Saturday, October 20, 2007

Full Frontal Feminism: a review

Lets put aside the naked woman on the cover for the time being. Obviously it makes me angry that a thin white naked woman is pictured on the front of a book about feminism.

While I understand that Jessica Valenti wants to reach out to women who shy away from the word feminist, she really doesn't know how to represent it right. Yes she makes really good points and her book is accesible to a wide audience, but the way she goes about trying to sell young women and girls on feminism is to try and make it "sexy."

The second chapter in the book is all about how being a feminist leads to better sex. The opening sentence is this: I'm better in bed then you are. And I have feminism to thank for it. Now, feminists having better sex is true, but really the second chapter? Aren't there more important things to talk about instead of expounding about what great sex you're having now that you're a feminist? Sure it's a happy consequence, but it shouldn't be the reason that someone becomes a feminist. Sex is not the be all end all of life. Sure it's great, I myself really enjoy it, but it's ridiculous to make that the first thing you present in your book. I mean is Cosmo somehow now feminist because it has tons of articles about how to have great sex? (But keep in mind most of those are of the "how to please your man in bed" category.) The way to get women and girls interested in feminism should be by accesibly written books, like this one, talking honestly about the problems we face in a patriarchal society. Women and girls should choose to be feminists for the fact that there are so many things that are anti-women in society. Are you going to be a real feminist if the only reason you call yourself one is to have great sex? I think not.

Also, one of the reasons she cites for women not becoming feminists is that when they hear the word feminism they think we're hairy. She goes on to explain how sexy and fun today's feminists are. What's not sexy about being hairy? I've been hairy since I was 17 and no one has ever been turned off by it. Well a few, but obviously they were idiot frat boy types that I wouldn't want to be with anyone, since who wants to date moronic sexist assholes? Not I.

In her third chapter, Pop Culture Gone Wild, she critiques the media system and talks about how women's sexuality has been commodified and pornified. Yet in her blog, feministing, she talks about the sex industry like it is just good old sexy fun. She never invites radical feminists, many of us who have actual first hand experience of working in the sex industry and who speak out about the horrors and abuses we suffered in that "sexy good fun" industry. But this follows from the focus of the book on how "sexy" feminism is. It's such a shame and a horrible effect of many people in the so-called "third wave" accept porn's humiliation, exploitation, and abuse of women as fun because it has the appearance of being sexy, unlike hairy legged prudes like me. ;)

Obviously what bugged me about this book is how it is shaped around selling feminism the way we sell everything: with the promise of sex and sexiness. Should we really be mimicing the current media landscape that is unquestionably racist and misogynistic and uses sex to sell everything? I would hope not, but that is exactly what Valenti does in her book. She does make great points about the media and the beauty myth, she then goes on to talk about how today's feminist wear lipstick, heels, and sexy clothes. Us hairy legged feminists never tell women they can't do these things, all we ask is that people examine why they do wear these patriarchal beauty standards. I wear them sometimes too, but I am fully aware of how society views this. I admit that now I do it more for fun now, because I feel free to do so since I realised that I previously wore them because society told me that's what women do. Yeah it's fun to wear fun makeup (it's always very extravagant, which is what I see the point of makeup is) and I certainly do appreciate a well made shoe, heel or no.

Another thing that really rubbed me the wrong way is when she went on The Stephen Colbert Show, one which, like The Daily Show, makes light of things light pornography and exploitation of women, she gave him a shirt that said "Feminist Chicks Dig Me." It's bullshit. Chicks on a feminist shirt to describe women? It's bullshit as I do not feel that being compared to a baby chicken is particularly empowering. I've always found the shirt to be bullshit, but the new "spokeswoman" of feminism condoning it on national television? Yep, there's nothing more empowering then being compared to an animal. And not just an animal, but a BABY animal. GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR Bah humbug.


Anonymous said...

