Full Frontal Feminism: As an actual young woman, yes, it was patronizing.

May 20, 2007 at 3:20 pm (books, feminism, LGBT)

Okay, a few things.

Everybody knows Jessica Valenti is a very smart woman, a good writer, and a committed feminist. Feministing was one of the first blogs I got into; it was hugely important in getting me engaged with current feminism and my claiming of the label “feminist.”

Lots of people are defending and criticizing Jessica Valenti’s book, for all kinds of reasons, and I decided I wanted to articulate my feelings about it (to you, Emily, obviously).

I am glad the book exists. I think it will inspire a percentage of readers to be feminists (and any percentage is great!), and it certainly won’t turn anyone off to feminism.

Also, it is hugely flawed.

I know am I way ahead of the average on the feminist learning curve, but I’m a lot closer to the target audience than most of the bloggers who have been offering comments. I am white, middle class, 17, still in high school. And Full Frontal Feminism was completely patronizing.

My girlfriend (aged 18) isn’t a feminist geek like me — she’s only cared about feminism very recently, and she doesn’t spend hours of her day reading feminist blogs. If I’m not quite the target audience, she definitely is; very young, intrigued by feminism but just figuring out what it’s all about, whether it’s right for her, what identifying as a feminist means. She didn’t read the whole thing because she didn’t need to. After I’d read it (it is, by the way, a very fast, fun read), we flipped through it together, and she’d learned what she could from it in under an hour.

It does some good groundwork — giving a lovely and brief definition of feminism, for example, and touching on a big range of issues. But I doubt that it would explain “why feminism matters” to young women who weren’t ready to believe it (it isn’t converting any budding fundies, that is). And the young women who are ready to believe it will, in my experience, feel dissatisfied and condescended to.

For example, chapter two, “Feminists Do It Better, and Other Sex Tips,” does a decent job explaining that women should get to enjoy sex (duh), and that sex ed is important (duh), but not a lot else. The opening line is awesome: “I’m better in bed than you are. And I have feminism to thank for it” (19). But all she gives us to prove it is, “Feminists do it better ’cause we know how to get past all the bullshit” (19). Then, she tells us what the bullshit is (as if we didn’t know).

Tell me what it looks like beyond the bullshit! Tell me how feminist sex is different! Don’t just tell me to masturbate!

Girls and young women who are on the verge of calling themselves feminist — who already have feminist values, who just need to be drawn out a little — already know that sexism is fucked up. They already know what sexism looks like, because it’s everywhere.

Don’t just prove to me that sexism exists and is bad. Anybody who can’t see that is asleep. It’s not enough to stop there, even in a feminist primer.

The major criticism the book’s been getting is that Valenti, as a straight white educated middle-class woman, continues the old game of marginalizing the marginalized. I won’t try to speak about poor women or women of color, but, as a card-carrying queer, I think she does an okay job with queer women’s issues. She makes obvious attempts not to leave queer women out, and I appreciated it. One complaint: why the fuck was “Take birth control. Trust me.” (240) on the list of things to do? “Use protection,” “have safer sex,” fine. But Valenti chose to use the one phrase that excluded lesbians when talking about contraception. I know Jessica Valenti doesn’t really want me and my girlfriend — real live members of the target audience! — to use “birth control.” That would be a waste of time, money, and resources. So why did she say she did? (I’ll give you a hint: it’s two words, and it stars with “presumed” and ends with “heterosexuality.”) Not helpful. Not necessary. Not malicious, either — just lazy.

Last but not least, and most obviously, the cover.

Completely stupid, completely unnecessary, completely bizarre. You shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, and I didn’t. Emily didn’t like the cover either and she bought the damn thing. I read it straight through from the naked objectified body to the end.

Yes, the cover is eye-catching. Yes, it will sell copies. Yes, it will draw in people who aren’t feminist-identified. And we all know exactly why. Objectifying women to sell anything — even and especially feminist literature — is not okay and most definitely not feminist.



  1. imtheotherdave said,

    Can you clear up your stance on something, I am genuinely interested and respectful of your apparent knowledge.

