Be Awesome: Modern Life for Modern Ladies
Hadley Freeman, Fourth Estate, £12.99
When it comes to film, "Jewish men are smoking hot, Jewish women are non-existent and/or awful". So says journalist Hadley Freeman in her new book on feminism, the media, and the myths perpetuated by Hollywood.
Hot on the heels of Caitlin Moran's How to Be a Woman, she offers a detailed attack on how women are both portrayed and conditioned to act in public life. The book - essentially a series of extended columns containing pearls of wisdom about life, love and why the Daily Mail is wrong about almost everything - tackles body image, the single life, and the impact of motherhood on female friendships. She includes a terrific send-up of the sycophantic celebrity interview, with its inevitable emphasis on the A-Lister in question's impossible dietary habits, and makes a case for life unconstrained by "classifications in which certain activities are verboten to those over a certain age".
The chapter on vegetarianism (I write as a fellow traveller) offers one of the most accurate ripostes to the stream of questions precipitated by the confession that one has relinquished carnivorous urges. "You know Hitler was a vegetarian? Yes, but so far I have resisted the urge to cause mass genocide," she writes, summing up every vegetarian's sense of resignation at a terminally intolerant world.
Likewise, noting that "real life is not how it is depicted in the movies", Freeman is witty in her analysis of the shortcomings of mainstream cinema, with its notions that desirable women are never funny, and that marriage necessarily comes before professional fulfillment, and her four-page, wholly justified rant about how Hollywood's Jewish men have excellent PR -"Funny! Sweet! Smart! And with such adorably curly hair" - while Jewish women are condemned as needy shrews, infinitely inferior to "platinum shiksas". "Seriously, Hollywood dudes," she writes. "Were you humiliatingly knocked back as teenagers by some sexy Jewesses at your Jewish summer camp and vowed to wreak revenge?"
Freeman, who hails from New York, writes in an irrreverant, chatty style - heavy on the capital letters and explanation points, and with pop culture references dropped in almost every other sentence - such that at times it feels as though the book was written by Cher Horowitz's older, wiser sister (which is no bad thing).
This is not exactly a manifesto for change; it's too frothy, too fun, and she's not really treading new ground. Freeman is right, for example, that glossy magazines advance inane suggestions for how women should behave, but her suggestion for how to challenge this amounts to little more than giving ourselves a stern talking to - sound advice, but hardly radical.
That said, while she may not quite be the heir to Betty Friedan or even Gloria Steinem, this is far more enjoyable and accessible than most feminist tracts. And the overall message - that women don't have to accept mainstream culture's version of how to live their lives, and that feminism is still relevant - is admirable and as applicable to teenage girls as it is to their mothers.