word pretty and everything that comes with it - being feminine, the pink, the tulle, the makeup and et al - because there is power in them too. Intimidating by Tanzila Ahmed As a desi myself, I related so much to the author’s experiences - how we are taught to be educated and independent, but don’t act too smart or intelligent with guys because they don’t like feeling intimidated by their partners; how we should stay silent and listen and take care of them and let them take care of us even though we are perfectly capable ourselves. I know I’ve done it myself and it’s frustrating but I actually liked knowing that the author has managed to not have to sacrifice her sense of self for the sake of a relationship but also a bit sad that that she is still single probably because the guys can’t handle a well educated smart woman. Good by Tova Mirvis Growing up in an orthodox Jewish community with her name literally meaning “good”, the author talks about how her whole upbringing was divided into being good and bad, with good being obedient and quiet and religious and everything else being bad. Her struggle between good and bad, trying to suppress herself to ensure that she was being good was tough to read but I loved that she managed to break out of it and her lesson that we should just live our truth instead of asking ourselves if it’s good or bad, is very important. Tomboy by Winter Miller The author’s journey of being called a tomboy but unable to accept it and then trying to find the right word to identify herself from lesbian to gay to queer to dyke to androgynous, it’s a fascinating read and I liked how confident and comfortable the author seemed in being exactly herself. Aloof by Elizabeth Spiers This was another very relatable topic where the author talks about how a woman is always expected to be a validator a man, especially so if she is a woman with some sort of power, in which case she has to make all other men around her feel comfortable. But when a woman has both some form of power of agency but is so shy, reserved and silent, sinister designs are attributed to her and called as aloof whereas a man in the exact same situation would be called “the strong, silent type”. The author talks about this hypocrisy with many examples and I realized how true it is, but there’s also nothing we can really do to change it. Exotic by Emily Sanders Hopkins I’m actually not sure what to say about the author’s essay except that it made me a bit uncomfortable and I’m not sure what to take away from it. Fat by Jennifer Weiner As someone who’s heard talk about my fat body, the need to not be lazy and diet and exercise and many other snide comments for lots of years now, this essay hit me hard. And I think I just don’t wanna say anymore except read this one. It’s important. And don’t fat shame. Feisty by Katha Pollitt I used to attribute the word feisty to some of my favorite fictional characters in my reviews until I realized the negative connotations of the word, how it’s just another word for angry woman disguised as a compliment; and the author explains it very well through her own experiences. Words You Shouldn’t Call Women There is a whole list of words and animal names detailed in this section which are still used to describe women, some of which are positive compliments when applied to men but definitely not in case of women. Knowing some of their origins makes it sound hilarious but their usage in our daily life is definitely not.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ann

    Like any collection of essays, some were better than others, but this book is well worth your time.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Iryna *Book and Sword*

    Here comes the book that needs to be on every woman's to-read list. A collection of essays written by very different women, from very different backgrounds, that blend and flow together amazingly well. Each essays explores a word, that all of us as women collectively, have been called at one point or another in our lives. Bossy, loud, cute, lucky, fat... Words have power, and those who wield them even more so. But these women are trying to reclaim that power. Some them have already done it and a Here comes the book that needs to be on every woman's to-read list. A collection of essays written by very different women, from very different backgrounds, that blend and flow together amazingly well. Each essays explores a word, that all of us as women collectively, have been called at one point or another in our lives. Bossy, loud, cute, lucky, fat... Words have power, and those who wield them even more so. But these women are trying to reclaim that power. Some them have already done it and are encouraging other women do the same. Some are still trying and failing under the world's expectations and their own fears. But all of them tell their stories, raw and unapologetic. No matter how far they have gotten. No matter how low they stooped before they reclaimed their power. The essays are powerful and inspiring. Some are enraging. There were maybe two or three essays to which I could not connect, but those were very rare and in between. My favorites were "lucky" and "effortless" among many, many others. The book finishes on a strong note with a dictionary of words which woman should not be called, and their descriptions. Read this. It's important. My BOOKSTAGRAM

