December 2004

Gena Anderson

fiction

Citizen Girl by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

To say that Citizen Girl misses the mark in literary excellence is not difficult. However, the gleeful bashing of the new offering from Nicola Kraus and Emma McLaughlin that I’ve read in other reviews is a bit of a stretch. Going into this book, you may be expecting the worst of vapid chick-lit or be looking for the exacting social satire that is their first book, The Nanny Diaries, but the book doesn’t fulfill either expectation. Instead, it delivers a not-quite fully realized plot that is partially redeemed through the few interesting moments in it.

Girl, the symbolically named main character, is just coming off what she thought would be her dream job working for a feminist icon of the seventies. Of course, her boss turns out to be a woman who is more into spouting the feminist jargon and riding the old hippie vibe than effecting any actual change, and Girl considers herself more of a feminist for today. What constitutes a modern feminist, however, is never really explored in the book. The authors instead concentrate on how companies use female liberation as an excuse to push sexual boundaries and boost sales under the guise of empowerment. Women end up flashing their breasts for video cameras, and thinking that prostitution is okay because to them it means owning and marketing their own sexuality.

Girl starts to work at the Internet based "My Company," which is ostensibly a site where women’s magazines archive their articles so the customer can have all her vital beauty and shopping information in one spot. What she finds is that ultimately their goal is to become a consulting firm to companies who want to use information about women to sell to women. Girl’s new boss, Guy (insert your own obvious joke here), wants her to figure out how to bring Ms. magazine and its readers to the site. After pretty much floundering around with no guidance from the male-run company, Girl conducts focus groups where she realizes that most young women today equate feminism with hating men, and would rather think that “sexism is something we [feminists] invented to depress them."

It is here that the book starts to loose focus, Girl spiraling down further and further into a job where she is compromising her beliefs more and more. Things get more desperate, there is more sexism, and sex clubs, and suddenly, the subject of pornography pops out, seemingly out of nowhere. A female boss takes over My Company and in the last few pages of the book, turns it into a porn site. What is obviously supposed to be a shocking finale ends up flat and uninteresting, and rather far-fetched. There is an obvious connection between rampant consumerism and the selling of sex, but how the reader is supposed to segue into a woman getting beat up on a live porn feed is beyond me.

What the book gets right is the feeling of disillusionment many people feel upon leaving a college education and entering the workforce, and specifically the pressure women may feel when their appearance makes a critical impact on how far they go in the given workforce. If the authors were looking for a solution to the problems brought up in the book, they failed. Ultimately, we don’t know what Girl has learned or what she thinks she can do to change the world, we just know that she doesn’t like what she sees.

Citizen Girl by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus
Atria Books
ISBN 0743266854
305 Pages