April 15, 2008

Feminism Goes Full Frontal

Print More

A recent JuicyCampus post is titled “I am so over the feminist label.” The offended poster goes on to speak about what she feels are her rights as a woman — job opportunities, equality and success, all while still being attractive to men — and how she is angry that for this she is constantly being labeled a “feminist.” She writes, “why do i hear a lot of guys still calling women feminists just because they want to be a doctor or lawyer or whatevs. we have ambitions just like you guys!”
Last Thursday’s lecture, “Full Frontal Feminism,” by the socially aware, and attractive Jessica Valenti, was targeted at the lost, anonymous victims of sexism like the one who posted on JuicyCampus. Jessica Valenti and her compatriots at the Women’s Resource Center (who sponsored the event) spoke about their efforts to de-stigmatize the word “feminist” by severing ties with the stereotypes of hairy, bra-burning, man-hating, crazed “dyke” activists. I use these worlds only in the way that they were used at this lecture: with full, compassionate understanding that stereotypes come from the ignorant, an ignorance that these women are earnestly trying to dispel.
Jessica Valenti is persuasive because of who and what she is: a sexy, successful woman who believes in women’s rights. Her persona is the brand of her campaign. Valenti is the founder of feministing.com, arguably the most popular feminist blog on the internet, and the author of Full Frontal Feminism. In her book, she uses colloquial rather than academic language, so that it reads like a conversation with an older, cooler girlfriend, joking to gain our sympathy rather than preaching.
Valenti fills a niche which has long been empty; she is the figurehead of a feminism that has evolved from de Beauvoir and suffragettes. Full Frontal Feminism criticizes a culture where women are torn between “mom-popular sayings, ‘Keep your legs together’ or boy-popular screamings, like ‘Show us your tits!’” Valenti primarily attracts readership with her commentary on pop culture (ie: Jessica Simpson and YouTube) and her ability to offer modern women a slangy new style for activism. This readership includes local and international women, some of whom are reading about empowerment for the first time. Valenti’s discussion of sexism — abstinence only education, gray rape, her own experiences with hate mail — is mostly successful because of her efforts to “talk to, rather than at” young women.
Valenti’s lecture, however, was not without criticism. During the Q&A session it seemed that some felt Jessica’s new breed of feminism speaks exclusively to a specific group of women. For example, a self-proclaimed “fat, hairy, queer” feminist raised her hand and asked whether she fit into this campaign that is so eager to create a new image. Similarly, a middle-aged woman questioned the new wave’s readiness to look beyond “[their] own agendas” to international issues like sex trafficking.
One man jokingly raised his hand and asked if he too could read Full Frontal Feminism, even though it is subtitled a guide for “young women.” A joke, yes — but he made a valid point on men’s exclusion.
When Valenti asked who in the room considered themselves a feminist and nearly all hands were raised: I wondered, where are the unconverted?
Leaving the lecture hall, I grew self-consciously aware that the women (and handful of men) that I was surrounded by are a minority. A second female demographic, of whom I am soon to join at 9 p.m., is getting ready to head out to parties called “Sex and Execs” or “Slutty Catholic School Girls” — school girls, though we’re college-aged women at a prestigious university.
I get home to see that JuicyCampus has been since updated with new responses to the “feminist” post. One man says, “from mine own and other experiences the only main jobs for a women in a relationship are: to look good at least half the time, cook, and to have sex.” And, after Valenti’s talk, all I can respond is: really?