  5. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    I will now share the following collection of gems that I transcribed from this enjoyable collection of essays on being anything that defies the status quo while female. “I was and am driven by relentless curiosity. I wonder about everything all the time. I ask endless questions because the world fascinates me. And this has made me very, very good at my job” by Adaora Udoji (0:40:40). “To make our arguments heard, in debate and in public discourse, our voices must first and foremost give comfort to I will now share the following collection of gems that I transcribed from this enjoyable collection of essays on being anything that defies the status quo while female. “I was and am driven by relentless curiosity. I wonder about everything all the time. I ask endless questions because the world fascinates me. And this has made me very, very good at my job” by Adaora Udoji (0:40:40). “To make our arguments heard, in debate and in public discourse, our voices must first and foremost give comfort to men. The way we learn to combat being called a harpy is by having gummy smiles and shiny hair and a general aura of being ever eager to please as if we were golden retrievers, not equals” (1:51) from “Shrill” by Dahlia Lithwick. “I want people to be better people, even if that means they have to do hard things. And I would like to be better as well” (5:00) from “Nurturing” by Raquel D’Apice. “As if pink, and tulle, and lace, and other accoutrements of pretty were inherently disempowering. They are not. They don’t have to be. And that’s a lesson that does not apply only to literal girls. It applies to me. Sometimes I feel pretty. Sometimes I wonder what took me so long” (5:17) from “Pretty” by Stephanie Burt.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jenny

    This book sees me: fat, intimidating, ambitious, crazy, aloof, shrill, feisty, too, mom. “America hates women and we’re all fucking tired.” Amen sister.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Samantha Sprott

    So good on audio!! Really enjoyed this book of essays about women’s experiences of being judged for being strong, independent, bossy and every other word you can think of and how they’ve over come it.

  8. 4 out of 5

    J Wells

    A lot of good essays my favorites being Too, Mature, Ugly, Crazy, Funny, Intimidating, Tomboy, and Fat.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Caroline Leavitt

    Oh yes, I happen to love and Lizzie Skurnick, but that doesn't mean I can't write an honest review of her outrageously funny and smart new book she's edited, PRETTY BITCHES. The concept--using a single word as a way to talk about how women navigate our world--is genius, and the essays range from being a princess to a professional. It's downright empowering, and also, really, just what every person needs to read. Oh yes, I happen to love and Lizzie Skurnick, but that doesn't mean I can't write an honest review of her outrageously funny and smart new book she's edited, PRETTY BITCHES. The concept--using a single word as a way to talk about how women navigate our world--is genius, and the essays range from being a princess to a professional. It's downright empowering, and also, really, just what every person needs to read.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Andra Buzatu

