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.”
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.
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