April 2004

Veronica Bond

21st Century Fox

Girls! Girls! Girls! by Claire Zulkey

It's rare to find a woman who can really write about women. I don't mean in the way that has become popular in the past few years, portraying women as either emotional wrecks, sexual fiends, marriage hounds, or a number of other stereotypes that women seem to have claimed for themselves, as if to prove that these one-dimensional traits are both normal and admirable. Claire Zulkey can write about women -- and she can write about these traits -- but instead of exalting them, she pokes fun at them for the moments of stupidity they possess. Zulkey isn't anti-woman and she doesn't demonize them -- she just manages to point out the ridiculous modes of behavior of which even the most intelligent women find themselves capable. And she does it with great humor.

A thin volume, almost like a chapbook, Girls! Girls! Girls! is a collection of short writings that reads like a journal of sarcastic and witty observations of female behavior. In it, Zulkey has put down on paper what often comes to mind when the largest pair of pants in an entire store is a size two or when it seems almost possible that a particular brand of under-eye cream is the answer to a fledgling love life. Her goal is to make fun of the way women behave and she does it in a way that can be only be done by a woman who knows the ridiculous practices of her own gender. In "The Shinist," Zulkey presents a society of girls whose worth is measured in shoes. Girls squeeze and contort their feet into expensive and uncomfortable pairs in effort to gain more appeal to the opposite sex. When the narrator feels her resistance slipping, shoe buying quickly becomes an addiction, the shoes themselves the drug: "I bought a pair of stacked-heels, a pair of slingbacks and a pair of open-toed stiletto heels. I made sure not to go overboard. I didn't want anybody to notice. I was keeping it under control. I made sure to maintain 'old shoe' days, for image."

If this sounds ridiculous, it's only because, pulled out of the context of everyday actions, it is. Of course, that's Zulkey's point in creating such a class system -- a dividing line drawn between Nine West and Manolo Blahnik is stupid, but it exists and is both created and perpetuated by women. A similar dig is aimed at female-targeted marketing strategies in "How Each of the Products in My Shower Caddy Will Affect Our Relationship, My Dear Boy." Each named product is described, in the manner seen in commercials, as potentially life-altering products. A specific shampoo will cause a man to dream of waking up to the scent on his pillow and a certain razor will yield perfectly smooth legs, making a man want to propose. It is only when the relationship reaches its demise that the narrator begins to question her brand loyalty and the ease with which we buy into these feminine notions.

Zulkey's best piece, though, is the first in the book, titled, "Fat: The New Thin." In this she makes outright jabs at the American female obsession with weight and the blind admiration held for stick-figure celebrities. The weight obsession is reversed, with plump bodies the latest trend and emaciated models hiring eating trainers to help them catch up. Said a "designer" in the piece: "It's time to see fabrics stick, pull, grab, and pucker. I'm sick of bare little midriffs; I want stomachs hanging out of shirts. It's time to see rolls, dimples, and flesh squeezing out of hems like sausage spilling out of so many casings." Seemingly outrageous produces are described, such as fat injections as a sort of "liposuction in reverse," but aren't so far from reality when wildly popular aging remedies, like facial injections of botulism, are considered. Here, the driving force behind Zulkey's humor is prominent, that is, her ability to point out the perversities in highly accepted standards and practices.

The only disappointment of Girls! Girls! Girls! is its startling brevity. At only sixty pages, the short pieces only offer a taste of what Zulkey may be capable, hinting at what her readers will, hopefully, be treated to in the future. In a period in which female characters can often be found lamenting the trials of stagnant relationships, Zulkey's resistance to fall into the pattern of the highly tempting chick lit genre makes her writing enjoyable and refreshing. Women may behave in humorous, even ridiculous, ways, but that shouldn't be the bases of their characters. What she has done is to highlight theses lapses in feminine logic and call them out for what they are. Women will be lucky to gain Claire Zulkey as a writer.

Girls! Girls! Girls! by Claire Zulkey
So New Media
ISBN: 0972763619
60 pages