Jessica Valenti of Feministing.com is the author of Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters. As soon as I opened this book, I knew it was going to be different than anything about feminism I’d read before. Most of the feminist books in my library are by older women, many of whom were academics or movers and shakers from the second wave of feminism in the 1960s and 70s, when I was growing up.
This, as they say, is not your mother’s feminism. Valenti is informal, irreverent, and almost anti-serious, but at the same time frank and open about her opinions. I like opinionated, irreverent writers, as well as those who are more potty-mouthed than I am, and enjoyed reading this book, laughing at the author’s style and panache, and chuckling at the t-shirt mottos that dress up the beginning of each chapter. The text is easy to read and callouts emphasize key points. There’s a handy “Get To It” chapter at the end of the book, with quick bulleted lists that provide suggestions of you each of us can work to make a difference in the areas that concern us most. These sections of books are never long enough for me — after 235 pages of discussing the problems, there are only 12 pages of suggested solutions. But it’s a place to start.
Full Frontal Feminism is not perfect, there’s a fair bit of repetition, and sometimes the language seems almost too informal for the subject matter, especially when discussing disturbing trends in society. (Yes, I’m the Skepchick that Rebecca needs to remind not to take myself too seriously!) I don’t agree with all of Valenti’s ideas, but that’s not a problem for me. I try to read books that stimulate me to think in new directions and to examine differing viewpoints on issues, and this book certainly gave me an insight into at least one younger woman’s view of feminism.
My interview with Jessica Valenti is below the fold.
Skepchick: Jessica, thank you for agreeing to talk to Skepchick readers about your book, Full Frontal Feminism. We’ve been reading it this month and it has spurred some wildly interesting (as well as wildly off topic) discussions. The first thing that came up when I posted a blurb about the book is a stream of comments that said, you guessed it, “I’m not a feminist, but…” Your answer to this in chapter 1 is “You’re a hardcore feminist. I swear.” How can you be so sure about that?
Valenti: Well, because most young women believe in feminist values. They want equal pay for equal work; they want to put an end to violence against women; they want access to birth control and reproductive health care – it’s really just the word ‘feminist’ that seems to stop women dead in their tracks. I just think it’s high time we admitted to ourselves, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…
Skepchick: One of the reasons we had such a lively discussion is that we couldn’t agree on just what a feminist is. What is your working definition of “feminist” and how did you come up with it?
Valenti: As I wrote in the book, I really just use the dictionary definition — which is someone who believes in social, economic and political equality for women. Which is really pretty simple and hard to argue with!
Skepchick: When I first started writing for Skepchick a few years ago, Rebecca asked me if I’d write an article about abortion. I said “yes,” but haven’t been able to do so yet because the topic gets me so pissed off. You cover this topic in chapter 5, “If These Uterine Walls Could Talk.” Between abstinence only education, purity balls, the “partial-birth” abortion ban, pregnancy crisis centers popping up all over the place, and the rise of teen pregnancy in the US, it seems like the religious right has been very successful about spreading fear and false information about safe sex and pregnancy prevention. What do you think is the worst bit of misinformation that’s circulating in the US lately and what can we do to combat it?
Valenti: Oh wow, that’s a tough one because there’s really so much misinformation out there. The one that bothers me most, concerning abortion, is the idea that women who end their pregnancies are ‘selfish’ or doing it out of convenience or something. Most studies show that women who have abortions do it out of concern for existing children, or for their families. I just resent the notion that women are out getting abortions willy nilly.
Skepchick: When I grew up during the 1970s, I thought that to be a feminist, I had to dress in boy’s clothes, take a boy’s name, and basically become a tomboy. A lot of women today seem to think that you can’t be a feminist if you want to be attractive — that high heels, red lipstick, or stylish clothes are off limits to feminists. On the other hand, young women are constantly bombarded with media images that tell them they are too fat, too short, too tall, too dark, too pale, too flabby, too weak. The pressure to conform to an artificial beauty ideal is all around us. What’s a girl to do? And how important is this issue, which may seem trivial when compared to so many other issues?
Valenti: I think when it comes to beauty trappings, we have to individually do the best we can. I obviously think that women are feminists no matter what they look like – when we start judging a woman’s politics because of the way she looks, we’re no better than most sexists. In terms of importance, I’m loathe to create a hierarchy of “appropriate” feminist issues. It’s such an individual thing. Naturally there’s a big difference between unrealistic beauty standards and issues like rape or poverty – but so many of them come back to sexism that it’s hard to separate them out and decide which is more “important.”
Skepchick: Skepchick is all about empowering women through knowledge. We want to see more women involved in science, as well as in skeptical organizations. Because of this, I view skepchickism is a flavor of feminism. But there are a lot of feminists who seem to put down science as “a man’s way of knowing” and claim that “women’s ways of knowing,” usually intuition combined with some forms of superstition, are better. I cringe every time I see a website about feminism that has information on healing crystals or casting spells or worshipping the goddess. Do you have any thoughts on this?
Valenti: Well, if someone needs crystals I’m not going to fault them for it, but it’s definitely not my cup of tea. I’m not really into the difference feminism stuff, it’s just a bit too hokey for me.
Skepchick: I love the irreverent and informal style you chose for your book and I enjoyed reading a book about feminism that wasn’t stuffy or academic. As you may have noticed on Skepchick, we love to have fun and we do our best to be snarky and have at least one good laugh every day. What kind of response have you had to the book content and style? Do you think the style was a help or a hindrance to reaching your intended audience?
Valenti: Thanks! The response has been really great from younger women – I think the tone spoke to them in the way that I hoped it would. I definitely got some flak from some folks who thought the book was too informal, which is fine. But I felt like there was so much academic feminism out there, I didn’t want to write another book like that. I wanted to write something that any woman — no matter what her level of political engagement, no matter what her education level — could pick up and read and enjoy. That’s what was most important to me. So I’ve been really happy with the feedback!
Skepchick: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Valenti: I think that’s about it, but thank you so much for reading the book and taking the time to talk to me!
Skepchick: Thanks again for visiting our site and answering questions about your book.
OK, I know there are several of you who were waiting for this review and at least one person who has a rant to post, so let’s hear it!