You Play the Girl

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You Play the Girl
304 pages; Mariner Books

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. As females, she writes, we’re born into a world that "tells us not to trust our own eyes," to "deny our feelings." Structured to mirror Alice’s journey through Wonderland—the first section is "Down the Rabbit Hole," the last "A Mad Tea Party"—the book is dedicated to the author’s daughter, Kira, whom Chocano hopes will one day reject the gauzy "pack of lies" embedded in, say, Sleeping Beauty, for the more complex appeal of Lewis Carroll’s heroine.

It’s not only Carroll’s cottontails that interest Chocano. As a girl, the bunnies she saw posing in her grandfather’s Playboys informed her notion of desirability, though it was Bugs Bunny who was her first "sexual crush." When Bugs dressed up to portray a geisha or Lana Turner or Carmen Miranda, "he/she was both the person giving the performance and the person the performance was for." Chocano compares Bugs’s androgyny with that of another idol, David Bowie. 

Whether invoking Rita Hayworth or Real Housewives, the book blends feminist critique with memoiristic riffs on motherhood, calling out the reductive archetypes all around us. Of the movie Frozen, which Kira has seen about 30 times, Chocano muses: "Not only is Elsa Disney’s first neurotic princess, she may be its first psychotic one." 

How do you raise a girl in 2017? The answer, Chocano suggests, is to teach her to recognize that "the territory is hostile. But the heroine is brave." 

— Claire Luchette