Lisa Schwarzbaum
February 23, 2012 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Accidental Feminist

Current Status
In Season
M.G. Lord
Walker & Company

We gave it a B+

After such an assertive title and subtitle, not much additional content description is needed on a reviewer’s part about a book called The Accidental Feminist: How Elizabeth Taylor Raised Our Consciousness and We Were Too Distracted by Her Beauty to Notice. But some critical context may be helpful. The book’s hot-cha-cha packaging — the pert dimensions of the little volume, the hot-pink cover, the alluring sepia photo of Miz Taylor as restless man-trap Gloria Wandrous in her BUtterfield 8 lingerie — hints at what is, in the end, fundamentally debatable about this intriguing thesis by ? the lively feminist cultural critic M.G. Lord. The author hooks her argument to her own sympathetic reading of the movie star’s filmography, drawing on Taylor’s biographical lows and highs to fit the premise. Lord writes with clarity, and her close analyses of every Taylor title from National Velvet and Cleopatra to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Little Foxes are a pleasure. (The author previously bestowed feminist credentials on a bodacious plastic toy in Forever Barbie: The Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll.)

Still, a reader might want to ? consider: Are make-believe roles a reliable representation of the actress who plays them? And, if not, was the raised consciousness that Lord experienced after watching ? all of Liz’s movies just a matter of ? Hollywood luck, or a matter of the author’s retrofitted response to bygone popular culture?

This reader concludes that ”accidental feminism” is, by definition, unreliable; much as I love Taylor (both as a personage and as an actress), I don’t see messages of rebellion in her body of work. M.G. Lord does, and makes a swinging case for why she’s right. On this, meanwhile, we can agree: Elizabeth Taylor was a gorgeous Hollywood icon big and ballsy enough to inspire passionate debate, even among admirers, and even after her death. La Liz would have loved the hubbub. B+

You May Like