    "The lie doesn’t just exhaust me; it hurts us all. When we lie about the basic values of our culture (that women must be beautiful) and yet do everything in our power to adhere to that value (we kill ourselves to make ourselves beautiful) and lie about the labor women must put into adhering to the unspoken value of our culture (we have to be effortless ), we ensure that nothing will ever change. We can’t change our culture when we lie about what the culture is. We can’t accept ourselves until we "The lie doesn’t just exhaust me; it hurts us all. When we lie about the basic values of our culture (that women must be beautiful) and yet do everything in our power to adhere to that value (we kill ourselves to make ourselves beautiful) and lie about the labor women must put into adhering to the unspoken value of our culture (we have to be effortless ), we ensure that nothing will ever change. We can’t change our culture when we lie about what the culture is. We can’t accept ourselves until we stop pretending that we already do. And we can’t value our work until we acknowledge that this is work—this, THIS (please imagine me gesturing expansively at the world)—that existing in a body as a woman in this world is work. Nothing is effortless." "The difference is that I finally own my ugliness. I explore it. I let it lead me down dark tunnels, and when I’m done, I let go of its hand and find my way back toward the light. And then I am beautiful. Beautiful, capable, unstoppable. I wear lipstick when I am beautiful." "Shrill is much less about what the speaker is saying, as it turns out, and more about the listener’s capacity to cede ground.. Shrill , in other words, is the word people use to signal they aren’t ready to listen—not to your voice, but to what you’re actually saying." "To make our arguments heard, in debate and in public discourse, our voices must first and foremost give comfort to men. The way we’ve learned to combat being called a harpy is by having gummy smiles and shiny hair and a general aura of being ever eager to please, as if we were golden retrievers, not equals. " "Leaving behind the actual religious rules wasn’t the hardest part. Instead, it was easing the imprint these rules had made in my mind, that insistent voice asking if I was good or bad. But slowly, slowly, the press of these words began to ease. A new set of possibilities began to assemble that felt neither good nor bad, just present. You are allowed to change. You are allowed to decide what you believe." "Silence is a form of control, and it’s easy to recognize that in men and in male narratives. In women’s narratives silence is usually viewed as a product of oppression or censorship. We’re silent because we’re conditioned to be, or because someone isn’t allowing us to speak. These narratives are not false: self-silencing is something we learn to do in childhood because we’re told stories about what women can and can’t do and which actions are safely in the realm of the acceptable." "Feisty is the flicker of fury that escapes from self-suppression, like the corona that flares around the black disk of a solar eclipse. It’s anger minus the energy women expend reassuring men that we like them, that we mean no harm, that more power for us doesn’t mean less for them—even though sometimes it does—that, of course, we realize they’re good guys. (After all, maybe they are!) Feisty is attractive too. Nobody really wants a doormat. A feisty woman is a bigger prize. You can turn her into a doormat later, when the children come."

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    Pretty Bitches is a collection of essays from well-known authors about all the words used to undermine women. Some may not be obvious like "too," "lucky," or "disciplined" while others like "ugly," "shrill," or "crazy" are obvious, although still not to everyone. Overall, it was a great collection of essays. I genuinely liked most of them, which can be rare in a compilation like this. Definitely worth adding to your feminist reading list. Some quotes I liked: "But the reality, I realized as I wre Pretty Bitches is a collection of essays from well-known authors about all the words used to undermine women. Some may not be obvious like "too," "lucky," or "disciplined" while others like "ugly," "shrill," or "crazy" are obvious, although still not to everyone. Overall, it was a great collection of essays. I genuinely liked most of them, which can be rare in a compilation like this. Definitely worth adding to your feminist reading list. Some quotes I liked: "But the reality, I realized as I wrestled with this possibility, is that white men are rarely told they possess too much of anything. That all the things women do too much of - talk, think, desire, aspire, smile, yell, take up space - we cannot get enough of in men." (p. xxii-xxiii) "She's nice. That's a compliment. She's too nice. That means she's not tough enough, not single-minded or a go-getter, not someone who can successfully manage people, build a business, be relied upon, make money. When was the last time you heard someone say a man was too nice? Um, probably never." (p. 4) "In a sense it's the perfect double-edged sword: you're shrill if you try to speak too soon, and you're also shrill if you have earned the right to speak. Shrill is much less about what the speaker is saying, as it turns out, and more about the listener's capacity to cede ground. Shrill, in other words, is the word people use to signal they aren't ready to listen - not to your voice, but to what you're actually saying." (p. 48-9) "Yet the tone of her remark suggested there'd been a random draw, and I'd pulled the right card and she the wrong one. As if neither of us had had a hand in creating our own lives - ones filled with challenges, joys, and hardships - and that mine let me do decadent things like get massages. Unearned" (p. 58)

