Tina Fey’s book “Bossypants” is a book that presents common themes in an unusual manner. The author is able to elicit a discussion about issues that beleaguer modern working women in an easy and sneaky manner. The book heavily relies on sarcasm, personal anecdotes, and irony in an attempt to forward critical arguments on feminism-based issues in the world of showbiz.
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The book’s stature is not in question as it was able to garner two “New Yorker” reviews as a result of its ability to excite the feminist debate and offer much-needed insight into the realm of gender politics from the perspective of an insider. The author is a self-declared feminist who is able to relate to her own experiences when offering her perspective on feminism. Fey utilizes sarcasm and parody-comedy the two tools she has relied on as a comedy writer for NBC network and particularly the hit show “Saturday Night Live.” This essay tracks how Fey uses sarcasm, anecdotes, and irony in her book “Bossypants” to address the topics of feminism, racism, and discrimination. The paper concentrates on how various passages in the book address taboo subjects through sarcasm and humor.
The running theme in Fey’s book is that humor can be used to navigate some of the most difficult subjects in society. Consequently, the book adopts a humorous method of dealing with chauvinism and all other forms of discrimination. The author’s perspective is that in the tense moments that result from these problems, the only way to come out on top is by getting the loudest laugh. “Bossypants” delivers raw humor as the main tool for fighting social ills as opposed to taking political stands on these issues. The author has previously stated that she has encountered various forms of discrimination while working in a male-dominated world.
Therefore, the book is full of anecdotes about Fey’s experiences as a woman in the modern working environment. One example of these anecdotes is the author’s response to an online jab at her comedy chops. The response is directed at a man who posts on the internet that, in his opinion, Fey “completely ruined SNL (Saturday Night Live) as the only reason she is celebrated is that she is a woman and an outspoken liberal” (Fey 46).
The anecdote continues by offering Fey’s perceived response to the critic, whereby she sarcastically notes that society celebrates women unnecessarily. This anecdote serves the purpose of throwing back the critic’s ignorance of feminism issues in a sarcastic manner. Ideally, this approach works better than other counter-feminist responses (Drucker et al. 553). For example, this response is not likely to start a back and forth debate or have two sides of strongly held beliefs. Furthermore, this approach eliminates the reliance on emotions when addressing feminist issues.
The author supports her decision to use sarcasm and humor by making the claim that in her personal experiences, sexist remarks and tendencies are often the results of lack of knowledge and ignorance. She is of the view that most of the time, men do not know what is offending to women because they lack empathy in relation to their understanding of women’s plight. To this effect, the author adds the sarcastic snippet that men are ignorant because “they have never personally experienced the belted maxi pad” (Fey 24). Part of the author’s insight into feminist matters through sarcasm involves her ability to expose the weaknesses in an argument’s psychological, biological, and emotional underpinnings.
This goal is achieved in the above argument, whereby the author notes that there are psychological and biological elements in the manner in which men view women. Therefore, it is almost impossible to make a feminist argument without biases. Very few feminists have been able to point out this fact in their bid to champion equal treatment of genders (Hanrahan 9). For example, some men have argued that women are not as funny as men. Fey responds to such claims by noting that “it is an impressively arrogant move to conclude that because you don’t like something, it is empirically not good” (Fey 68).
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This humorous reply is in response to the fact that empirical evidence is often used to perpetuate ignorance as far as feminism is concerned. There is some form of refreshment in the manner in which the author uses manic humor in a bid to shine a light on the ridiculous nature of some of the prevailing arguments on gender politics. A sample of the author’s response to a fan’s question on whether the male star of her other television program, “30 Rock,” has ever kissed an NBC official provides a good example of this tactic.
This book was conceptualized as a result of the author’s tenure as the head writer of SNL, and her numerous encounters with discrimination. However, the author admits that discrimination can only bother an individual if one lets it do so. Therefore, the author is of the opinion that if the person discriminating is not directly affecting your life, then you should not care. By approaching the issues of discrimination and feminism using humor, the author makes the statement that these issues are not such a big deal to warrant being considered in a serious tone (Kein 674).
The evolution of the feminist debate has brought it to the point where individuals easily get offended by trivial matters and where they are also compelled to defend their politically correct views (Haralovich and Press 165). However, Fey’s sarcastic approach is an effort to show that all different views should be respected because there is no right or wrong opinion. According to the author, feminism is only a bother when it gets in the way of individuals who are trying to accomplish something. Nevertheless, Fey does not rely on the usual snide humor that is devoid of content. Modern internet humor is characterized by “cattiness, jealous innuendo, ironic gibberish that sometimes passes for humor” (Lauzen 107).
However, “Bossypants” relies on a higher form of funny, one that is intelligent, complex, and spirited. This humor puts the author at a position to reveal the undertones of feminism and discrimination without standing behind some of the established standard principles. For example, these are the author’s views on the political correctness of using breast pumps at work: “if you choose not to love your baby enough to breastfeed, you can pump your milk using a breast pump” (Fey 45). In this example, Fey sides with neither opponents nor proponents of feminism. Instead, the author goes to the root cause of the problem that appeals to both sides of the divide using subtle, intelligent, and mean-spirited humor.
“Bossypants” embodies a trend that was established by a series of past feminist writers. These writers were also propagating their voices in male-dominated environments and they often relied on tough girl feminism to withstand obvious backlash (Hanrahan 12). Fey stands behind these tough-skinned feminists through her use of sarcasm and personal anecdotes that depict her as a withstanding figure. For instance, in an essay that was authored in 1953, the author points out that she attended a meeting where a man asked her if she could not have taken up a more feminine hobby such as ballet dancing.
The author comically replies that she was offended by the remark but she was also enticed by the elegance of being a ballet dancer (Lauzen 112). The author of “Bossypants” adopts a similar tough girl stance using her own strain of humor. For example, Fey gives an example whereby when she was thirteen, a man catcalled her by remarking “nice tits”, to which the author replied “suck my dick” (Fey 102). The author’s sarcasm helps to accentuate her tough girl feminism by appearing to play on the same level as men.
“Bossypants” provides readers with a new feminist perspective from an author who has seen and heard it all. Furthermore, the author strictly relies on humor, anecdotes, and sarcasm to articulate her point of view. The author’s main goal is to encourage women to interact with feminism and discrimination on their own terms. Therefore, the sarcastic look into a number of discrimination scenarios acts as testament that feminism is only a problem if it prevents women from doing their jobs. The type of sarcasm and humor that is used in this book is not by any means simplistic. Instead, it is characterized by the author’s professionalism as a comedy writer. The book is only a few years old but it still manages to capture the tough girl feminism of the 1950s.
Drucker, Ari, et al. “On Sarcasm, Social Awareness, and Gender.” Humor, vol. 27, no. 4, 2014, pp. 551-573.
Fey, Tina. Bossypants. Hachette, 2011.
Hanrahan, Heidi. “Funny Girls: Humor and American Women Writers.” Studies in American Humor, vol. 24, no. 1, 2011, pp. 9-13.
Haralovich, Mary Beth, and Andrea Press. “New Feminist Television Studies: Queries Into Postfeminist Television.” The Communication Review, vol. 15, no. 3, 2012, pp. 163-166.
Kein, Kathryn. “Recovering Our Sense of Humor: New Directions in Feminist Humor Studies.” Feminist Studies, vol. 41, no. 3, 2015, pp. 671-681.
Lauzen, Martha. “The Funny Business of Being Tina Fey: Constructing a (Feminist) Comedy Icon.” Feminist Media Studies, vol. 14, no.1, 2014, pp. 106-117.