* Rules For Being a Girl by Candace Bushnell & Katie Cotugno
This might seem a little bit silly to say considering I’m 45 years old and referring to YA (young adult) literature, complete with teen angst and problems I left behind almost 30 years ago… BUT OMG THIS BOOK WAS INCREDIBLE!
Okay, incredible might be a strong adjective, but I will say that this book was so emotionally charged, eye-opening and triggering in so many ways (good and bad) that I couldn’t put it down and finished it in about two days flat. Like a number of juicy HBO or Netflix series’ I’m currently binge-watching, I never wanted it to end.
I think I’ve only read one other YA book, so it’s not a category I generally frequent, but this book seemed more mature in a way and maybe written for women of all ages… and the authors’ use of “teens” made it easier to dissociate self from and assimilate the message within a much lighter and fluffier story, making it easily digestible. I dunno but obviously it hit a nerve for me and…
I wish with all my teen heart this book was available to read when I was about 14-15 years old because WOW it would have been incredibly helpful as a developing girl at the time. For this reason, I would totally recommend it to young girls AND women of all ages (and anyone who identifies as such) but also as an introduction to feminism in a way that should just be “the way” maybe and not labeled as feminism. Hmmm this might be an age thing though, and maybe today’s youth are already indoctrinated with these beliefs? One can only hope.
It’s hard not to think about how reading this book and having this message at a much younger age would have affected my decisions. I wonder how or if my life trajectory would have been different? I mean, OF COURSE it would have been different because those teen problems I mentioned above that I left behind almost 30 years ago have a way of turning into adult problems (even if only mental) and the way we dealt with things when we were young sometimes (unknowingly) become the way we deal with things as adults, and those ways of dealing and coping aren’t always in our best interest, but we don’t really know any different because we’re just trying to survive and protect ourselves from danger and this is how we’ve learned and have always done things and so far we’ve been safe… or have we?
The raw feelings and memories that have been unearthed while reading this book stung like they were happening in the moment. Upon reflection, past memories I thought were of positive experiences, were the exact opposite and with a little reframing, I realized were actually completely appalling. And… These memories shaped me! They shaped how I interact with men and how I am in relationships even to this day and it’s unfortunate we didn’t have open conversations back then (in the 90s) that would have been extremely helpful for me and probably every other girl at the time who is a woman now looking back on her life and her choices like WTF was I even thinking?. I can only hope these conversations are the norm now so that young girls and women have some sort of strength to fight for their values and moral codes without being confused about what is okay and what isn’t in this ridiculous patriarchy we still find ourselves in.
What took me WAY TOO LONG to learn was that even if you have a strong moral philosophy and you know what’s right and wrong FOR YOU, if you don’t have strong boundaries (or you’re a young and impressionable human) then manipulative men (who always seem to get their way) will be able to get inside your head and convince you that what they want you to do is more important that what you want to do, and this will be very confusing especially when you’re young or an empath or a codependent who doesn’t like disappointing people (or have been taught in childhood that disappointing people is actually wrong, never mind your own needs) so you do things you don’t want to do to avoid disappointing (or hurting) people (namely, men) and then you realize too late that you’ve disappointed yourself but you blame them for “making you do it” and become resentful and bitter because in a way they did make you do it by using manipulation, lying, gaslighting, or getting you to feel sorry for them because YOU DIDN’T GIVE THEM WHAT THEY WANTED AND OBVIOUSLY YOU ARE ONLY ON THIS PLANET TO GIVE MEN WHAT THEY WANT.
I just wish I had some insight (like actual examples to pull from) when I was young and even into my adulthood so I could have spotted emotional predators gaslighting me when it was happening and not overlooking red flags and assuming they (men, at large) had MY best interest at heart (as they said they did) and as I had for them, and then realizing much later that they ONLY care about themselves and getting what they want and will do anything to get their needs met, regardless of how it affects anyone else (namely, me) around them.
This has been my experience, anyway. And yes, I’m angry about it.
