Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Feminism renewed

Last week, I had the privilege of meeting Jessica Valenti, founder and executive editor of feministing.com (don’t bother with the lame-ass, unfunny “.org” site) and the Author of Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters.

You might also remember her from the now infamous boobgate “scandal.” I only call it a scandal because a prominent writer decided to make a big deal about it. She was among a small group of bloggers who were invited to meet Clinton for lunch. In case you have not noticed, blogging is changing the political landscape. It only seems rational that a political leader would want to meet with the upcoming talent who could potentially sway an election (and I understand that Clinton has a stake in one of the candidacies).

Valenti had the audacity to *gasp* wear a sweater that showed off her breasts and she ended up in the front of a group picture with former President Clinton. Unfortunately, the camera angle made it seem like Valenti was purposely trying to show off her (ahem) assents. Within days, the picture was being commented upon all over the Internet. Some of the most disgusting comments in the blogoshere had to do with a blue dress and a beret. Ann Althouse took Valenti to task for not looking serious enough in an article carrying the decidedly anti-feminist headline “Let’s take another look at those breasts.” In fairness, Althouse has since added a paragraph stating that she was primarily attacking Clinton. Oh, and she does not like a feminist website depicting large-breasted women. (Feministing.com's logo is a take off of those curvaceous women who decorate mud flaps on pickup trunks. Their graphic depicts that woman giving a one-finger salute.) Personally, I think it’s pretty clever. Here it is:

Valenti’s take on this (and I agree) is that young women are routinely judged on appearance and not talent. In a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation, Valenti points out that the prevailing attitudes seem to come down to either “shut up you ugly bitch” or “you’re too cute to be smart.” I call “bullshit” on both counts. Male or female, looks have nothing to do with talent or intelligence.

The really depressing thing about boobgate is that a Google search for “boobgate” pulls up Althouse’s blog before the feministing.com reply. That’s just the way the search engine works, though.

End rant, back to the book.

Admittedly, I am not the target market for this book, but happily I got something out of it. What most impressed me was the readability of the book. The language is informal, rarely stilted, often coarse and genuinely funny. In other words, young people (I’m still including myself in the class of “young people”) might actually read the nearly 250 pages and enjoy the read. The book concludes with some ideas for getting involved. As she points out on page 166, “If you get younger women into feminism but then don’t give them power or decision-making abilities, they’re going to get real bored. Real fast.”

The most important thing that I got out of the book was a renewed perspective that people’s (not just women’s) looks do not necessarily reflect on their talents, abilities, or levels of intelligence.

This guy does not get judged on his looks, so why should this lady be judged on her looks? On the other hand, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt donate millions of dollars to charities. People Magazine still managed to use a sultry photo of her and listed him on the “hot list” while discussing the donations as if they were an afterthought.

Valenti has a ton of other issues to address. She rails about the idea that some women who get raped or sexually assaulted were “asking for it” based on wardrobe, amount of alcohol and drugs consumed, not fighting back hard enough, being married to the abuser, or just simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

WRONG! Keep this point in your head. The people who ultimately have the power to stop rape are the rapists themselves. No one should have to constantly worry about an attack as heinous as rape. The rule still applies if she is wearing that ridiculous shirt reading “No means no…well maybe if I’m drunk.”

Valenti also makes the point, and I who heartedly agree, that women have the right to decide what to do with their bodies. This applies both to the right to choose to get an abortion as well as access to effective birth control. As I pointed out in my last post, there is something inherently creepy about men trying to take away a right that ultimately only applies to women.

On a slightly lighter, but no less serious, point Valenti takes on the popular strategically marketed Girls Gone Wild series. Refreshingly, she does not rehash the tired arguments about porn being dangerous and having no value at all. Instead, she cautions young women (and young men should take heed, too) to consider why they are exposing themselves for a t-shirt and 15 minutes of fame. You can go ahead and buy the videos; I try to change the channel when those commercials assault my senses.

Speaking of creepy guys, here’s a quick recap of GGW’s recent discussions with Elliot Spitzer’s “date” Ashley Dupre or “Kristen.” Turns out that GGW Head Creep in Charge, Joe Francis, offered Dupre $1 million to promote his dreck. Then he had a thought. Perhaps GGW has already filmed her and thus has full legal rights to appropriate her image for commercial use. Sure enough, there she was in the archived footage and Francis rescinded the offer. Karma, being what it is, came back and bit him in the ass. It turns out that Dupre might have only been 17 when the footage was shot. Yesterday, there was news that Francis and/or his crew filmed girls as young as 13. They are suing. That’s empowerment and holding the creeps accountable.

Back to the book…I was particularly impressed with Valenti’s chapter on men being feminists. Simply buying into the idea of social, political, and economic equality between the genders does not strip away all vestiges of masculinity. I’m a feminist. I wrote it and I don’t feel emasculated in the least. In fact, I have always preferred to date feminists.

Finally, I enjoyed the bit about sex toys. This has been one of my pet peeves, too. Buy ‘em, use ‘em, have fun. But a few states don’t think their citizens deserve to purchase adult toys. I won’t repeat my argument, but I did enjoy Valenti’s contribution: “In Mississippi you can buy a gun with no background check, but vibrators are outlawed.” That statement is not quite accurate, but like some other states Mississippi does not require background checks on purchases from private dealers (accounting for a significant percent of all firearms sales).

So, check out the book. It’s listed at $15.95, but Amazon has it for less than $11.


P.S. In regards to page 40 -- second full paragraph -- I fall into category one. You’ll have to read the book to figure out what I mean.


Wharf Rat said...

Sorry man, I gotta go with Ferris on this one. Isms are inherently bad. Let's say I wanted to start a "masculism" website, forum or group. They'd have me swinging from the nearest tree.

Any position that holds in higher regard one gender, race, ethnicity or religion is unfair and just plain dead wrong.

And don't give me that crap about social, political and economic equality. If that's the case, then let's call it what it is: EQUALITY.

We need to get behind a few more words that end in -ty and lose the isms.

Chris said...

I can see your point, but I do disagree. I don't see -isms as inherently bad, though the concept is inherently flawed. The suffix "-ism" is attached to so many things and you are right in saying that this suffix implies a hierarchy of regard.

But when is it wrong to affix one ideal higher on a hypothetical regard scale than another?

Examples: Racism is inherently bad. Isolationism is okay sometimes but not others. Militarism is violent, but profitable. Capitalism is much safer. Intellectualism is just fine as long as you don't live in an area that has a significant anti-intellectualist population. Pacifism is admirable, but not always rational. Atheism is what it is. Some polls say that more Americans believe in creationism than evolution. Realism is a solid foreign policy unless W. is running the country. Buddhism is inherently good but not universally accepted.

Here's the kicker: Liberalism has about 20 distinct definitions in political science. I am an American social liberal. I am not, however, considering joining a leftist political party in Europe.

My point is that "-ism" is attached to so many different things that it is nearly impossible to not align yourself with something that has not already been labeled. And if you do find something, rest assured that it will be labeled soon enough.

Anyway, this author managed to defined "feminism" in terms that that I can support. She really is arguing for equality; no special favors.

If you ever want to check the book out, let me know.

Anonymous said...

Bought the book yesterday after reading this review. Have only read the first few pages so far but I just had to say Thanks.

American Girl said...

The problem with attaching the "ty" to the root word feminine is that it's taken.

The Equal Rights Amendment was written in 1923 by Alice Paul. It does not mention raising the status of women above men, in fact it protects men as well as women from discrimination. Here is the complete wording:

"Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex."

I'd be thrilled if everyone got behind equality and codified it into law.

Just found this blog today and I'm really enjoying it.