Tuesday, 17 April 2012

83/111 - Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti

I decided to read this fairly swiftly after reading the Nina Powers book, because she directly criticises Jessica Valenti and I wanted to make a judgement for myself. As I said, I have read some of her stuff already in The Purity Myth, so I was fairly confident that I would enjoy this, and I did.

It's quite different, and the style is very colloquial with a lot of swearing. At times I found that this was maybe a little distracting or trivialising, however on the whole I really enjoyed the style. She makes a really excellent point that I have definitely felt myself that a lot of academic feminism (or any subject, for that matter) which is very dense can be totally unaccessible to people. I found this a lot at university, and generally I'm unimpressed by people who can use big words and complicated sentences. If I can't understand what you've said at the end of a sentence then it's pretty much just bullshit, isn't it? I felt this in particular with one stuffy git of a tutor on a Samuel Beckett course that I then dropped out of (my general feeling was that if Samuel Beckett knew that we were studying him, he'd probably be rolling in his grave).

I had a similar problem with Gender Trouble by Judith Butler. I really wanted to read it, really wanted to feel enlightened or to be able to disagree with her, but the fact that I couldn't even dissect what she was talking about surely means that she's a failure? I think I remember reading somewhere that she has since acknowledged this, because it's all very well for well-educated people to get stuck into academic texts, but how about the women who have never had the chance to pursue further education, or whose first language is something other than English? High academic texts exclude more people than they include, in my opinion, therefore making them kind of worthless. So yeah, I was glad that this book was understandable, as well as likeable.

There were several points that Jessica made which really crystallised what I had been feeling in much better words, for example she talks a lot about the way that teenage girls having sex (and enjoying it) is seen as pretty much the worst thing ever. She says that it's not real concern for their safety or well-being, it's about "legislating morality" which is a really excellent way of putting it.

She also talks about the complications of being a feminist, but also enjoying things that come from the system that is oppressing us, for example make-up and high heels. Now I'm not such a massive fan of either, so maybe hair is a good example. I like for my hair to look good, and I like to wear it long because it suits me and I think I look good with it down, however Jessica makes the point that it's important for us to be aware of why we like the things we do, even if they are a product of that system, because we can never really be totally separate from it, nor would we necessarily want to.

The main audience for the book does seem to be middle class white women, however she does spend some time towards the end of the book talking about different kinds of oppression which intersect one another, such as class and race, however there isn't much mention of feminism on a global scale. I guess you've got to stop somewhere, but it would have been nice to have that side of things acknowledged, too.

The more that I read of this, the more that I disagreed with Nina Power's assessment of Jessica Valenti. Jessica's book is fun and accessible to read, and although I enjoyed Nina Power and agreed with a lot of what she had to say, I wouldn't say it was particularly inspiring or fun. This is one of the points Jessica makes towards the end of the book, too. When she talks about academic feminism and accessibility, she is also talking about inspiring a new generation of young women to become involved in and care about the aims of feminism. If all the fun is taken out of it, and if the young women are not allowed to be a part of the decision-making processes, then there will be no one to hand the torch to. Although I understand that there is a fine line between fun and flippant - it would be shitty to be involved in this fun movement and not get taken seriously, after all.

Anyway, I liked this a lot, and it did inspire me. I've signed up for some subscriptions to a couple of feminist publications, which will hopefully be arriving at my doorstep on a monthly basis, as I'm not a big fan of reading stuff on a computer screen. Go feminism!

1 comment:

  1. I hate how just because Power's angry, people assume that she intends feminism to be joyless. Far from it; her chapter about pornography advocates a return to porn that _is_ much more cheerful than the grim unsmiling pornography of late capitalism. Her criticism of Valenti is primarily class-based; this seems valid when done in One-Dimensional Woman, and Valenti's response to Power didn't even discuss the most central C word--capitalism.

    So I understand and sympathise with Power's irritation at a movement that seems uninterested or incapable of discussing anything that goes beyond (white, middle-class) identity politics. What Valenti's brand of feminism does is assume there's only one way to have fun--being upbeat. But guess what! Being righteously angry can be awesome fun as well. Valenti knows this--otherwise why would she be involved in feminism--but her criticism of Power is really involved in calling her a sourpuss (maybe the bitch just needs a shag, huh?). As though that's relevant! Can we have a feminism where we don't all have to be BFFs, and can maybe be critical of each other's work on an intellectual level without being accused of ruining the party? I think you've missed the point in this review in the same way. Feminism isn't always about being likable--it's about being right. Sometimes that involves being joyous and fun, and sometimes it involves speaking horribly unpleasant truths.

    Also, I advocate young women being involved in the decision-making process (I am one, so duh), but I want _all_ young women involved, and that just isn't possible if capitalism gets to do its dirty work, wrecking economies, leaving many young women starving worldwide, and crippling their self-esteem for the purposes of profit.

    My 2c is that I found Nina Power's work more uplifting and inspiring than almost any other feminist work I've read. It finally gave me an actual, workable solution to a lot of feminist problems--break capitalism along with the patriarchy. Valenti's work just doesn't go broad enough, although I don't deny she has a lot of valuable things to say (nor does Power, quoting her positively near the beginning of the book.)

    [soz for rant, also for possible pomposity, internet procrastination a-happening]