Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World

In her first book, Lisa Bloom urges women to disengage their minds from gossip and celebrity trivia and focus on more consequential topics instead. Leonie Taylor reviews this social-critique-cum-recipe-book, which appeals for women to spend more time considering sex trafficking and good literature and less time worrying about getting fat

, 15 February 2012

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Lisa Bloom’s Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World calls for women to turn off the television, put down that glossy magazine and engage their brains in something other than the latest soap plotlines. We need to use our critical thinking skills or risk losing them for good and succumbing to a lifetime of vanity and trivia.

“To consider what we don’t know because we choose to look at fluff and nonsense, instead of what matters is heartbreaking”, Bloom writes. Bloom suggests that the things we should be thinking about include: female education, international affairs, what to do about sex trafficking and which good books to read. Things we should spend less time thinking about are: housework, celebrities, what to have for dinner tonight, our appearance and our love lives.

Her direct, confrontational style means that her admirable argument stays the right side of preachy

The book is loosely split into two: the first half is a whistle-stop tour of everything that is wrong in the world (the things we should be thinking about) and the second is advice on how to block our ears from the ‘fluff’ and take positive action. She writes briefly but emotively about genocide and sustainability: “if our planet becomes increasingly uninhabitable, we are, literally, cooked. So it’s my – our – responsibility to learn about this global threat and, at a minimum, speak out about it and vote for leaders who have the guts to take action on it.”

Her direct, confrontational style means that her admirable argument stays the right side of preachy. Her provocative and personal narrative pulls no punches as she writes (with tongue firmly in cheek) about the need to find a “balance between being a ‘lovable airhead’ and ‘flat-out dangerous, like three-year-olds with loaded machine guns'”, and claims that young women would, on the whole, prefer to be run over by a truck than get fat.

Bloom is a lawyer, television commentator and single mother, and her multiple roles are evident in her self-assured, media savvy, occasional world-weary tone. Accordingly her book is part social critique, part feminist text, part annotated bibliography, part self-help, part memoir, part comedy and, somewhat oddly, even a recipe book in part. Chapters have titles such as ‘What a Waste It’s Been to Lose Our Minds’ and ‘Reclaiming the Brains God Gave Ya’, as well as ‘solutions’ sections like ‘Recommended Reading’ and ‘Un-Recipes’ (quick meal ideas for when you have better things to do than cook – which in Bloom’s eyes is always).

‘If we buy tabloids and watch celebrity gossip shows to the exclusion of serious news outlets that struggle to cover international stories, we too are to blame’

What really riles Bloom (and she does get riled, and often) is not only that we are living in a culture where beauty is valued over brains, but that millions of women are unthinkingly complicit. Celebrity culture comes in for harsh criticism: “if we buy tabloids and watch celebrity gossip shows to the exclusion of serious news outlets that struggle to cover international stories, we too are to blame”.

Here, Bloom is in a difficult situation – she is after all a small screen celebrity, groomed to within an inch of her life, white teeth on show, smiling from her book jacket. She could be on the cover of a glossy magazine herself. She is quick to point out that this image is not the ‘real’ her, so why present that image? The dichotomy between brainy, switched on women and celebrity-obsessed, uber-groomed women isn’t directly addressed.

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In deriding women who choose to ‘waste’ their brain cells worrying about what to wear, Bloom taps into a dubious willingness of some women to define themselves against other women’s perceived shortcomings. It’s an uncomfortable, and gendered, issue hidden in the book that could really be explored further.

It’s hardly a revelation that we would probably be better, more rounded, people if we read less Hello! magazine and thought more about how to combat climate change and studied up on world affairs; yet Bloom’s argument is fresh, funny and demands attention. Think is thus both very engaging and strangely flimsy. The earlier chapters are impassioned and humorous but they trail off into lists and anecdotes. ‘Un-Recipes’ makes a rather bathetic end to an impassioned personal manifesto. As a whole Think reads more like a series of columns than a coherent book – but you can whip through it in a couple of sittings, laughing (as well as thinking) along the way.

While some of Think is obvious, elsewhere in the book there are more complex issues to consider, like: how should we react to environmental and humanitarian crisis? What is the human price of turning the other cheek to genocide? What will become of a society that “has laser-like focus on the sex lives of celebrities but only the dimmest understanding of the people beyond our borders”? These sections are a sobering call to action.

