Pretty Bitches: On Being Called Crazy, Angry, Bossy, Frumpy, Feisty, and All the Other Words That Are Used to Undermine Women
Edited by Lizzie Skurnick, Introduction by Rebecca Traister
“Funny, moving, breathtaking – the essays here remade a language that has been used so often to trap women so that it can free them instead. A prismatic look at the state of being a woman today, from some of our best living writers.” – Alexander Chee, author
Words matter. They wound, they inflate, they define, they demean. Crazy. Angry. Bossy. Frumpy. Bitch. What subtle and not so subtle digs are conveyed when men describe women with words like these? Words can be covert weapons, bearing an oversized influence on women’s lives, career, and sense of self-worth.
No one knows this better than Lizzie Skurnick, writer of the New York Times Magazine column, “That Should be a Word.” In Pretty Bitches, Skurnick has brought together a group of powerhouse women writers to take on the hidden meanings of these words and show how they can limit our worlds – or liberate them.
Each writer uses a single word as a vehicle for memoir, cultural commentary, or all three. Spanning the street, the bedroom, the voting booth, and the workplace, these simple words have complicated stories behind them – stories it’s time to examine, reimagine, and change.
Take the word, ‘too.” In the first powerful essay, Adaora Udoji, a recipient of many awards and honors as a reporter for ABC, NBC and public radio, writes how this little word, ”too,” has followed her through her life. She was often told that she was too loud, too talkative, asked too many questions, was too much. “Too” often feels as if it was created especially for women. Too emotional. Too curt. Too ambitious. Too nice. Hearing someone say, “She’s nice,” is a compliment. Hearing “She’s too nice,” a criticism. Or, “She’s pretty.” “She’s too pretty” takes on a whole other meaning. By the end of the essay, Udoji, reveals how as her standing in her profession increased, she began to see the “too” as her secret power. The too loud, too talkative, asking too many questions had made her an excellent reporter.
In these 27 essays you will be surprised how words so commonly used such as professional, effortless, lucky, mature, disciplined, good, nurturing, small and funny can turn from compliment to insult all too easily. In the essay entitled “Sweet’ we learn about the history of sugar, how sugar took the place of honey and turned our country into the sweetest country in the world, consuming more sugar per capita than anywhere else in the world. To call a woman sweet is to compliment only a small part of who a woman is. She would be better served with words like competent, has integrity, or, more accurately, “person.”
Lizzie Skurnick is the creator of the long-running New York Times Magazine word-coinage column That Should Be a Word and the founder of Lizzie Skurnick Books. Her wordsmithing has been featured in Entertainment Weekly, Slate, Atlantic Monthly, On NPR’s Weekend Edition, and more. She teaches at NYU and resides in Jersey City, NJ.