  12. 5 out of 5

    Danielle

    I wish this were a book just about language undermining women. There is much to say on this topic. Instead, it is a collection of feminist essays that felt very general in topic. But there were some definite gems in there (particularly about the word "crazy"), but it wasnt what I was expecting from the title. I enjoyed the pieces about how women get undermined or written off as "difficult/to be avoided" whenever they disagree with the majority male opinion. In solid middle age territory as I am, I wish this were a book just about language undermining women. There is much to say on this topic. Instead, it is a collection of feminist essays that felt very general in topic. But there were some definite gems in there (particularly about the word "crazy"), but it wasnt what I was expecting from the title. I enjoyed the pieces about how women get undermined or written off as "difficult/to be avoided" whenever they disagree with the majority male opinion. In solid middle age territory as I am, I think the ways to lesson gender inequality include 1) being absolutely vigilant about the language we use (around both children AND adults), the role models we set (who makes dinner, who sits at the head of the table, whose name is written first, etc), how we dress girls (adorable/frilly is NEVER a precedent for power), 2) women need to advantage other women in every decision they make (open your eyes to the fact that men do this every day), and 3) women need to take every position of power (job, political office, community organizations) because "it's ok, you lead" keeps us "hoping" those in power will treat everyone equally and that isn't happening. We need to be sitting at the table making sure those decisions are made from more than one perspective. Ok, rant over. Good book.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Hayley

    This is a hard book for me to rate as a whole as this is a collection of essays. This book attracted me quickly and I was excited to read it, especially as a woman who has been called and/or labeled plenty of the words this book focuses on. The downfall of this book for me was that the collection of essays were all written by different women. I loved this idea, getting perspectives from all different women and their different experiences, but that meant that each and every chapter was a differen This is a hard book for me to rate as a whole as this is a collection of essays. This book attracted me quickly and I was excited to read it, especially as a woman who has been called and/or labeled plenty of the words this book focuses on. The downfall of this book for me was that the collection of essays were all written by different women. I loved this idea, getting perspectives from all different women and their different experiences, but that meant that each and every chapter was a different writing style. While I appreciated and respected every essay in this book, I got more out of some chapters than others, and I appreciated some chapters way more than others. The book started out extremely strong with the first essay titled "Too", one of my favorites out of the collective. Some chapters were a solid 5 stars for me, like "Too", and some were sadly a 1. With that said I still do recommend the book.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Laura Engelhardt

    The project's conception was perfect -- each essay was written by a different author about a particular word used to diminish/denigrate women. I liked the variety of perspectives & each felt authentic. I agree with some of the other reviewers that not every essay spoke to me -- but that's okay -- enough of them resonated. Words matter & books like this that highlight how acceptable terms are used to keep women in their place are important influences on our society. Changing our culture so that o The project's conception was perfect -- each essay was written by a different author about a particular word used to diminish/denigrate women. I liked the variety of perspectives & each felt authentic. I agree with some of the other reviewers that not every essay spoke to me -- but that's okay -- enough of them resonated. Words matter & books like this that highlight how acceptable terms are used to keep women in their place are important influences on our society. Changing our culture so that one day women and men will truly be perceived as equal will take a long time. It will be through lots of little efforts (like eliminating the use of feisty to refer to female attorneys) as much as through grand gestures and legislation. Thanks for putting this together. If you buy the book, don't skip the appendix of terms at the end -- it's a great sum-up.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Martha