Not that I was really intending to buy the book...
Your review, along with others who I really respect, has put into words what I hate about all this "young sexy feminist" lark.

And I do resent the fact that Jessica has become the spokesperson for the "new feminism".

There was a huge fall-out in the woc community over this book which I think we all could well do without repeating but it was important. It was a reminder though that the rest of us (the ones who don't fit the cool white "chick" image)are continuing to be ignored, sidelined, ridiculed and generally passed over for the sexy young white girl advertising model.

I'm sure she makes some very good points but then, don't we all.

Thanks for your post.

Anonymous said...

Hey, thanks for the review. Well done.

I was kinda expecting the "worse" from Valenti's book just from judging the cover. I know now that my prejudice was justified.

Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this review. It's a book I've been meaning to read for a while, but haven't got around to. Maybe I won't bother now! Seems like a shame and a missed opportunity to use the tired old "sex sells' strategy, especially in a book about feminism!

I must admit I have looked at her website a few times but never hang around for long as it feels like it's not really talking to me, if you see what I mean. I feel excluded by it, and I suspect it would be the same with this book. What a disappointment.

lost clown said...

dd: exactly. I remember when Nubian wrote a critique of Valenti's cover and was bashed for it. She very lightly touches on how race and other -isms are important, saying that nowadays we talk more about race and other issues, but really her book is exactly what you said. It's appealing to the people who have the cool white "chick" image.

but then again, this does fall in line with trying to sell feminism as the media would.

lost clown said...

Speaking of Nubian's critique, I find it bang on and think if any of you have not read it, you should get the chance here

Elaine Vigneault said...

I agree with parts of your critique. I read the book and thought it was too light on theory and practical information, but a good introduction for people who might not read about feminism otherwise.

I don't like the cover or the focus on "me, me, me". Feminism isn't about selfishness. It's about ridding the world of sexism and misogyny. Sometimes that means letting your selfishness shine, but most of the time it's not at all about people like me and Jessica, the white, young, able-bodied people who have resources and opportunities.

And of course, I have personal beef with Jessica now that she won't let me comment on Feministing at all. She doesn't take well to criticism - any kind.

However, I don't have a problem with the "feminist chicks dig me" shirt. It's been around for years and I have yet to see it co-opted by an asshole anti-feminist guy. And well, I like Colbert. He doesn't always get it and obviously he's a rich, white guy, but he's so much better than many. He's pretty good, really.

Anyway, thanks for writing the review. You express some of my thoughts about the book.

lilith attack said...

Thanks for this review, I'm a current lurker on and have been curious about Valenti's book. You make a lot of excellent points in your commentary and one thing I thought of, because I haven't read the book, is whether JV discusses that not only do feminist women have great sex, but feminist men, do, too! I'd like to read her book to know if she adresses feminism for men at all, because that is an extremely important subject in a book about contemporary feminism, and also am really intrigued now with her sex sells approach...
Thanks again for the review!

Kate said...

Right on and brilliant! I especially appreciated when you said "Obviously what bugged me about this book is how it is shaped around selling feminism the way we sell everything: with the promise of sex and sexiness."

I do think this is the most important critique of "sexy," third wave feminism.

Anonymous said...

And of course, I have personal beef with Jessica now that she won't let me comment on Feministing at all.

You too? *high five*

Your banning is proof positive that you've made an excellent point she couldn't refute. Anti-feminist trolls she responds to sometimes just because she can, and if she could have responded intelligently to your criticisms she would have.

The Fabulous Kitty Glendower said...

I'm too sexy for that book. I give it a big YAWN!

Oh and if someone calls me chick, it is on.

lost clown said...

No shit. I find being compared to an animal, or even more so a baby animal about as empowering as I found sex work to be, i.e. not at all.

It is so on.

Liz said...

Thanks for this review. I admit that I ordered a copy of JV's book for our library, but I certainly have my disagreements with this bringin' sexy back brand of feminism.