Is there a book you wish you had written? Is there a book you would have written if you had the ambition? Well, thank goodness Carina Chocano had both the desire and motivation to write a book and that book is her collection of essays, You Play the Girl: On Playboy Bunnies, Stepford Wives, Train Wrecks & Other Mixed Messages.
I love pop culture, and I’ve been studying and writing about pop culture since I was in high school. But despite my mad love for film, TV shows, music, and obviously books, I’ve often been dismayed (if not downright pissed off) by how girls and women are portrayed in these various works, and how they affect society and those we care about.
Chocano shares this loathing, wonders these same issues, and writes about them in this dazzling collection of essays (which also acts as a caring and concerned love letter to her daughter, Kira).
After a brief introduction, You Play the Girl is divided into four distinctive parts:
Part One: Down the Rabbit Hole covers topics like Playboy bunnies, the classic Good Housekeeping column, “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” and MTV-inspired movie Flashdance.
Part Two: The Pool of Tears muses on the concepts such topics like ingénues and bad girls.
Part Three: In You Wouldn’t Have Come Here, Chocano writes about the surrealism of the “Real Housewives,” awkward men who choose “Real Girls” over real-live women, and the singular, life-changing journey of redemption of eating, praying and loving.
Part Four: In Mad Tea Party, Chocano acknowledges that girls love math even if Barbie claims, “Math is hard,” women as a trainwreck, the phenomenon of the Disney movie Frozen, and wraps up things with her desire for a feminist dance number (personally, I suggest bellydancing).
There are several reasons why I Iove You Play the Girl. First, Chocano is an excellent writer. Sure, she’s technically proficient but most importantly she has a distinctive voice, down to earth, wise, but also funny and charming. Plus, she just makes you think. Her essays are deeply researched and make you reflect on how pop culture affects you in ways you never thought possible, whether it comes to classic sitcoms like Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie to the current day of reality television with its collection of real housewives, bachelors and bachelorettes.
Chocano also has interesting opinions when it comes to classic movies like The Philadelphia Story and a movie I hope is never considered a classic, Pretty Woman. And when it comes to how boys and girls are portrayed coming-of-age books, films and TV shows, Chocano sums things up with this passage:
“In the male coming-of-age story, the boy creates himself. In the female coming-of-age story, the girl is created by forces around her.”
She questions why in an age of diversity and women making strides in business, academia, politics, technology, activism, arts and entertainment, and business our definition of what makes a woman attractive and sexy grows more and more narrow.
Chocano likewise has a very interesting take on women’s magazines and how they prey upon women’s insecurities and perceived failings as wives, mothers, workers, and just human beings as a whole even in this age of “You go, girl!”
Throughout You Play the Girl, Chocano looks at the details but also gives us the big picture on so many attention-grabbing topics. Simply put, You Play the Girl is one of the best books I’ve read this year.