Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sexy Feminism by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong and Heather Wood Rudulph

Title: Sexy Feminism: A Girl's Guide to Love, Success, and Style
Author: Jennifer Keishin Armstrong and Heather Wood Rudulph
Publisher: Mariner Books
Release Date: March 12, 2013
Pages: 256 pages (paperback)
How I Got the Book: ARC via Amazon Vine
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository

Sexy Feminism: A Girl's Guide to Love, Success, and StyleNot your mother’s feminism! A humor-filled action plan for an accessible, cool, and, yes, even sexy brand of 21st-century feminism

A Mariner Original Paperback

Feminism can still seem like an abstract idea that is difficult to incorporate into our hectic, media-saturated, modern lives, but Jennifer Keishin Armstrong and Heather Wood RudĂșlph show how the everyday things matter. In an age when “concern-trolling,” “slut-shaming,” and “body-snarking” are blogosphere bywords, when reproductive rights are back under political attack, and when women are still pressured to “have it all,” feminism is more relevant than ever.  For many young women the radicalism of the Second Wave is unappealing, and the “do me” and “lipstick” feminism of the Third Wave feels out of date. Enter Sexy Feminism. It’s an inclusive, approachable kind of feminism—miniskirts, lip gloss, and waxing permitted. Covering a range of topics from body issues and workplace gender politics to fashion, dating, and sex, Sexy Feminism is full of advice, resources, and  pop culture references that will help shape what being a feminist can look like for you.


Strike one came when it tried twice to market feminism as sexy and fun. Strike two came when it called Lady Gaga a feminist icon. Strike three was the inappropriate use of a word I despise as a feminist: slut/slutty. Beyond all that, this book is a bit boring to someone like me, a young women who has been reading feminist lit and experimenting with her feminist ideology for years.

Before I dig into its more fundamental problems, I need to get its positives out of the way. Sexy Feminism makes sure to give you the background of many practices women now consider normal, such as waxing, plastic surgery, and makeup. If one will leave this book with anything, it will be the history of some of the services and objects still relevant to women and their intent when founded (feminist-minded or not). Most chapters have very clear points they stick to while explaining the intricacies of what does/doesn't make it feminist.

Still, my answer to a lot of their chapters is this: "Yeah, and...?"

Their talk of how feminists are allowed to diet and wear miniskirts is nothing new. I felt limited in what I could wear and do when I first started to identify as feminist, but I found my own style and definition of sexy that lives in harmony with my constantly-evolving ideology. Each woman will do roughly the same thing on their own, really. It's like a pair of new shoes, really: you're uncomfortable at first, but the more time you spend with it, the more you adjust to it and the more comfortable you get until you forget you ever had trouble with it to begin with.

One chapter is rather muddled, though: the chapter on waxing. It doesn't shy away from how it originated from patriarchal pressure and the porn industry (one big point of this book is how porn has really screwed with the image of women, pun not intended), but then it says getting a Brazilian is a-okay now even though the pressure to get one still comes from the same basic places. It reads a little like choice feminism when they praise waxing, which is an approach I find more than a little problematic because it tends to not consider the pressures society, gender roles, and men have a on a woman's choices. It automatically makes something feminist because a woman can choose to do it and that's a pretty clear problem.

And Lady Gaga as a feminist icon? Please. The book tries to show her good intent in its quick profile of why she's a sexy feminist, but her actual work gets twisted around until it's unrecognizable. I also still remember her flip-flopping on whether or not she's a feminist also.

The line "sexy doesn't have to be slutty" (ARC p. 97) is also rather troubling considering there's a chapter in here titled "Be a Sexy Feminist, Not a Slut-Shaming One" in which they rail against slut-shaming. To me, there is no taking back that word at this point. It is too mired in negative connotations and too widely used in negative ways for us to win it back at this point. Events like SlutWalk are able to use it in a challenging way and it works, but the authors aren't using it in any such way here.

Most importantly, feminism isn't sexy of fun the way Armstrong and Rudulph try to market it. Feminism is necessary and simply IS. That's it. Trying to attract women to feminism by telling them it's fun and sexy is a recipe for disaster because it isn't. Feminists are stereotyped, judged, and forced to deal with crap thrown at them. At times, it can be difficult to admit it to other people because you know how they will react. We work for our cause because it's necessary and right, not because it's fun. Anyone who is in it for fun or sexiness is only going to bring us down and marginalize our cause in their attempts to help.

Though I primarily review YA, I'm no stranger to reading nonfiction. If one catches my interest based on its thesis, I jump right into it. Two of the three previous nonfiction titles I've reviewed had refined voices (the one that didn't was a memoir), but Sexy Feminism lacks that. Each chapter reads like an article from their website--which isn't bad in and of itself, but when you want to sit down and read it all at once, your eyes roll into the back of your head after a while. It starts out engaging, but it doesn't stay engaging.

Perhaps people still developing their feminist ideas will be able to get more out of this than I did--as long as it's accompanied by other books that present other ideas. Relying on this alone to form a person's ideals doesn't seem like a very good idea.

What am I reading next?: Levitating Las Vegas by Jennifer Echols