Saturday, September 18, 2010

Anna's review of 'Full Frontal Feminism' by Jessica Valenti

Title: Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman's Guide To Why Feminism Matters
Author: Jessica Valenti
Publisher: Seal Press, 1997
How I got this book: I read it at college then I bought it.

I gotta make a confession: I used to think feminism was ridiculous. Whenever I heard it mentioned I'd roll my eyes, and I had several arguments with people where I said that it was just a bunch of crazy man-haters. It wasn't until I was forced to read this book for sociology that my views on feminism began to change. I realized that everything I'd thought about feminism was wrong and that feminism is, in fact, a gift to both women and men. We just have to accept and embrace it. Valenti's book addresses the many myths that exist about feminism and broadly describes what feminism is about.

The book begins that many people are feminists but don't identify as one for a variety of different reasons. Reasons such as they believe the myths about feminism like every feminist is a lesbian who hates men, all feminists are ugly, etc. Those myths just that- myths, and by the end of the book, Valenti will have you convinced that there is not a shred of truth in those myths. Valenti then goes on to discuss how things like pop culture, sexuality, work, and violence against women relate to feminism. The book is directed at an American audience. I'm not from America but it didn't lessen my enjoyment of the book. One of the best things about this book is its language. Valenti writes very colloquially; it reads like a conversation you are having with your best friend who is telling you about feminism. Another wonderful thing about 'Full Frontal Feminism' is that at the end of most of the chapters, there is information about where one can find out more about a topic, as well as how one can help out. Throughout the book I found myself nodding along agreeing with Valenti and being able to relate to most of it. For instance, what woman hasn't heard things like wearing a short skirt/dress/top means a man may thing you are 'asking for it', what woman doesn't fear walking on her own at night in a city because she's afraid she'll be raped? As Valenti rightly says, rape is seen as an inevitable part of life instead of an epidemic that needs to be stopped.

Valenti also talks about men and feminism. Men are harmed by patriarchy also and as Valenti says, "their problems are our problems, ladies". The first time I read this book this chapter was one of the biggest shocks to me, which I feel really bad about now. She talks about how men are affected by patriarchy as they are taught that they must never show emotions, that they must be aggressive, dominant, be the bread-winner, etc. I really wish that Valenti had talked about men and feminism more, but the one chapter she wrote on it is excellent.

Overall I loved this book. One of the few things I disliked about it is that she doesn't write enough about patriarchy and capitalism- capitalism reinforces patriarchy and vice versa. That aside though, it is an excellent book. It's interesting, gives a broad introduction to feminism, and uses many concrete examples to back up the points made. I'll always have a soft spot for this book as it made me believe in feminism. As soon as I read this book I insisted that all of my friends read it and now we all identify as feminists! For this, I will be forever grateful to Valenti.

Rating: 4 stars

What does feminism mean to you? Do you find yourself thinking of the same stereotypes about feminists?


  1. I would not consider myself a feminist but after reading your review, I realized I don't know what a feminist truly is to make a well informed decision as to whether I am one or not or at least identify with their values and principles. I will be the first to say that I roll my eyes when I hear someone say they are a feminist. Those stereotypes come to my mind. I think I need to read this to help form my opinion!

  2. Awesome review of an awesome book! People have a lot of misconceptions about feminism. I know I certainly did before I started reading blogs and books on the subject. I thought feminists were stupid whiny man-haters. But sometimes I would be stumbling around the web and I would read a blog post and agree with everything in it before I realized it was part of a feminist blog. What a shock! That's what got me to do some more reading, and now I'm proud to call myself a feminist. It's also what first got me interested in reviewing books written by women.
    I hope a lot of people take you up on this recommendation and read this book!

  3. I SO loved this book! I got over my fear of feminism ages ago when I started reading other books on the subject, so for me this was a lot of HELL YES! but I'm glad that it made you reconsider! I really don't understand how any woman isn't a feminist - it really just means you believe men and women should both be respected and have the right to be whoever they want to be and do whatever they want to do equally!

  4. Thank you for this review! This book looks fantastic and I might run out this weekend and pick it up!

    For awhile I've considered myself a feminist but, as you point out, so many people believe these myths about feminism that I never really shouted my beliefs from the rooftops. I had a sociology teacher that described feminism as anyone who believed that women and men were equal.

  5. I definitely don't consider myself a feminist in any way, shape, or form. That said, this book appeals to my feminine nature...coincidence? I think not...great review! :)

  6. YES! What an absolutely wonderful review. Thanks for helping to clear some misconceptions about feminism. This book looks like something I would love.

  7. Hey, Anna here- glad that ye all seem to be interested in the book! One thing I've realized since learning about feminism is that women have fought, challenged, even died so that some of the things I take for granted happen. Things like being able to vote, being able to go to university, access to contraception, being able to work outside marraige etc. That fact alone makes me love feminism, and it's one of the things I say to women who think feminism is a load of crap- their lives would suck without it.

