“You’re a feminist. I swear.” That is the premise of Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters, the new book from feminist blogger Jessica Valenti, of Feministing.com fame. According to Valenti, we younger women are feminists at heart but refuse to wear the label:
Most young women are feminists, but we’re too afraid to say it—or even to recognize it. And why not? Feminists are supposed to be ugly. And fat. And hairy! Is it f***ed up that people are so concerned about dumb, superficial stuff like that? Of course. Is there anything wrong with being ugly, fat, or hairy? Of course not. But let’s be honest: No one wants to be associated with something that is seen as uncool and unattractive. But the thing is, feminists are pretty cool (and attractive!) women.
So what is feminism and why is everyone afraid of it? In the first chapter Valenti reveals her preference for the dictionary definition: Feminism is “belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.” With that definition, I’d be delighted to count myself a feminist in the Valenti mold. I’d like to think that we can all agree of the equality of the sexes. But Valenti’s feminism is quite an other thing.
Instead, like many feminist authors before her, Valenti quickly expands feminism to include a wide array of liberal pet causes. If you don’t agree with them, guess what? You’re not really a feminist — you’re an anti-feminist. According to Valenti, feminists demand government-funded preschools and universal childcare, think American culture “breeds a society where rape is expected and practically okayed,” and proudly wear shirts that say “I don’t f*** Republicans.”
Valenti vents that she’s “so f***ing sick and tired of people telling [her] how to be an appropriate feminist.” Maybe so, but Valenti is happy to dish out a feminist litmus test herself. Every subject from dating to dieting is covered. Take marriage, for example:
You may not like me for saying this…but engagement rings piss me the hell off. It’s a frigging dowry! …the only purpose of an engagement ring is to show that you “belong” to someone, and that your man makes bank.
Okay, so engagement rings are clearly out of the question in the feminist world. But what to do about your last name?
For the life of me, I will never understand why a woman today would change her last name. It makes no sense whatsoever. You want future kids to have the same last name as you and your hubby? Hyphenate, bitch! Or do something, anything, but change your last name. It’s the ultimate buy-in of sexist bulls***. It epitomizes the idea that you are not your own person.
It’s hard to believe that most young women secretly harbor these radical ideas (and even Valenti admits that 81 percent of women get married intending to change their last name).
While Valenti’s brand of radical feminism is nothing new, her presentation is. Valenti takes a casual, albeit angry, tone and employs a slew of profanity (she is “slightly potty-mouthed,” as she puts it) to make her points, similar to the style of Feministing.com and much of the liberal blogosphere. For all her attempts to shatter myths about feminism (Feminists are ugly! Feminism is for old white ladies! Feminism is so last week!) she will do little to dissuade anyone of the notion that feminism often takes an angry and bitter tone. The book reads as one long rant; the pent up anger radiates from the pages.
One thing that Valenti gets right is the inability of the feminist establishment to recruit young women into their ranks. One organization that Valenti targets is the National Organization for Women (NOW). I witnessed the divide between the young and old members of NOW firsthand at their 40th anniversary conference in New York last summer. The young women I met there were put off by their senior comrades in arms; they said they felt as it they were being preached at by them.
Valenti has similar concerns and favors local activism over lobbying in Washington, D.C. In her book she aims to succeed where groups like NOW have failed — to get young women excited about feminism. But I would suggest that if young women aren’t afraid of the word “feminism” before they read this book, they certainly will be after they read it.
– Allison Kasic is director of campus programs at the Independent Women’s Forum.