    I’d just like to know why it is wrong to objectify women to sell products if they are not exploiting the said women that choose to sell their own body in that fashion. I mean, traditionally it was down-right tasteless but in the modern world it is men as well as women the are objectified – just look at the new UK Malteasers advert. I’m an ugly twat myself but physicality and sexual attractiveness is a very natural and reasonable thing. If the public majority choose to buy in to that, let them. That is democracy…

    This may sound ignorant, I suppose it is – I am not amazingly well read on the subject.

  2. imtheotherdave said,

    Forgive the poor use of language ! I am extremelly tired, it is far too late for me…

  3. Daisy said,

    Hi Dave! Let’s see how well I can sum this up — it’s pretty complicated, I think.

    Firstly, while I don’t disagree that men are also objectified, I certainly think women are objectified much more frequently. Secondly, while the specific woman might not have been exploited in this objectification, it is possible she was, not in the case of the FFF cover but certainly in the case of pornography and other industries.

    I think it is wrong to objectify anybody, under any circumstances. The fact is that the patriarchy (that is, the sexist gender system under which we live) routinely devalues, dehumanizes, and objectifies women — it is no coincidence that some women feel motivated to “choose to sell their own body.” Making money off that “choice” is perpetuating the patriarchy.

    But even if it weren’t a capitulation to the patriarchy, it would still be wrong. People are people — not objects, not bodies to gawk at, not vessels to abuse, but actual, conscious human creatures, deserving of our respect and consideration.

    Does that make sense?

  4. Emily said,

    Yeah, okay, your reaction is how I’ve been expecting I’ll feel after reading it. I’m going into it after having read all the criticisms and am expecting to find it imperfect but fun. You know, whatever. I wish I agreed with this more though:

    “They already know what sexism looks like, because it’s everywhere.

    Don’t just prove to me that sexism exists and is bad. Anybody who can’t see that is asleep.”

    Of course they know sexism is bad, but I feel like there are actually a lot of people our age with feminist tendencies that DONT always know how to recognize sexism. They may know that, you know, reproductive rights are about bodily autonomy and whatnot but still use the word “slut”…as an example. And there are a lot of people totally asleep that DONT see that sort of thing. But no, you’re right, it’s not enough to stop there.

    We’ll talk about it more once I’ve read it. If there’s still anything that needs to be said about it, haha.

    It’s gotten a little out of control, I think.

  5. Daisy said,

    Unfortunately for the species, you’re definitely right.

    I think I would have been very happy if she’d explained about sexism being omnipresent (like through language), but then gone further.

    And yeah, I have a guess we won’t have much more to say. I’ll bring it to you tomorrow.

  6. imtheotherdave said,

    Thank you for your response, Daisy. I understand your opinion but I personally have the intelligence to discern the difference between humanity and art. I suppose it is the fear of those who can’t (the patriarchy to which you are referring) that makes you understandably wary of possible exploitation. Personally, I think that sexuality is different for men and women – there is no right or wrong answer as far as I am concerned. Love and lust are different and as long as barriers in inter-personal environments such as the domestic environment or work are not crossed I can’t see the problem with objectification. Afterall, without lust the human race would not have lasted so long.

    I may be missing something but that is how I currently see it.

  7. Daisy said,

    Okay, Dave. Maybe we have different definitions of the word “objectification.” I share the same definition as my dictionary: “degrade to the status of a mere object.” When you purchase someone’s body for your use, you objectify. When you use her naked, faceless form to sell books, you objectify.

    I hope you don’t equate that with “lust.”

  8. imtheotherdave said,

    Lust is objectification. You don’t lust after the soul, do you? If ever you do it certainly wouldn’t be at first sight. I would suggest that your dictionary definition of objectify has a political bias, I wonder if that example is in the Oxford… I was personally meaning externalise. I certainly don’t think externalisation or abrstactification is inherently degrading. I certainly would want you to think that was my intention.

    Perhaps this is a semantic disagreement?

    I have just had a look at the Oxford, the error is with me. I wonder when that definition was coined though, it seems to have uninherent negative denotation.

  9. M-il-ee w. said,

    I certainly lust after souls.

    Hey Daisy and EMily O, you should write a book about feminism, I’m sure it would be much more than “fun” or just an introduction to feminism.

  10. Daisy said,

    Dave, I think this is a semantic disagreement. I’m going to continue to think of objectification as inherently negative and degrading. Lust, on the other hand, which I’ll read as sexual attraction based on appearance, isn’t inherently degarding, nor inherently respectful.

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