    A great collection of essays. Some were wonderful, some just okay, but the book as a whole was entertaining and thought-provoking. Many of my pet peeves about how women's behavior is often described were addressed (you know, women are emotional or hysterical, men are "passionate," etc. etc.). So a very satisfying read. I was unfamiliar with some of the authors of these essays, and will be looking for their other writings. A great collection of essays. Some were wonderful, some just okay, but the book as a whole was entertaining and thought-provoking. Many of my pet peeves about how women's behavior is often described were addressed (you know, women are emotional or hysterical, men are "passionate," etc. etc.). So a very satisfying read. I was unfamiliar with some of the authors of these essays, and will be looking for their other writings.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    Pretty Bitches is a collection of essays on how certain words can be used to undermine women. As you'd expect from a fairly expansive collection of essays, some are great, some are okay, and some are meh. The theme that was more surprising to me was all of the subtle ways women are undermined for their accomplishments. That was more prevalent than any other theme. This was described in several essays including "Professional", "Lucky", and "Ambitious". My favorite of those was Lucky, in which the Pretty Bitches is a collection of essays on how certain words can be used to undermine women. As you'd expect from a fairly expansive collection of essays, some are great, some are okay, and some are meh. The theme that was more surprising to me was all of the subtle ways women are undermined for their accomplishments. That was more prevalent than any other theme. This was described in several essays including "Professional", "Lucky", and "Ambitious". My favorite of those was Lucky, in which the author complains (rightfully so) that many people, esp. her female friends, respond to her accomplishments with "you're lucky" instead of "you worked hard and you deserved this." I think that's an important piece that all married people should read. Other pieces were about expectations of how women should behave. Some essays included "Shrill", "Aloof", "Tomboy", "Feisty", "Effortless", "Intimidating". Of those, one I really enjoyed was "Aloof" where the introverted author talked about how her personality was misinterpreted by people, especially guys seeking validation. "Intimidating" really spoke to me as well. There were a few mom ones that were entertaining, even though I couldn't relate completely. "Mom" and "Nurturing" were some of them. I preferred "Nurturing" because it was pretty funny, and most of the essays are relatively serious. There were a few that just seemed about life experiences and not so much the female experience, which made me feel a little 'eh'. Some cultural pieces skewed the line well like "Yellow Bone" and "Intimidating", but others like "Good" and "Exotic" didn't really connect thematically to the book, I thought. Anyway, this is an interesting book and easy to pick and then set down if you're busy, since it's a bunch of essays. Of course, I'm not busy because quarantine anyway, but if you have kids... there ya go. I will always feel indebted to Rebecca Traister for helping me feel seen in "Single Ladies" and she contributed to this book. I recommend this to my lady readers/followers! :)

  17. 4 out of 5

    L E

    I received this book from a Goodreads Giveaway. I enjoyed many of the essays.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Angie

    I enjoyed this book for its diverse voices. They all fit together very well, despite being written by vastly different people covering different subjects. However, as much as I enjoyed reading the essays, I didn’t love the book itself. I wish that there had been a slightly more robust wraparound instead of a relatively short preface and ending on a list of words you really shouldn’t call women (which was clever, I admit, but I don’t think it really served in any way to end the book). As I said be I enjoyed this book for its diverse voices. They all fit together very well, despite being written by vastly different people covering different subjects. However, as much as I enjoyed reading the essays, I didn’t love the book itself. I wish that there had been a slightly more robust wraparound instead of a relatively short preface and ending on a list of words you really shouldn’t call women (which was clever, I admit, but I don’t think it really served in any way to end the book). As I said before I did like this book. I just wish that the wraparound had felt more cohesive – or more like a wraparound and less like a paltry intro to what is otherwise a pretty damn good bunch of writing. If you are a woman, or have ever met one, you might find this an interesting look into the ways that we perceive our roles in society, and why we might be just a little unsatisfied with it. Either way, give this book a shot, you might learn something!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sara Cunningham

    This is a book of essays all by women on words that have been used to undermine them (and are used to invalidate and devalue woman and their experiences in general). I read a review that said something like “this is a book that every woman should have on her to read list” and yes, I agree with this, it’s 100% true, but I will also say: MEN need to have this on their to read list. Let’s stop putting pressure on women to explain to men why their behavior is fucked up and sexist, and encourage men This is a book of essays all by women on words that have been used to undermine them (and are used to invalidate and devalue woman and their experiences in general). I read a review that said something like “this is a book that every woman should have on her to read list” and yes, I agree with this, it’s 100% true, but I will also say: MEN need to have this on their to read list. Let’s stop putting pressure on women to explain to men why their behavior is fucked up and sexist, and encourage men to simply educate themselves about sexism and how they can actively fight against it. A VERY solid first step for men who are interested in treating women like equal human beings? READ THIS BOOK!!!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Annie

