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Book review

You Play The Girl

On Playboy Bunnies, Princesses, Trainwrecks and Other Man-Made Women

For me this was an insightful and interesting exploration of the role women have played in (largely American) culture since the mid 1800s, seen through the lens of their portrayal in popular media. The author was a TV and then a film critic, and she looks at the roles women have been given to play, from The Philadelphia Story (1940) through The Stepford Wives (1975) to Frozen and beyond. Her take on things is always insightful and witty, and she made her points very well. I’m a late middle-aged, cis-gendered white man, and I was thoroughly enraged by the way in which women have been expected to politely play nicely as either background or suitable companions for the hero throughout the ages.

This sort of segregated role for women seems to be a creation of a post-industrial age. Hunter-gatherer societies will often have had men and women in broadly separate roles, but this didn’t imply any kind of power hierarchy – women in such societies would have openly laughed at the idea that men were “in charge” of anything (see Margaret Mead’s writings, for example). Such a hierarchy was present in the upper echelons of medieval society in the West, however, as women were often seen as useful pawns in the political wars of the time. I think some of the responsibility for this is the view clearly expressed by the Abrahamic religions that women need to be kept separate from men, and increasingly subordinate to them.

Quite how we get out of this, I’m no clearer than the author, but it’s clear that for the sake of everyone involved, we really need to find a better way to be in the world. This book reveals the “patriarchy” as alive and kicking back, and it’s not good for anyone involved.