Book Review: Bossypants by Tina Fey

If you have ever seen Tina Fey perform on Saturday Night Live, you know that she is an incredibly funny individual. But have you ever wondered how she became so successful?

In her memoir Bossypants, Fey talks about growing up in a Greek community in Pennsylvania, awkward relationships and being a woman in the entertainment industry (she gives a lot of good backstory about 30 Rock and her sketch in which she played Sarah Palin). I normally don’t read non-fiction, and I put off reading this book even when it came out back in 2011. But after watching one too many tearjerkers and reading one too many sad books (and the news), I was desperate to read something funny.

One of the sections I really liked was when she talks about her Kotek Classic ad on SNL. For those who haven’t seen it, Tina Fey and other female comedians on the show, including Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph, starred in a fake SNL ad for Kotek-brand pads. These pads were the old-fashioned 1960s kind that had a complicated belt and snaps (I’m too young to remember this even happening lol). In the commercial, we see the various women wear the incredibly tacky Kotex Classic pads, and it’s incredibly hilarious because these pads are easily noticeable and just look plain bad. The women in the commercial pretend that this pad makes them feel more confident and sexy, but in reality they’re making fun of the ways in which sanitary products have been marketed to women, as well as the pervasiveness of the term “classic” in advertising (Reebok, Coke)

In the book Fey says that comedy writer Paula Pell came up with the idea, and Fey rooted for her idea in meetings only to have people (most of them men) say it would be “too difficult to produce” (Fey 140). However, Pell and Fey (fortunately) persisted, and after convincing people that it wasn’t going to be a graphic sketch about menstruating or actually showing women putting on the pad, they let the ad air. After you watch it, you’ll be glad it got the chance to air live because it is funny AF.

I also really loved her discussion on motherhood. Personally, I’m not a mom, but reading about Fey’s experiences as a mom really taught me to embrace the individual experiences that women have with motherhood, as well as the sensitive motherhood topics that people normally stigmatize. In one part she talks about how people would be nosy and ask if she was going to have another kid instead of just letting her daughter stay an only child. She reminds us that no one should judge people for only having one kid and that each family is going to be different from one another, so we shouldn’t base our status on how many kids we have. Another thing that she discusses is breastfeeding; she talks about how the upper middle class moms she ran into would be super judgmental about her weaning Midge, her newborn daughter, off of breastmilk and switching to infant formula. These are incredibly personal matters though, and Tina lets mothers know that they don’t have to feel obligated to answer such nosy questions about why they’re missing out on the joys of breastfeeding their toddlers or why they don’t want another child. Also, miscarriages are real, so not everyone can have kids.

This kind of unnecessary judgment reminded me of Bad Moms, when Gwyneth, a super privileged and arrogant mother, makes Amy, a regular old working mom, feel bad about bringing donut holes to the school bake sale. In another scene Amy is already super-flustered because she just dropped her kids off at school and is trying to do a lot of things, and when she tries to drink her scalding hot coffee, Gwyneth pops up out of nowhere, scares Amy and causes Amy to spill hot coffee all over herself. As she watches Amy scream in pain, Gwyneth doesn’t offer to help or ask if she’s ok. Instead she bugs Amy about running the bake sale and condescendingly asks “How do you juggle it all as a working mom?” Now of course, again, I’m not a mom, so I can’t speak for any working moms, but this has got to be a super irritating question for many of them. In fact, Tina Fey devotes a whole chapter in Bossypants, called “Juggle This”, to that question. Her daughter checks out a children’s book called My Working Mom, and Fey’s description of the book had me howling because the book’s plot actually sounds quite terrible (the working mom is a witch who makes it to her daughter’s school play at the last minute while still juggling her work commitments) and, as Fey reminds us, was written by two men.

Fey didn’t grow up with a babysitter* and so she feels alone when she cannot spend time with her daughter. When the babysitter, or “Coordinator of Toddlery” as Fey calls her, cuts her daughter’s nails too short, it causes her stress because she doesn’t want to spend the whole evening telling the babysitter how to properly cut Midge’s fingernails. Even though Fey says she is gifted with an incredible dream job in the entertainment industry, she says it is hard to “juggle it all” and even though she dreams of quitting her job, she knows she is incredibly fortunate to be working her dream job while her other coworkers, whether they enjoy the work or not, have to have the job so they can pay their bills. And Fey argues that she has had exhausting moments taking care of her kid as much as she does tender moments (the “Me Time” part on page 243 was rib-bustingly funny but also so real), so she makes time in the morning to clip Midge’s nails while they told stories to one another and it has helped them develop a good mother-daughter relationship. Asking working moms how they juggle it all, according to Fey, is a way of making working moms feel bad for not always doing everything perfectly and for not always being there for their kids. However, at the end of the day, working moms are still human and deserve to be treated as such. The stereotype of the working mom depicted in that My Working Mom book that Fey describes is actually a very harmful stereotype for women, because it implies that if working moms aren’t staying home with their kids 24/7 then that means they don’t deserve to have a perfectly normal beautiful relationship with their children. Stay at home moms struggle just as much as working moms do, so it’s pointless to make it seem the former is better off than the latter; motherhood in general is no joke, based on what many moms have told me over the years, and all you can do is your best.

Overall, the book was amazing and brilliant, just like Tina herself. You will howl at a lot of things she says and also feel for those tender serious moments in the book, such as the aforementioned discussion on motherhood. And check out her Kotek Classic ad (it’s also cool that she wrote Excedrin for Racial Tension Headaches, another great SNL ad starring Queen Latifah).

*I honestly appreciate her not using the term “nanny” though. Like her, I feel really uncomfortable calling a babysitter that term, kind of like how I no longer use the term “janitor” to refer to custodians or folks working in maintenance since someone told me it’s disrespectful to do so. I actually like “custodian” better, or even just simply calling them by the name they want to be called.

Bossypants by Tina Fey. 277 pp. 2011.

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