on audiobooks (i)

In 90s Bitch, Allison Yarrow scrutinizes the decade’s media and pop culture for the ways in which each undermined feminism.

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Well researched and fast moving, 90s Bitch: Media, Culture, and the Failed Promise of Gender Equality surveys the cultural landscape of the 1990s from a feminist perspective, with special attention paid to women in television, pop music, and politics. Author Allison Yarrow argues that, during the 1990s, the media and pop culture increasingly cast any woman who sought power, fame, or sex as a bitch, while also demonizing women’s deviation from gender roles in general. The gains of feminism began to erode, Yarrow claims, and the marketplace hollowed out and commodified the movement for gender equality.

Yarrow’s argument is convincing, and her background as a journalist is clear. In each chapter, she assembles a highly readable mix of quotes, interviews, stats, and commentary. Standout chapters include those on the decade’s commodification of sex, the Riot Grrrl Movement, and the rise of girl power as a replacement for feminism. Some readers on Goodreads have faulted the book for feeling fragmented, scattered, and overly reliant upon sources. Listening to the audiobook narrated by the author, though, I thought Yarrow’s transitions between topics were smooth and her use of several kinds of sources appropriate. At the same time, her narration is swift, and she addresses a wide array of subjects in just under twelve hours. Still, I can see how the format might not translate as well to print, in that the book feels a bit like a report or podcast.

The book’s glaring flaw is that the author mostly focuses upon white women, without explaining that her claims about the decade’s sexism are specific to white culture and media. Yarrow considers some works of Black pop culture, namely Living Single and TLC, but she overlooks so many of the decade’s female celebrities of color, from Margaret Cho to Janet Jackson. Had Yarrow more thoroughly examined the contributions of people of color to 90s’ pop culture, her argument would have been far more developed, robust, and comprehensive.

While the book isn’t perfect, I would still recommend it to those interested in media studies, feminist cultural history, or the ’90s in general. Yarrow shows a lot of promise as a writer, and her style of writing is crisp and clean. A short excerpt from the book can be found on Time.

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