    "Pretty Bitches" by Lizzie Skurnick is a collection of essays written by women addressing the labels women face in the workplace, at school, in life in general. These brave women write candidly and openly, sharing their personal stories showcasing the challenges women face for being women. Many of the topics and labels addressed are words and situations that we hear about everyday. Reading these essays opened my eyes on how hurtful different words/looks/actions can be and how women can hide that "Pretty Bitches" by Lizzie Skurnick is a collection of essays written by women addressing the labels women face in the workplace, at school, in life in general. These brave women write candidly and openly, sharing their personal stories showcasing the challenges women face for being women. Many of the topics and labels addressed are words and situations that we hear about everyday. Reading these essays opened my eyes on how hurtful different words/looks/actions can be and how women can hide that hurt but carry the pain.

  21. 5 out of 5

    L

    'Sticks and stones may .............' it's a complete lie! I thoroughly enjoyed every story/essay each contributor brought to these pages. The words used against us (as women) are meant to subjugate if we became a threat or be perceived as threatening by the other half of society. It is also a reminder of how we should temper and rein in our use of words when speaking about ourselves as well. Well worth a read. 'Sticks and stones may .............' it's a complete lie! I thoroughly enjoyed every story/essay each contributor brought to these pages. The words used against us (as women) are meant to subjugate if we became a threat or be perceived as threatening by the other half of society. It is also a reminder of how we should temper and rein in our use of words when speaking about ourselves as well. Well worth a read.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Frances Bland

    This collection of essays reminds everybody that it’s not okay to call woman all of these names. I’m sure every woman can relate to several of these stories. Many of them just made me angry for the women writing them. I often caught myself shaking my head and wishing I could have been there for the younger versions of these women. It’s definitely a must-read.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kate Grace

    I was consistently engaged and invested while reading. Even the essays that didn't click for me gave me a lot to think about, and to admire in the writing. Also, the anchor of language - the words we use - is amazing. Thank you to Seal Press (Hachette Book Group) and Goodreads Giveaways for my copy. I was consistently engaged and invested while reading. Even the essays that didn't click for me gave me a lot to think about, and to admire in the writing. Also, the anchor of language - the words we use - is amazing. Thank you to Seal Press (Hachette Book Group) and Goodreads Giveaways for my copy.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    There were so many great essays in this book and I love the framing of the words that were used to cut women down and the subversion of some of those insults into a point of pride. Definitely worth a read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Morgan Schulman

    I received an advanced readers copy in exchange for an honest review I wanted to like this so much more than I did. Underwhelming

  26. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    I mean, this was fine? Very feminism 101 though.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Andrea RBK

    More reviews and book-ish content @ Club Book Mobile on FB, Club Book Mobile on IG & Andrea RBK Pretty Bitches: On Being Called Crazy, Angry, Bossy, Frumpy, Feisty, and All the Other Words That Are Used to Undermine Women edited by Lizzie Skurnick was a phenomenal essay collection on how language is weaponized against women. Each chapter was written by a different author reflecting on a word that's use towards them had an impact. Each author talked about when this first happened, how this continu More reviews and book-ish content @ Club Book Mobile on FB, Club Book Mobile on IG & Andrea RBK Pretty Bitches: On Being Called Crazy, Angry, Bossy, Frumpy, Feisty, and All the Other Words That Are Used to Undermine Women edited by Lizzie Skurnick was a phenomenal essay collection on how language is weaponized against women. Each chapter was written by a different author reflecting on a word that's use towards them had an impact. Each author talked about when this first happened, how this continued to stick with them, and how they finally overcame. Y'all, this was some powerful stuff. As women, I think we have these words, and it's important to reflect on these, name their impact, and determine how to navigate the associated emotions. For me, the most powerful essay was the first in the collection about the word TOO. I didn't realize how that word was so knowingly used against people, and I started to even reflect on how I'd seen that happen in my own life. Y'all, there was such power in the opportunity to reflect in this way through these essays. Was it painful? Yes, but again there was also that positive impact about being able to chart a way forward. Each of these essays was so honest and personal, and I loved the way each reflected and processed through the impact of language. This is a phenomenal collection that examines words in a way that is so very important.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kirsten Lewis

