The Bad Girl's Guide to Getting What You Want
by Cameron Tuttle
Published by Chronicle Books
192 pages, 2000
Booty: Girl Pirates on the High Seas
by Sara Lorimer
Published by Chronicle Books
110 pages, 2002
Eternally Bad: Goddesses With Attitude
by Trina Robbins
Published by Conari Books
203 pages, 2002
Girlfriends Get Together
by Carmen Renee Berry, Tamara Traeder and Janet Hazen
Published by Wildcat Canyon Press
167 pages, 2001
Reviewed by Sienna Powers
This is the time of Grrrl Power. I'll tell you how I know this: from about mid-2001, the January Magazine to-be-reviewed stacks grew fat with books with a common theme: the happy, wholehearted empowerment of ... well ... grrrls. And, just to be clear, this isn't the women's lib propaganda that our mothers burned their bras over. This particular crop of books cheerfully acknowledges that -- with some mid-90s nudging by the Spice Girls -- Grrrl Power (three "r"s and a couple of caps) -- has finally arrived.
While the themes -- and the competence with which they are delivered -- vary greatly from book to book, some commonalties are worth noting:
1. Grrrl Power seems to be enhanced by strong colors. Almost all of the books feature bright, happy covers or loudly colored internal illustrations.
2. These are not books that invite serious introspection. Almost every book in this particular lineup is maniacally happy.
3. Many of the books were penned by role model types who lend their voice -- and often, their face -- to the joy possible if the contents of the book are properly ingested.
4. If you use these books as an indicator, women are strongly driven by food. Most of these books include at least a few recipes -- mostly of the self-indulgent variety. If this is anything to go by, empowered grrrls dig eating.
There's more, but let's tour them one-by-one:
Even though it was published in 2000, The Bad Girl's Guide to Getting What You Want by Cameron Tuttle gets to lead this particular pack, simply because Tuttle broke a lot of this ground with her immensely popular The Bad Girl's Guide to the Open Road published in 1999. Like its predecessor, Getting What You Want is cheerful almost to the point of madness, complete with a lilac cover and stylishly-simple line drawings of grrrls getting what they want.
Bad girls make it happen. A bad girl knows what she wants and how to get it. She makes her own rules, makes her own way, and makes no apologies.
At its core, however, The Bad Girl's Guide to Getting What You Want is a less useful book than Tuttle's first. The advice here is mainly more about getting a laugh than providing a service. And while a laugh may not be anything to sneeze at, Tuttle's sequel lacks some of the punch of her original title. It will be interesting to see what Tuttle does for an encore. (And I have little doubt that there will be one.)
Sara Lorimer's whimsically named Booty: Girl Pirates on the High Seas introduces us to some historically empowered babes. In her introduction, Lorimer gives a little background:
For as long as ships have sailed the seas there have been pirates. And for as long as there have been pirates, some of those pirates have been women.
The book profiles 11 women pirates, from Alfhild -- the legendary 9th century Norse beauty whose high seas high jinx ended, Lorimer tells us, when she got married, "went back to wearing women's clothes" and started bearing her husband children -- to Sadie the Goat -- the NYC-based pirate who reigned terror on land and at sea in the middle of the 19th century.
Susan Synarski's illustrations, while clumsily charming, don't add much in the way of illumination. Synarski's signature primitive style works well when sending up a rock star in Rolling Stone -- one of the venues where her work appears regularly -- but they add more style than substance to the pages of Booty.
In all ways, Booty should be thought of as "history lite." Lorimer has packaged a wealth of information into an engaging and informative little book, one that will send the more passionately interested on a journey of discovery.
A similar book, with more steak and less sizzle, Trina Robbins' Eternally Bad: Goddesses with Attitude is an "irreverent tribute to mythological 'bad girl' goddesses from around the world." Writes Robbins:
After being ignored for more then 2,000 years, except when her worshipers were burned to death as witches, the goddess returned to popular culture in the 1970s along with the second-wave feminists, then known as "Women's Libbers." After two millennia, women had grown tired of saying "He" all the time, and found it exhilarating to know that women once had been worshipped as gods.
Robbins introduces us to 18 of history's most nasty goddesses, from the Egyptian Isis ("who stole the secret of immortality from Ra") to Lilith ("The first crusader for Sexual equality") and Osmotar ("The Finnish witch who created beer.") to the Indian goddess Kannaki and Japanese Izanami
Eternally Bad is very good as well as an awful lot of fun. The fun, however, does not overshadow the research. Robbins' book does an admirable job of walking elegantly between entertainment and education. You will learn reading Eternally Bad and you will have fun and, if your heart is in the right place and your head in the correct space, you will be empowered, as well.
Authors Carmen Renee Berry and Tamara Traeder have a pretty successful franchise with their Girlfriends series of books, including Girlfriends, The Girlfriends Keepsake Book, Girlfriends for Life and A Girlfriend's Gift. The subtext here is in taking strength and wisdom from your feminine relationships. In Girlfriends Get Together we revisit this girlish theme: but with food and input from cookbook author Janet Hazen.
"Think back," the authors write in the introduction, "-- when were the times you have felt a sense of belonging, had the most fun or experienced the greatest comfort? Chances are many of those moments were spent with your girlfriends." While the unspoken -- but contant -- assertion that men really are from Mars is a little irritating, the books seem to have struck chords with many women. In fact, over 1.3 million copies of the Girlfriends books are now in print.
The most pleasant thing about Girlfriend's Get Together is the comfortable typography and design. Looking more like a cookbook -- albeit a very stylish one -- that might have graced our mother's shelves than one from this generation, Get Together is filled not only with recipes, but with spaces for photos and comments, quotes from well known (women) personalities and various tips of the getting-together-with-girlfriends variety.
Girlfriend's Get Together is organized around getting together with girlfriends-types of occasions. A Moving Day Picnic, a Housewarming Dinner, a Safety Net Social, a Bacherlorette Fete and even a Perfect Pet Party. ("There's only one creature who could love you better than a girlfriend -- and that's your pet!")
While I personally find the whole us-chicks-better-stick-together-because-men-don't-understand-us mentality both repulsive and counterproductive, as a cookbook Get Together is very strong. Lots of comfort foods, unassuming sweets and classic 20th-century American favorites. And, if your girlfriends are unavailable, many of the recipes are fully suitable to be prepared and consumed by men. | May 2002
Sienna Powers is a transplanted Calgarian who lives and works in Vancouver, B.C. She is a writer and conceptual artist.