Look Both Ways by Jennifer Baumgardner is supposed to be about bisexual politics, however it is more of a chance for Baumgardner to pontificate and name drop. Baumgardner tries to create a cute nickname for bisexuals in this book; she frequently says that people “look both ways.” This continues long after readers have the point, and is almost like she hopes that by repeatedly saying it, that if you didn’t think it was a cute name before you’ll learn to love it. She mentions that in every day conversation we don’t say heterosexual and homosexual, then why do we say bisexual? Baumgardner states that this is an indication of unfinished political business. Granted, the few nicknames there are for bisexual are far from complementary, fence-sitter, waffle, heartbreaker, and disease vector. By people, I mean women because Baumgardner almost never mentions men and their sexuality. The only times she does mention men is to talk about how emotionally unavailable they are and how no relationship with a man will ever be as fulfilling as one with a woman. It always seems like a red-flag when anyone bunches a whole group of people together.
Baumgardner spends some time talking about the invisibility of being bisexual, if you’re with a member of the opposite sex you’re straight and with a member of the same sex you’re gay. She reminds the reader that sexuality is fluid and just because this concept is not the social norm now does not discredit it. A very cringe worthy, but valid part of the books is Baumgardner talking about her first relationship with a woman. She talks about how she had to come to terms with her own prejudices about same sex relationships. No one likes to admit that they’re prejudice about something, especially a part of themselves. Society teaches people prejudices, which first, they must become aware of before they can get rid of.
Baumgardner has been going to college campuses since 2002 to speak about feminism and during this time and when the book was published (2007) saw an increase in LGBT acceptance there. She states that this increase of LGBT acceptance and the increase of people identifying as LGBT have caused women to have “gay expectations” in heterosexual relationships, which is “sexual fulfillment, emotional fulfillment and intellectual satisfaction.” Once again she forgoes mentioning men and their changing views on sexuality and their roles in society.
This book is more of a memoir than a discussion of bisexual politics. There are times when Baumgardner seemed to bring up people in the book, only to be able to say she met them, interviewed them, or slept with them. For most of the book Baumgardner comes off as either smug or self-congratulatory, neither one makes for an enjoyable reading experience. This book would be wonderful for someone’s first foray into reading about feminism or bisexual politics but people familiar with either topic will probably find this book rudimentary.
Does it pass the Bechdel test?