Big Girls Don't Cry: Rebecca Traister

This smart, entertaining book is a reflective account of the 2008 presidential election, following an on-the-road narrative of events as experienced by Salon’s Rebecca Traister, who writes for the website’s feminist-flavoured Broadsheet section. She looks at what it means for a changing America that the two frontrunners for the Democratic nomination were a white woman and a black man, and the respective impacts of gender and race on the national conversation and its undercurrents. The interplay of personality, policy issues and presentation are all examined, including the way the media shaped, as well as covered, the unfolding events. She includes analysis of the arguments about whether Hillary was ‘feminist enough’, and whether Obama was ‘black enough’, and the conflict between idealism and political pragmatism.

Traister also considers the impact of Michelle Obama – a strong woman forced to tone down her credentials and emphasise her maternal and wifely qualities, and, like Hillary, considered by many to be the intellectual superior of her spouse. And of course there’s the curious juggernaut of vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who represents ‘feminism without the feminists’ and whose appointment Traister describes as ‘tokenism of the basest variety’ by a McCain campaign hoping to hijack the hunger for a woman president created by Clinton’s candidacy.

One fascinating (and hopeful) element is Traister’s observation of the way the presence of Clinton, Obama, and even Palin in the presidential race altered the media landscape, giving voices to new commentators. ‘To some small extent, the media had to mirror the figures and stories it was covering. For generations politics had been male and white, and in turn the political media had been male and white.’ Political junkies, feminists and close watchers of our ever-changing cultural landscape will all be intrigued and engrossed by this punchy, engrossing book.