She demands we cut down on housework – quite difficult to do if you don’t have the fat salary to pay for all those cleaners

Occasionally, however, Bloom’s tone is irksome. Her shout out to “listen to my girl Virginia Woolf” made me squirm. Notwithstanding A Room of One’s Own, I somehow doubt Bloom and Woolf would have been best buddies. Also, she is sometimes just a little too pleased with her own situation. You can’t help but detect a self-congratulatory air when Bloom highlights the many achievements of her well-rounded children. And she is undoubtedly speaking from a position of privilege, which can make some of her rants against ‘dumb’ tabloid media and female aspirations a little class biased. She demands we cut down on housework – quite difficult to do if you don’t have the fat salary to pay for all those cleaners.

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Ultimately, Bloom is asking for us to be agents in our own culture, to be proactive and critical members of society rather than passive observers. The worse thing about our celebrity obsessed society is that it narrows our perspective. We shouldn’t feel sorry for the celebrities whose private lives are splashed across the tabloids; it’s us as consumers who are to be pitied.

“When it comes to thinking”, Bloom says, “we’ve taken a very wrong turn down a very dark alley”, and she is infectiously passionate about the need for us to reconnect with the things that really matter. Her cut-to-the-chase attitude and frank advice is, on the whole, uplifting and based on common sense – if you really think about it.

Image of woman holding a sign is a snapshot from Think shared on Vimeo

Image of magazines shared on Flickr courtesy of Christopher S. Penn

Leonie is a reader, writer, web editor with printmaking tendencies. She has a background in book publishing and education marketing and can usually be found in one of Hackney’s many charity shops

Comments From You

Ania Ostrowska // Posted 16 February 2012 at 2:41 pm

One Sunday morning a young, affluent mother of one left her offspring at home with a babysitter (her husband plays squash on Sunday mornings) and went to a local family-friendly pub, to discuss global warming with her politically engaged female friends. Actually, she took a cab, as she really didn’t want to sacrifice these precious 10 minutes with her daughter.

Alas the ladies, keen to discuss this burning global issue, found themselves unable to do so due to high noise levels.The place was filled with plasma TVs and jolly, half-drunk men. Said men seemed completely oblivious (the horror!) to the fact that, because they don’t have to ‘waste’ their brain cells and time on thinking about housework and Beyonce’s new baby, they should THINK about all the big things instead. The men were happilly killing their brain cells in a good company, enjoying themselves (surprise surprise).

The ladies sighed heavily and ended up shopping in the local high street’s fair-trade luxurious deli. Well, babysitters were paid until 2PM anyway. It’s great that these young women get a chance to make some extra money at weekend, n’est-ce pas? Better than being forced into sex work, which we’ll definitely discuss next week.

Sarah AB // Posted 16 February 2012 at 8:10 pm

In a sense (of course) I agree with the message of the book. But – ironically – I always categorise such books as ‘fluff’, and avoid the section of the bookshop in which they might be found. On the other hand (though I’m not a great cook myself, unlike my husband) cooking a nice meal strikes me as an excellent use of time.

Alice Stamataki // Posted 18 February 2012 at 7:48 pm

I’m deeply uncomfortable with the direction this book seems to be heading in. Such trivialization of female-coded pursuits smacks of everything that was wrong with Second-Wave feminism: its classism, its elitism, the holier-than-thou smirk of the career woman to the stay-at-home mom. This woman needs to shuffle into the 21st century and realize that castigating or demonizing women who enjoy cooking or keeping up with celebrity gossip is ridiculous and hurtful – to accuse them of somehow ‘letting the side down’ encourages a new kind of conformity women have fought so hard to free themselves from.

Also, there is the very subjective issue of what is or is not a ‘worthy’ occupation. Who, I would like to ask the author, are you to judge what is ‘worthy’ and what isn’t? A woman designing a beautiful item of clothing, who has put her heart and soul into it, and attempts to convey through it a statement, an attitude, an experience, or emotion universal to the human condition – well, that sucks, doesn’t it? She has to be an empty-headed bimbo for caring about fashion! I have experienced several Science students telling me that my degree (English Literature) was essentially pointless and a waste of my time because it had no impact on the ‘real world’. And I’ve heard med students chastise those same Science students because only the med students, in the future, will be saving lives. It appears it is human nature to glorify ones own pursuits (because we are all so terminally insecure that our subconscious chants out endlessly I AM WONDERFUL I AM WONDERFUL NO DON’T TELL ME I’M NOT WONDERFUL I AM WONDERFUL) at the expense of those we do not like. This behavior needs to be recognized as what it is – juvenile and dangerous.

If we, as feminists, are indeed fighting for completely free and equal society, then I cannot help but think that it will be achieved, not through soul-crushing conformity, but a true acceptance of humanity’s great variety.

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