Sarah Roberts interviewed writer, author and archivist of 'femoribilia' Lynn Peril about the darker undertones of our age-old infatuation with the 'personality quiz'.
Personality quizzes have long been tropes of women’s magazines. Generations of girls like me have clawed over Cosmo quizzes, seduced by the promise of finding out how they rate in bed or what kind of ‘sexy’ they might be. Although I know they come without any scientific or psychological merit, I find them irresistible. Even when I’m not affirmed as a goddess in the bedroom, there’s something about the process of taking the test and being assigned a category that I find deeply satisfying. But what are the psychic consequences?
Lynn Peril has been collecting personality quizzes and other pop-culture detritus for decades. The author of three books on the subject, she uses the word “femoribilia” to describe the specific breed of pop culture that tells women how to think and behave. Fascinated by the way the personality quiz exploits the dubious pleasure of rating ourselves, she has charted its development from the 1950s to the present day. I went to meet her at her home in Oakland, California, to discuss the uneasy lessons personality quizzes have to teach us about womanhood and identity, and why we’re so obsessed with them.