My road to reading Rules for Being a Girl, however, began at the opposite end of the spectrum, with the latest Sex and the City series, And Just Like That (based on the book Is There Still Sex in the City) by Candace Bushnell…
And since I mentioned the show, I feel the need to expand upon it for a moment and just say as “obviously woke” as it was (in maybe good ways for some generations even though it was utterly awkward at times) and for as many bad reviews it has received and for the lack of Samantha, I actually liked the show. I felt comforted watching the show, because not only do I know and love these characters that I’ve been watching since my twenties, I love watching them much older now and I love that at least two of the characters looked pretty natural as far as aging goes, and even though it took a minute for my conditioned brain to accept their aging faces, I loved that too.
James Poniewozik depicts the show perfectly in this quote below from his Review: ‘And Just Like That,’ It All Went Wrong in the NYTimes…
“And Just Like That.” …feels like two shows. One, which tries to grow with the women as they navigate their 50s and mortality, is a downer, but it takes risks and in moments is very good. The other, which tries to update its sassy turn-of-the-century sensibility for an era of diversity, is painful.
Even though it was a bit of a downer, I wanted more of those moments of vulnerability and relatability as I enter into this next phase of womanhood and would LOVE more relatable content to make me feel like I’m not so alone in my aging, even though it’s a trait that every living being goes though, it feels strangely lonely and like were not really supposed to talk about it unless we’re talking about beauty products and ANTI-aging.
Then I wondered why there weren’t more shows depicting women “of a certain age” since I pretty much fall into that category now and clearly watched “older women” in shows when I was younger – ahem, Golden Girls, and wondered why, even though they’re considerably older (then and even now), there really hasn’t been representation since (okay, maybe Cougar Town in a way), but instead women of a certain age are constantly trying to “fix” their age markers rather than accept gracefully what they see in the mirror… and I mean, I get it. Boy do I get it – but maybe if we had more older representation like this, where we aspire to be like women of a certain age instead of terrified of it, maybe we wouldn’t constantly be thinking there is something WRONG WITH US BECAUSE WE HAVE LINES ON OUR FACES!
Anyway… these thoughts led me back to author Candace Bushnell‘s books to see how her original Sex and the City book inspired the series and quickly found out how loosely based the show was on the actual book even though Bushnell gets writer credit on every episode and every movie (which is amazing and something to aspire to). However, the original SATC book did not have good reviews so I continued looking to see what else she had written and landed on Rules for Being a Girl (co-written with Katie Cotugno) which had mostly rave reviews. I could have just purchased it online but decided instead to check it out from my local library. Since I have a time limit to return the book, I’m motivated to start and finish reading much more quickly than when I buy them. And boy did I jump into this one.
You can read more about “Sex and the City” writer Candace Bushnell on being ambitious, getting older, and making it in New York in this article from the New Yorker Candace Bushnell Is Back in the City because it was an enjoyable read.
RULES FOR BEING A GIRL: Don’t wear too much makeup. Don’t wear short skirts. Don’t distract the boys by having a body. Don’t get so skinny your curves disappear. Don’t get so curvy you aren’t skinny. Be funny but don’t hog the spotlight. Don’t be a doormat, but god, don’t be bossy. Act like one of the guys. Don’t actually act like one of the guys. Don’t give him the wrong idea. Don’t be cold. Don’t give it up. Don’t be a prude. But calm down! Don’t worry so much. You can do anything! Just don’t forget to smile!
____________________ and I know this post is the length of The Bible but bear with me, I’ve technically been writing it for 3 weeks, lol__________________________________________
Without giving the story away, and I suppose besides my own emotional journey which you pretty much witnessed above, the book was empowering and showed how the main character, Marin, who could have been broken by her experience, was instead courageous and stood up for herself and for what was right to basically fight the patriarchy, even if it meant losing friendships and her reputation along the way. It’s a take on modern feminism in a very digestible way along with an introduction to intersectional feminism, the actual rules we have as girls (and women) that men don’t have, the double standards we all live by every day and the general mistrust of men who abuse their power by manipulating women. I must say though, the ending felt like a great season finale because there is some justice served, not quite as much as I would have liked, but enough to put a smile on my face and regain hope in humanity… though not necessarily in men. But again, this could just be my own take on the book considering my life experiences with the opposite sex.
So yeah, it’s a quick read, you might as well read it 😉 Buy : The Rule for Being a Girl and let me know what you think!