Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman's Guide to Why Feminism Matters
Jessica Valenti is a part of the feminist blogger elite, and for good reason. The blog she helped to establish, Feministing.com, receives a significant amount of web traffic and is well-known among young, internet savvy, hip feminists. Full disclosure: I read Feministing every now and then. Having read Valenti’s writing on the blog—which tends to be oversimplified and, quite frankly, bratty—I was hoping her analysis in book form would show a tad more depth. Unfortunately for Valenti, there’s a downside to fame; it opens you up for public criticism.
If Full Frontal Feminism is supposed to be the spark that ignites young women to claim their identity as "feminists" and hop aboard the Third Wave train, then women are in deep trouble. Valenti writes like feminism's version of Ann Coulter, and let’s face it, Ann Coulter is hardly known for her intelligent commentary. Flamboyant and egotistical, much of Valenti’s analysis is trite, at best. She makes sweeping generalizations (“When you’re a feminist, day to day life is better. You make better decisions. You have better sex.”), repeatedly refers to her opponents by juvenile names ("The consequence of having the last name Buttars is apparently being a huge asshole."), confuses “truth” with “opinion,” and seems to have done very little actual research to back up her claims, as very few citations accompany her assertions.
At times, she doesn’t feel the need to make an assertion at all, responding with a facile yet grandiose “Puke,” a deliberately ironic “Yeah,” or a pithy “Terrifying,” as though this is all that she needs to make her case. And despite hackneyed attempts every now and again to mention other marginalized groups, the truth is that this book overwhelmingly reflects the viewpoint of its white, middle class, (I assume) heterosexual, entitled, American, liberal feminist writer.
Valenti doesn’t give her readers credit for being able to do the thing she most wants them to do: think critically. This is apparent in the fallacious style by which she presents her perspectives. My personal favorite—taken straight from the right wing, talk radio instruction manual—is how Valenti uses the bait-and-switch tactic to “prove” her point (e.g., contending that anti-abortion advocates simply hate sex). A close second is when she uses the most extreme cases to illustrate a point as though they aren’t the exception to the rule (e.g., making the case for all women to have access to Emergency Contraception because rape victims should have access to it). These tactics are most unfortunate because, even as a person who is largely ideologically aligned with Valenti, I began to question her standpoint as fearmongering overshadowed politics.
Perhaps Valenti believes that young women won’t be moved unless they’re shocked by what she says, or completely scared to death. Fear is a powerful motivator, but it belittles the audience in the process. Oh, and did I mention that she uses the book as a forum to talk public trash about petty tiffs she’s had with other bloggers? If fear doesn’t sell you on feminism, apparently Valenti believes taking sides in some inane, personal dispute will.
Full Frontal Feminism is written in sound bytes, each chapter being comprised of smaller (usually) one page-long explanations of a given issue: sex education vs. abstinence only, virginity pledges, expensive weddings, unattainable beauty standards, and other typical feminist fare. Apparently, the television has taken its toll (or so Valenti thinks) on the public because there is no sense of organization or logic to the structure of the book. And solutions? Those must have been left for someone else to tackle because you won’t find them here, at least not outside of the standard volunteer, give money, and vote.
Now I know I’ve pretty much run this book into the ground, but I do want to say that I get what Valenti is trying to do here. And it’s a really smart idea. She wants to reach out to young women who don't call themselves "feminists" and let them know that it’s okay, cool even, to be down with the F-word. She wants to tell them that they already believe in feminist ideals and have benefited from the women’s movement. And she wants to encourage them to continue in that tradition in order to kick some misogynist ass. That’s a really honorable goal that, unfortunately, was a victim of poor execution.
If you’re truly looking to find out why feminism matters, you’d be better served to flip to the booklist in the back of Full Frontal Feminism and read some of the titles listed there—including Colonize This_!, _Listen Up: Voices from the Next Generation, To Be Real, and The Fire This Time—because cool packaging is really great, but if there’s nothing of substance inside then what you are selling is just the packaging.
Eds note: Since comments seem to have been discontinued on Feministing in order to silence critique, folks are welcome to continue discussion in the "Comments" on the _Full Frontal Feminism _review on this blog. All comments have been, and will continue to be, approved. Feminist Review blog encourages healthy and necessary debate. As our mission says, "Feminist Review blog believes that all opinions - positive and critical - are valuable and seeks to give voice to communities that remain on the margins" and to create a space where "differences can be represented and explored."