White, Emily 1966-
White, Emily 1966-
Born July 18, 1966; married. Education: Attended Stanford University.
Writer and journalist. The Stranger, Seattle, WA, editor-in-chief, 1995-99. Former writer-inresidence, Hugo House, Seattle, WA.
Stegner fellowship, Stanford University; Seattle Arts Commission grant.
Fast Girls: Teenage Tribes and the Myth of the Slut, Scribner (New York, NY), 2002.
You Will Make Money in Your Sleep: The Story of Dana Giacchetto, Financial Adviser to the Stars, Scribner (New York, NY), 2007.
Contributor to periodicals, including Quarterly West, Iowa Review, Greensboro Review, New York Times Book Review, New York Times Magazine, Spin, Village Voice, Nest, and L.A. Weekly.
Author and journalist Emily White set out to explore an American cultural phenomenon: the myth of the "fast girl" or "slut." A fiction writer and weekly magazine editor herself, White had never been branded with the slut label while growing up, but she became intrigued with this particularly debilitating epithet in high school and decided to explore its veracity as an adult. White placed a short notice in a friend's column on sexual matters inviting girls and women who had been labeled sluts to call a toll-free number for a confidential interview. To White's surprise, she received well over one hundred telephone calls, from women of all ages and races. The patterns that emerged during her interviews with her subjects form the grist of her book, Fast Girls: Teenage Tribes and the Myth of the Slut.
In the San Francisco Bay Guardian Literary Supplement Online, White wrote that, although she began with the girls and women who had been called sluts by their peers, she also interviewed people who recalled spreading such rumors. She also read widely in the literature of adolescent and female sexuality, as well as works on myth and archetype. "Mine was not scientific, orderly, or academic research," she said, "but rather an intuitive process of searching for clues, answers. I was looking in every corner of the culture for signs of the slut myth. Needless to say, the signs were everywhere."
White suggests in Fast Girls that "sluts" do not exist in reality, that instead they are teenaged girls who are singled out for abuse by their peers for a wide variety of reasons—none of which relate directly to their sexual activity. The author's interview subjects were often girls who went through puberty early or who had larger breasts. They may have come from another school district into a new high school. Some were of different ethnic origin than the majority of students in their schools. Others reported being sexually abused as children. White discovered that these women also held in common the stigma of being the focus of rumors, including rumors of sexual promiscuity on a grand scale. These rumors sometimes stemmed from jealous peers or spurned boyfriends, and once the rumors began they became impossible to stem or refute. Not surprisingly, many of White's interview subjects reported depression, low self-esteem, and an inability to begin or maintain friendships. On the Spectator.net Web site, David Steinberg observed: "What makes Fast Girls particularly interesting is White's identification of the high school slut as an archetypal figure, which shifts attention from the girls themselves to the culture that needs to create them. The central issue, White notices, is not the sexually precocious behavior of some high school girls, but the need of a sex-repressed, sex-fearing culture to invent mythical sluts onto which that culture can project its deepest fears and confusions about sex itself."
Fast Girls makes the point that the concept of a slut is an archetypal myth, predominantly grounded in white, middle-class, suburban culture. The book also demonstrates, however, that those women who are so labeled can be devastated by the slur. Many reviewers felt that White's use of informal case studies added force and clarity to her work, reinforcing her theoretical view of "fast girls." On the Bookreporter.com Web site, Shannon Bloomstran noted that White "is at her best when she tells the sometimes heart-rending stories of the girls themselves." Bloomstran added: "While White is adamant about not offering solutions, at least in this work, it is obvious that she hopes that by airing this very dirty laundry, she can make life a little easier for these sad women." Suzy Hansen in the New York Times Book Review likewise commended White for "earnestly braving the cruel and confusing world of high school." In Nation, Elaine Blair praised Fast Girls for its "impressive breadth" and suggested that White "is pretty effective at conveying the anguish of the ostracized adolescent girl."
In interviews about her book, White has said that she hopes Fast Girls will help to demystify the "slut" image and put it to rest. On the Metroactive.com Web site, she said that recent trends in fashion and attitude have put an ironic spin on the slut label and allowed girls who are being persecuted to fight back by making light of the slur. "I think despite the culture of irony there's still a visceral response to being labeled a slut," White noted. "But I think ironic attitudes toward being a ‘bad girl’ are a good sign. Maybe irony is the beginning of the end of a certain kind of shame, but it doesn't bring about the end immediately."
You Will Make Money in Your Sleep: The Story of Dana Giacchetto, Financial Adviser to the Stars is a very different kind of work from Fast Girls. White chronicles the rise and fall of financial adviser Giacchetto, who was known to handle money for such Hollywood luminaries as Cameron Diaz and Leonardo DiCaprio until his fall from grace. White had a personal link to Giacchetto, in that she and her husband considered him a friend, and they also invested—and lost—money through him. Critics had mixed opinions regarding the effect of White's relationship to her subject on the book, with some suggesting it was the primary strength of the narrative. A contributor for Kirkus Reviews commented that "her ambivalence toward the charismatic, vulnerable young man … lends the narrative an unexpected emotional urgency." A reviewer for the New Yorker agreed that White's take on Giacchetto himself worked over the course of the book, but found that "her grasp of the New York-Hollywood nexus in which he operated lacks investigative rigor."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2001, review of Fast Girls: Teenage Tribes and the Myth of the Slut, p. 1749.
Nation, April 15, 2002, Elaine Blair, "The Fishnet Fallacy," p. 34; April 15, 2007, review of You Will Make Money in Your Sleep: The Story of Dana Giacchetto, Financial Adviser to the Stars. New Yorker, August 20, 2007, review of You Will Make Money in Your Sleep, p. 83.
New York Times Book Review, April 21, 2002, Suzy Hansen, review of Fast Girls, p. 29.
Bookreporter.com,http://www.bookreporter.com/ (June 5, 2003), Shannon Bloomstran, review of Fast Girls.
Hugo House Web site,http://www.hugohouse.org/ (August 7, 2003), "Emily White."
Metroactive.com,http://www.metroactive.com/ (August 1, 2002), Traci Vogel, "What about ‘Carrie’?"
Portland Mercury Online,http://www.portlandmercury.com/ (June 5, 2003), Monica Drake, review of Fast Girls.
Seattle Weekly Online,http://www.seattleweekly.com/ (May 9, 2002), Erica C. Barnett, "Easy She Ain't."
Spectator Online,http://www.spectator.net/ (June 5, 2003), David Steinberg, "Comes Naturally: The Myth of the High School Slut."
Stranger.com,http://www.thestranger.com/ (August 7, 2003), Sean Nelson, "Emily White Investigates the Slut Myth."
Washington Post Online,http://www.washingtonpost.com/ (March 28, 2002), interview with White.