Gina Barreca asks, ‘If You Lean In, Will Men Just Look Down Your Blouse?’

A review of a book by Gina Barreca

What kind of woman would write an essay from the point of view of a female orgasm? That would be Gina Barreca, feminist humor scholar, humorist, philosopher and all round gadfly. For decades, she’s been writing entertaining and illuminating columns that share her insights and observations on everything from pop culture to politics.

Gina Barreca bookYou can count on Gina for essays that are fun, feminist and provocative. She always speaks her mind, and often says exactly what I’d like to say — only she says it better. In this political cycle, for instance, she penned my favorite Hillary-troll-bashing piece, the sharp and witty “Hillary is a Woman Who Doesn’t Know Her Place.” And to have a nationally syndicated columnist who is my age, articulate as hell, wildly successful and a die-hard feminist? That’s fabulous.

I first became aware of Gina Barreca with her first book, an analysis of women‘s humor called “They Used To Call Me Snow White… But I Drifted: Women’s Strategic Use of Humor.” At the time, I was editing collections of humor by women. My sole criteria for including a piece? If a submission made me laugh, it went in the book. If it didn’t, I left it out. I often couldn’t articulate exactly why a piece was funny. I could only say, as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart one said about pornography, “I know it when I see it.” Reading Barreca, a feminist humor scholar who had studied — extensively — what women laugh at and why (and why some so-called funny stuff didn’t amuse us at all) taught me a lot about what I was doing. (And made me sound like less of an idiot when I was being interviewed about my books.)

Barecca’s latest book isn’t a scholarly work, but a new collection of her humorous essays called
“If You Lean In, Will Men Just Look Down Your Blouse?: Questions and Thoughts for Loud, Smart Women in Turbulent Times” (St. Martin’s Press). Most of them first ran in the Hartford Courant, Psychology Today and The Chronicle Of Higher Education.

Although the book’s subtitle states that it’s for “loud, smart women,” you don’t have to be loud to love it. I’m a soft-spoken librarian and I savored each essay. Even the titles are fun. “If You Run With Bad Crowd, Can You Call It Exercise?” “The Cheap Motel Backside of Facebook” “Why We Know That When Guys Make Slurping Sounds At Us On The Street, It Isn’t a Compliment” “‘Happily Married’ Is Not An Oxymoron.” And my favorite? “Girlfriends: As Essential as Cupcakes and Revenge.”

And then there’s Gina’s riff from the viewpoint of the female orgasm, which is just a gem. “I’m neither elusive nor a mystery once you get to know me — and I certainly hope you will,” she begins. After a look at a number of turn-ons (intimacy, comfort, honesty) and turn-offs (distraction, deadlines, fakery) that most of us will recognize, she concludes with this advice: “If I’m elusive or mysterious to you, kiddo, maybe you’re not doing something right.”

Amen, sister!

“If You Lean In” isn’t the kind of book you’ll bomb through in one sitting. Instead, put it on your night stand or your coffee table, and read an essay or two at a time. My own preference is to read Barecca’s work aloud to the man in my life, a practice that has inspired plenty of laughter as well as some memorable conversations.

Needless to say, it would make an ideal book club selection.

In conclusion? “If You Lean In” is a thoroughly enjoyable read. But will reading this book by Gina Barreca evoke a mental response that’s as powerful as a female orgasm? There’s only one way to find out!

(Roz Warren is the author of OUR BODIES, OUR SHELVES: A COLLECTION OF LIBRARY HUMOR This review first ran on Womens Voices For Change.)

Roz Warren