Friday, October 15, 2010

Full Frontal Feminism

I'm currently wondering what the ideal way to introduce a young woman to feminism is.

The first book of my quest to read a bunch of feminist texts was Jessica Valenti's Full Frontal Feminism.  Ostensibly, it's an intro guide to a feminism for young women-- highschool aged is my guess.  I wouldn't give it to a girl that age, though-- especially if she isn't already inclined towards feminism.  There is a lot of worthwhile information in the book, but I'm not a fan of the way it's framed-- a ton of swearing, and jabs at Republicans and religion.  I'm certainly not opposed to swearing-- I um, swear rather a lot-- but in something like this, an at least mildly academic introduction to a serious and important topic, it doesn't hurt to sound a little more serious.  It's serious stuff!  And, contrary to what some people might think about accessibility, if you're a young, confused, slightly uptight young woman, a bunch of swearing isn't terribly likely to speak to you.  It sure wouldn't have got through to me or my friends back in highschool.

And speaking of getting through to people?  I'm glad that Valenti noted that Republicans and conservatives aren't automatically bad people-- sure, some are, but a lot are just people with very different viewpoints who are also trying to do what they think is right.  Still-- she makes a lot of jabs at Republicans and religion, and i can't imagine that sitting too well with someone who was raised by religious or Republican parents that they love.  Though JD is liberal like me, when we met he was registered as a Republican, and one of our close friends here in Boston is also a Republican-- and you know what?  They're both genuinely good people who I (fairly clearly) respect!  Talking about the politics of the Republican party is one thing-- but the generalities there are my idea of wrong.

i also got annoyed at a little bit of hypocrisy there.  As I've said before, i don't think that being a feminist means you don't get to wear make up, enjoy all sorts of sex or enjoy not having sex, love your shoe collection-- or change you name when you get married.   Feminism doesn't demand that every choice and action we make be determined solely by our politics.  Valenti totally agrees on the makeup front-- after all, she wears it too!-- but she argues against changing your name at marriage.  I get that makeup and names are different thing, but I still think it's a bit hypocritical to say one is aok and the other is not.

All this said-- I'm a huge fan of her blogging, and her blog.  It's just that I'd rather direct them to Feministing than to Full Frontal Feminism.  Feministing isn't an intro though-- so what IS a good intro?


annajcook said...

In my experience, the best "intro" is to pick up on the "click" moments that women themselves articulate and offer language for them. Not extremely jargon-heavy language (unless they're theory junkies), but just affirming that you agree with them that a) experience X was/is sexist, b) that you share their feeling that it's wrong, and c) here is a way of thinking about that wrong-ness that might result in some change for the better ... both on a personal level and on a political level.

I'm not sure there is a way to introduce feminism to people in an explicitly "here is feminism" context so that they can hear it when they're pre-disposed to thinking it's an exclusionary, elitist, man-hating, etc., form of activism.

To put it another way ... I find that the best "witnessing" I do for feminism is by living my life as a feminist, and identifying in my daily actions. Talking about how feminist ideas have helped me feel better about myself, my body, my sexuality, more autonomous vis a vis cultural expectations, and less at the mercy of the way things are. Talking about a feminist vision for social change that will help everyone have more choices.

This doesn't really answer your question about how to specifically introduce feminism to people in so many words ... but I do really think it's a fairly personal experience. You do have to have that "click" moment in order to believe that the abstract ideas are related to your lived experience in some way.

J. Durden said...

Who Stole Feminism by Christina Hoff Sommers is a great intro to feminism, from an "equity-feminist" standpoint.