Categories
Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

Jessica Valenti’s almost my hero

A while ago, I read Full Frontal Feminism, and then I just recently finished He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut, and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know. There are some things I dislike about Valenti (sometimes she does seem to be trying too hard to be hip and humorous, for example), but she’s genuinely a refreshing feminist voice that is able to articulate well what we all know and often can’t express properly.

The book does get a little tedious by the end (she lays it out as 50 “different” double standards, even though most of them are different facets of the same double standard, just so her publisher can boast a long list as opposed to three really long chapters, I guess). Still, Valenti is able to point out many sexist phenomena without sounding like a whining perpetual victim. She’s also able to get across well how sexism against women is actually harmful to men, too, which is really important to progress. We can’t, if we want to live in an egalitarian society, keep thinking of problems between groups and oppressions as us vs. them. “They” may appear to have privilege and benefits, but even those privileges and benefits come at a cost of freedom for all groups.

For example, the expectation that women will either take their husbands’ surnames or consider it while men always keep their names clearly puts men in a position of privilege (his name is important but hers isn’t). Nevertheless, men are often like Princess Jasmine from Aladdin. If they want to get out of the “royal treatment,” they face many obstacles. I thought it was just social pressures (my parents raised a huge stink about me wanting to take my wife’s last name), but apparently in many states a man cannot even take his wife’s name if he wants to, and in the states he’s allowed to change his name in the procedure is far more costly and involved than the woman-taking-her-husband’s-name procedure is.

Of course, there are also some supposed double standards that she exaggerates. For example, she makes it sound as if women are considered selfish if they don’t want to have kids, whereas men are not considered selfish if they don’t want to have kids. That hasn’t been my experience at all. The extent to which the double standard does apply, I think it has to do with single people thinking about the future, as opposed to married couples talking about the present. In other words, if a single man says, “Yeah, I don’t want to have kids,” instead of thinking he’s selfish, people just won’t believe him. They’ll think, “He just says that now. When he gets married, though, some woman will turn him around. I bet he’d make a great father.” If, however, a single woman says, “Yeah, I don’t want to have kids,” the selfish police will come out in droves.

When married couples talk about not having kids, though, the selfish label isn’t gender-specific. My wife and I definitely don’t want to have kids, and I think we’ve heard the selfish line about equally. No one has said, “Your wife is selfish.” They definitely think both of us are.

She’s no Susan Brownmiller, but Jessica Valenti’s got some good points to make, and she is now my… almost-hero.

Categories
Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality women Writing

Full Frontal Feminism Indeed

Right now I’m reading Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters by Jessica Valenti, and I have to say, with a few rough bumps along the way, it’s an impressive piece of literature. Most of the feminist works I’ve read—while rationally argued, fully annotated, and well-written—are dry and too academic for most pre-university readers to enjoy. Cynthia Heimel’s humorous books (columns originally published in Playboy magazine, ironically) like Get your tongue out of my mouth. I’m kissing you good-bye! and If you can’t live without me, why aren’t you dead yet? were the closest to accessible-for-teenagers feminist writings, and even those were mainly targeted at 20-something and 30-something readers.

Jessica Valenti has done a great thing in terms of boiling down the essential feminist issues into large print in a small book. The book does have its flaws, of course. For one, it tries too hard. It also does a little bit of a mental bait-and-switch. You have to be a little forgiving on the former problem, though, since it is taking on the nigh-impossible task of making feminism “cool” for girls and women born after 1990. The latter problem seems to stem from a lack of restraint on the part of the author. Valenti begins by essentially saying, “Hey, everyone should be a feminist. It makes sense. It’s not a scary thing. It isn’t some crazy fringe of whining unattractive people (not that there’s anything wrong with being unattractive). Are you on board?” but then quickly starts hammering you with statistics about rape and domestic violence—issues she quite rightly gets passionately outraged over.

I do admire, though, how she treads a very fine line on the whole “freedom” debate. She manages to get across that she values freedom from patriarchy most highly while not disparaging those in the “doesn’t freedom mean I have the freedom to be traditionally feminine?” camp. In other words, she appreciates balance and does not want to alienate anyone.

The whole time reading the book, though, I kept thinking, “Someone should write a Full Frontal Linux book like this.” I’ve seen books like [Fill in the blank] for Non-Geeks, but they’ve basically still been pretty geeky. How do you make Linux “cool” for the general public? How do you explain that software license freedom is the ultimate goal while not alienating those who still want their free-to-run-what-proprietary-software-I-want freedom? Who knows? Maybe after I finish reading Full Frontal Feminism, I’ll take a crack at Full Frontal Ubuntu (I probably don’t know enough to speak for all of Linux).

Hats off to Jessica Valenti. It’s not a perfect work by any means, but it fills a niche that needed filling.