    This was both a fun and thought provoking read for me. The essays were so relatable, if you don’t see yourself, you may recognize a friend or colleague. While the individual contributor essays convey unique perspectives, they work so well together it could be written by one voice. I admit to searching for more information on every writer. The essays that really spoke to me were Too, Lucky, Small, Nurturing, Aloof. Pretty is one I think I’d read over and over as both I and my daughters mature. Fei This was both a fun and thought provoking read for me. The essays were so relatable, if you don’t see yourself, you may recognize a friend or colleague. While the individual contributor essays convey unique perspectives, they work so well together it could be written by one voice. I admit to searching for more information on every writer. The essays that really spoke to me were Too, Lucky, Small, Nurturing, Aloof. Pretty is one I think I’d read over and over as both I and my daughters mature. Feisty is a word I use for my own child. Effortless. Shrill. Lucky. Obviously, word choice matters. This book reminded me that the words I choose say more about me than the person I ascribe them to. I’ve never really thought much about what an editor does for a book. Punctuation? But I would like to know more about the process of putting this one together. Particularly since so many of the essayists are accomplished writers. The title of this book is brash, more so than any of the essays. Did the book itself get toned down? Or was the title a late addition? A great book club choice.

  29. 5 out of 5

    David

    Essay collections are hard to rate, especially when the essays have various authors. Some didn’t resonate because of the writing styles. Some had interesting stories and good execution. And some were just there: nothing new to say and nothing exciting about how it was told/written. Overall, though, I thought this was a good collection. Not outstanding, but good. Some of these resonated more than others. I am not a woman, but I am well-versed in civil rights, employment discrimination, and inters Essay collections are hard to rate, especially when the essays have various authors. Some didn’t resonate because of the writing styles. Some had interesting stories and good execution. And some were just there: nothing new to say and nothing exciting about how it was told/written. Overall, though, I thought this was a good collection. Not outstanding, but good. Some of these resonated more than others. I am not a woman, but I am well-versed in civil rights, employment discrimination, and intersectionality. In a number of employment law cases - my main focus and forte - the topics covered in these essays are frequent complaints of discrimination and harassment. And these issues - like not acting like a stereotypical woman (IE, makeup, high heels, passive, quiet, etc.) but being a tomboy or acting “like a man” - are still coming up in the workplace in discrimination cases. This is a good collection and I’m glad I read it.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    As a collection of essays, some resonated more than others, of course. My favorite probably was “Aloof,” as I find the implication that strong, silent men = admirable vs strong, silent women = “aloof”, with a negative connotation, very interesting; I think the interplay of traditionally “masculine”/“feminine” traits and how people police them according to society’s perception of gender is fascinating. Another idea, which actually came up in two separate essays, was the idea of individual agency, As a collection of essays, some resonated more than others, of course. My favorite probably was “Aloof,” as I find the implication that strong, silent men = admirable vs strong, silent women = “aloof”, with a negative connotation, very interesting; I think the interplay of traditionally “masculine”/“feminine” traits and how people police them according to society’s perception of gender is fascinating. Another idea, which actually came up in two separate essays, was the idea of individual agency, and how it is revered in men, but reviled and punished in women: “We do not like the idea of women determining their own lives” and “Nothing is scarier to men than women exhibiting control over our own lives.” The common idea, that a word or trait that is on its face neutral or positive when applied to men, but decidedly negative when applied to women, is something I’m going to continue to mull over and keep an eye out for.

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