Elevate Difference

It’s a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments

If you keep up with the purported leaders of feminist blogging, or if you heard any of the controversy about the John Edwards campaign bloggers last year, the name Amanda Marcotte may ring a bell. Perhaps in recent weeks, you’ve heard rumblings about the racist imagery within Marcotte’s first book, It's a Jungle Out There, which depicts white women conquering a jungle of dark-skinned "savages."

The controversy that erupted over Marcotte’s book is not without warrant, nor is it a foreign topic among white feminist bloggers turned book writers. Authors’ lack of control over their books and the subsequent excuses and apologies (or lack thereof) are an [interesting story](http://feministing.com/archives/005898.html#comment-54766," p="'155) all on their own, and Marcotte and her publisher, the well-known and pro-woman Seal Press, have respectively apologized. But while the issues raised do warrant the attention this book has received, the content does not.Future printings, even sans racist imagery, will contain roughly the same text, save a new introduction or two, and sadly, despite Marcotte’s good intentions to pen a tongue-in-cheek book about the perils of being a politically-minded feminist, her effort falls painfully short.

It's a Jungle Out There reads like a series of blog posts that are haphazardly placed under witty headings, and in my view, it speaks down to its audience. Being a feminist in any environment is tricky territory, and instead of drawing on the wealth of knowledge from our collective feminisms, past and present—or even Marcotte's own practical experience—a lot of the handbook’s advice centers around being snarky and annoyed with your adversaries instead of bridge-building and cooperating in the name of a larger good. I don’t make pals with the anti-abortion protestors either, but I don’t go looking for a fight and would not advise that of anyone, especially allies in a movement of change. This was not meant to be a scholarly feminist tome about our history and our future, but I also expect more from a “feminist survival guide” than chapters about shoe shopping woes and advice on how to handle a Girls Gone Wild camera crew.

Marcotte doesn’t give the subjects she’s claiming to tackle anything more than buzz-word treatment and a few (sometimes offensive) jokes. Women’s legitimate choices – not having a child, for example – are not broken down into logical arguments that support our case, which would be the normal route for “surviving a politically inhospitable environment.” Explaining yourself and making concise, thoughtful arguments to back up your choices may feel like you’re defensively explaining your entire political and personal life, but at least you’ll be dignified doing it. For Marcotte, most issues should be answered with a version of “It’s my right, damnit!” And, be that as it may, it doesn’t exactly give a young feminist an advantage in a conversation or debate with the ideological opponents she will surely encounter. In fact, it makes her look silly, privileged, and naïve instead of reasoned and informed about her legitimate life choices and political ideals.

To be fair, some of Marcotte’s assessments are in a vein that makes sense for a large contingency of young women who self-identify as feminists. There were moments in the book that made me laugh. I understand that, mostly, this is Marcotte’s intention. Young women who are new to the concepts of equal rights or the feminist label face cultural resistance at every turn with very little validation from the mainstream media of their empowered decisions. Allies in their corner can mean a great deal, and as someone who once read more lighthearted texts instead of the volumes that now line my shelves, I resonate with the intentions of reaching out to those coming a few years behind me.

But there were many comments in the book that made me cringe and wonder where the diverse community-building was, the impetus for transformation behind slamming Christian fundamentalists. Where are the messages of feminist unity and community outreach? By negating whole groups of people with flippant commentary and stereotypes, how does a movement become more inclusive? We need to teach our young sisters a message of hope and solidarity, and I didn’t find them in the midst of confusing blogosphere name-dropping, PETA bashing, generalizations about red states, and a ridiculously insular reference section. I felt a bit worried for younger feminists, and alienated from a label and movement that I support and love.

If I did not say how I truly feel about this book, I’d be doing every self-labeled feminist I know a disservice. Writers don’t have integrity when they let potential audience repercussions silence them, and women certainly shouldn’t back down from their truths. Marcotte doesn’t shy away from being controversial, and her book advances a narrow idea of feminism that, coupled with the idea that rolling your eyes is revolutionary, comes off as entitled and without a greater understanding of the wide variety of feminisms that many of us try to navigate.

Young feminists will not learn survival from this “guide.” They will learn how to make blanket judgments of their supposed adversaries instead of learning that sisterhood and cooperation can advance the well-being of us all. This kind of contempt cloaked as humor perpetuates an already unfortunate stereotype that feminists are angry and hateful, and it speaks poorly of anyone still claiming the f-word label. Maybe it’s just that I think love is more powerful than hate, but I prefer to believe that a message of unity, hope, and community revitalization is more important than choosing sides and acting like you already have it all figured out.

Written by: Brittany Shoot, May 29th 2008

thank you for this review which addresses the controversy succinctly and fairly even-handedly and then deconstructs the content itself. While I would have liked some examples from the text to back up your assertions, I do agree with Anon that this is the most complete review I have seen (ie images and text). Since I did not read it, I will be sure to send people with content questions here in the future. -pbw

This is a breathtaking entry. I'm new to FR, and in my first review, of the novel Bound, I struggled with my appreciation for the book's overall message with the troubling "hey, us too!" implicit in the book's foreword, where the author drops the phrase "white slavery." I regret not making clear my conflicting feelings.Your review achieves this wonderfully, and is a standard by which I will base my future contributions.

this is the most thoughtful review i've read of this book. i appreciate how you addressed the racist imagery but didn't use it as the basis of your entire argument. many other reviews i've read either do not address the illustrations or completely ignore the content. wonderful job. :)