by Dora Wilkenfeld
Feminism is a funny story. All too often, one mention of the F word dropped in casual conversation, even amongst the otherwise free thinking liberal arts students at the University of Connecticut, garners fewer accolades and acclamations than raised eyebrows and awkward silences. Despite a long and tumultuous history of women making strides towards equality and the right to tell a dirty joke in mixed company, the sad stereotype of feminists as humorless man-haters lingers on in the popular imagination. In a world where pole-dancing classes (for weight loss and muscle strength!) and nip-slip-sleekening “body shapers” are the norm, the great advances made by first, second, and third-wave feminists are often all too easily ignored. We’ve come a long way, baby–all the way from girdles to Spanx.
Fortunately for us–and that includes ladies and gentlemen–this is where Gina Barreca enters the picture. “I assume everyone I meet who seems smart is a feminist,” Barreca said matter-of-factly in a recent phone interview. “The culture just needs to be tuned up.”
Barreca’s books, including her newest, It’s Not That I’m Bitter…: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying about Visible Panty Lines and Conquered the World, touch on subjects near and dear to the heart of anyone who’s ever taken a long, sobering look into a magnifying mirror. Human frailties can seem petty when examined with an eye towards dismissing them as “female problems,” but isn’t there something universal, something that unites us all, regardless of creed and kind, in the epic struggle to pluck that last remaining, long, stubborn, unsightly chin hair?
Instead of stiff and humorless politicking, Barreca’s works explore, and yes, celebrate the little joys and struggles, from trying on bathing suits to decrying the state of modern feminism, of being a female person in today’s America. “Being a feminist isn’t about not doing things,” she said. “It’s not about being dowdy.”
An English professor as well as an author, Barreca knows well the hesitation too many young women feel about publicly using the F word. “Some people think, you only become a feminist if you can’t go to prom,” she said. “It’s very frightening to me… so I like to approach the issues with a sense of humor.”
Deflating engorged male egos with a sharp joke or two is Barreca’s specialty, one she’s dealt to several well deserving targets. The most recent example of her barbed wit comes in the form of an apt rejoinder to the usual tired screed bemoaning modern feminism as illogical, unnecessary, and downright threatening to insecure men. Her riposte, published on Psychologytoday.com, has to date gotten almost eighteen thousand page views. “I’ve never had so many readers,” Barreca laughed, though, as a well known fixture of Co-op readings and events, she’s never been shy about getting her books into readers’ hands. “I love hearing from people, women all over the world,” she said, although women aren’t the only ones who get wrapped up in her sense of humor. At a recent event for the Yale Campaign School for Women, one of the male bartenders came up to Barreca after her talk to tell her, “That sounds like a book my mom would love.”
“It’s about transcending categories of what people find funny,” she said. And if that won’t bring a smile to a readers face, nothing will.
Gina Barreca’s newest book, It’s Not That I’m Bitter, can be purchased at the Co-op or online.