You Play the Girl: On Playboy Bunnies, Stepford Wives, Train Wrecks, & Other Mixed Messages

by Carina Chocano

In this smart, funny, impassioned call to arms, a pop culture critic merges memoir and commentary to explore how our culture shapes ideas about who women are, what they are meant to be, and where they belong.

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN-13/ EAN: 9780544648944
  • ISBN-10: 0544648943
  • Pages: 304
  • Publication Date: 08/08/2017
  • Carton Quantity: 24

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About the Author
  • About the Book



    "If Hollywood's treatment of women leaves you wanting, you'll find good, heady company in You Play the Girl."—ELLE 


    As a kid in the 1970s and 80s, Carina Chocano was confused by the mixed messages all around her; messages that told her who she could be—and who she couldn’t. Dutifully absorbing all the conflicting information the culture has to offer on how to be a woman, Chocano grappled with sexed up sidekicks, princesses waiting to be saved, and morally infallible angels who seemed to have no opinions of their own. She learned that "the girl" is not a person, but a man's idea of what a woman should be—she’s whatever the hero needs her to be in order to become himself. It wasn't until she spent five years as a movie critic, and was laid off just after her daughter was born, however, that she really came to understand how the stories the culture tells us about what it means to be a girl limit our lives and shape our destinies. She resolved to rewrite her own story. 


    In You Play the Girl, Chocano blends formative personal stories with insightful and emotionally powerful analysis. Moving from Bugs Bunny to Playboy Bunnies, from Flashdance to Frozen, from the progressive ’70s through the backlash ’80s, the glib ’90s, and the pornified aughts—and at stops in between—she explains how growing up in the shadow of “the girl” taught her to think about herself and the world and what it means to raise a daughter in the face of these contorted reflections. In the tradition of Roxane Gay, Rebecca Solnit, and Susan Sontag, Chocano brilliantly shows that our identities are more fluid than we think, and certainly more complex than anything we see on any kind of screen.

  • About the Author
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  • Reviews
    Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism 

    A Finalist for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay  

    One of Amazon's "Best Books of 2017: Nonfiction" 

    One of iBook's "Best Books of August" 

    One of Publishers Weekly's "Books of the Week" 


    "Carina Chocano's You Play the Girl reads like a war cry. With dazzling clarity, her commentary exposes the subliminal sexism on our pages and screens." 



    "If Hollywood's treatment of women leaves you wanting, you'll find good, heady company in Carina Chocano's essay collection, You Play the Girl. Why, Chocano asks, does the ingenue have to choose between marriage and death?" 



    "In Carina Chocano’s whip-smart new book You Play The Girl: On Playboy Bunnies, Stepford Wives, Train Wrecks, & Other Mixed Messages, she analyzes the 'girls' of pop culture across the decades, from Bewitched to contestants on The Bachelor (and its fictional counterpart, UnREAL) to the princesses of Frozen. Through cultural commentary mixed with personal reflections, Chocano explores the ways on-screen women have influenced her life and the way she sees the world. A-." 



    "Brilliant and insightful...You Play the Girl stands apart from others in the genre [...] by dissecting pop culture through the lens of a mother watching her young girl try to make sense of the world. The result is a heartfelt look at the complicated messages women receive, and argues that gut feelings about these messages should be carefully examined. Chocano persuades the reader that the media we absorb around us does matter, and shapes how we feel about ourselves. And she deftly shows how books, TV, and film that have been labeled “empowering” for women [...] often have hidden agendas." 



    “The cultural formulas that Chocano identifies are frustrating, but her readings don’t deny them their funIn the tradition of a long line of women writers, Chocano wants to make sense of this sort of enchantment and understand what kind of education it is offering up, and to whom.” 



    "Three sentences into You Play the Girl I already felt like cheering. Carina Chocano is a first-rate cultural critic whose specialty is constructing dead-on feminist analyses of such sinister artifacts as the relentless 'Frozen' and the various horrifying iterations of Barbie. Chocano is unusually skilled at dismantling the toxic underpinnings of such pop-culture mainstays, motivated in part by her desire to help her young daughter confront 'a world that literally never stops yelling at her that her primary value is sexual.' And Chocano demolishes the dismal shibboleth that feminists can’t be funny, wielding abundant wit with a devastating sardonic edge." 



    "Reading Carina Chocano is like listening to a smart friend think out loud [...] [You Play the Girl is] a ruefully funny collection." 



    "Chocano's book is funny and exasperating and full of revelations and epiphanies...If being a woman means being obligated to play a game you can't win because the rules keep changing (and not arbitrarily), Chocano's book is something you'd be behooved to read while you catch your breath between rounds of disorienting blows to the head." 



    "Pop-culture critic Carina Chocano’s smart, colorful, and compelling collection of essays, You Play the Girl, unpacks the ways movies, TV, and advertising sculpt perceptions of who and what women can and cannot be. Chocano achieves the right mix between personal essay and clear-eyed criticism, between high culture and low (discussion of Virginia Woolf leads into the 'Ghostbusters' reboot and the attendant trolls). We get a sense of her formative pop-culture experiences ('The Philadelphia Story'; 'Bewitched'; 'Flashdance') as well as dips into feminist history and the tension between being yourself and being a person people are comfortable with. 'You could choose to be a person or you could choose to be loved,' Chocano writes. It is not a pessimistic collection, but it shows that the myths and narratives of female identity are still in place and largely shaped by men." 



    "[A] memoir/pop culture takedown of the way women are characterized by the media...The author is both a brilliant, funny analyst, and a terrific yarn-spinner...razor-sharp." 



    "If you're ever at a party with author and former BUST columnist Carina Chocano, sit down next to her. In her first book of essays, the pop-culture critic tells her story of girlhood through the lens of the films and TV shows that made her realize she never actually wanted to play 'the girl'...Chocano's life advice doubles as a recommendations list....What makes Chocano so enjoyable to read is that, for better or worse, she revels in what she watched as a kid, and she'd like other women to do the same." 



    "Pop culture critic Carina Chocano understands that how women are represented in movies, TV shows, books, memes, and music is reflective of how they’re treated in real life. That’s the driving force of her witty essay collection...In You Play the Girl, Chocano examines everything from Pretty Woman to Frozen to I Dream of Jeannie, and makes it clear that although women are bombarded with imagery that may be warped, we have the fortitude to dictate who we are outside of who we’re told to be." 

    BITCH MAGAZINE, "10 Books You Must Read in August" 


    “A look at how popular culture depicts women through the eyes of a critic looking out for her daughter. You’ll never see Alice in WonderlandMy Best Friend’s Wedding or Frozen the same way.” 



    "One of the smartest collections of essays in a year where smart essays were queen of writing, Chocano examines the mixed messages that are a part of every American woman’s upbringing. Whether analyzing the appellation 'train wreck' to a number of female celebrities who have been through public mental health issues, to the constant presence of the madonna/whore complex adapted for new times, Chocano provides much to chew on in this thoughtful series of essays on gender." 

    SIGNATURE READS,  "24 Best Books to Gift to the Strong Feminist in Your Life" 


    "Chocano brings to bear her experience as a

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