  8. I think there's a difference between feminism- the belief that a woman should not be denied equality under the law because of gender- and neo-feminism. Neo-feminism is, in my opinion, the buts we're all tired of hearing; the man bashing, even the subjugation of men to some extent. Feminism, I'm down with. Neo-feminism? Not so much.

  9. This sounds like a very interesting book. I have considered myself a feminist since reading a copy of Germaine Greer's 'The Female Eunuch' when I was about 14 or 15 and I'm always coming across people who have prejudices or preconceptions about feminists. I think it's just simply the belief that men and women should be equal to each other.

    Have you read Ariel Levy's 'Female Chauvinist Pigs'?

  10. Anna here- yeah, I have read 'Female Chauvinist Pigs'- absolutely loved it! Have you read it? What did you think?

  11. Anna here- interesting point Sam. I completely agree that it's wrong to bash a man (or someone of any gender) unless you've a damn good legitimate reason. I'm unfamiliar with the term neo-feminism though...

  12. I fully consider myself a feminist, and I even blog about it. I haven't heard of this book before but I think it's great if I got you to reconsider your ideas. Our country is constantly fed (mostly by the media) that being a feminist means hating men, not shaving your armpits, being loud and obnoxious, and tearing apart anything fun. This is not the case! And for people who say that Feminism doesn't matter anymore, that women have everything men do, well you are wrong. Women are still oppressed in America and especially still in other countries. There is a lot of work to do.

    If you enjoyed this you should give Enlightened Sexism a shot, I'm reading it right now and really enjoying it.

  13. Jane Doe-- I agree! I think there is a definite distinction between a feminist and a neo-feminist! Not a fan of that man bashing!

  14. I think it's funny that we talk about "Feminism" as if it's one unified political/social/sexual movement. There have been so many waves of feminism with so many different agendas and battles to be fought. Yes, there have been radicals who openly and (overly?) dramatically pushed back against patriarchy. (By radicals here I mean Second Wave feminists, not Neo-feminists. I personally believe that many "Neo-feminists" are simply feeling lost and looking for attention by acting up. There is no real neo-feminist agenda or set of political goals-- just a desire to cause drama.
    The literary/culture critic bell hooks defines feminism as "the struggle to end all forms of sexist oppression." It's an active (productive) desire to improve the lots of both women and men (and otherly gendered individuals). Kind of hard to object to THAT version of feminism, neh?

  15. I just wrote a whole long comment and it didn't post, so I lost it all. BAH.

    Long story short, I agree with Ash—we are so far from an equal society it's scary. I can't imagine why a woman wouldn't consider herself a feminist. For those of you who said you definitely don't identify as one, can I ask you why? I just have a hard time believing it. I'm guessing a lot of you have feminist beliefs without realizing it.

  16. I think, for me, it is more so a lack of knowledge of what feminism is. I can't identify as one when I don't know what they believe in or what values they hold to be true. Just like I wouldn't identify with any political group or religion without knowing fully what I'm identifying with. I plan on reading this book and educating myself on what it means to be a feminist to determine whether I would consider myself one--all thanks to this review! :)

  17. Hey Anna,
    I really enjoyed your post. First, because a lot of us (definitely myself included) choose to read things that we sort of know we will already agree with, whereas you were open minded enough not only to pick this up in the first place but also to re examine your views as a result. Which is awesome.
    Second, I think your point about the prevailing view of feminists as crazy is a reflection of the fact that most of the time, the extreme views of any group get portrayed as the views of the majority. Its the same with religion. The crazy people on the fringes shout the loudest and get seen as speaking for everyone.
    When I was at school, I studied incredibly hard and did very well in my exams: so well that I featured on the front page of the local newspaper. I was described as 'x's girlfriend'. Apparently my achievements did not count for anything unless I was attached to a man. That was when I became a feminist, though I did not start to really describe myself as one until later on in my university career, when I realised that no matter how hard my female colleagues and I studied, we could pretty much guarantee that we would never be valued as highly in the workforce unless we decided not to have kids. feminism is simple equality of opportunity. Women having the same rights, choices and chances as men. And that still is not a reality. II want to have a daughter in a world where she can be anything she wants to be and her looks or home life won't come into it. And none of that means i hate men! In fact as your review said, Anna, it is equally important that men get more of the options that are open to women.
    Argh, I accidentally got on a soap box! Did not mean to. Just feel so passionate on subject (passionate but not insanely strident!)
    Or as Rebecca west said 'i myself have never been able to find out what a feminist is, I only know that people call me a feminist when I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.'

  18. Anna here (I should really just log into this thing!). Tahleen and Aah, I agree completely- feminism has a long way to go, we are nowhere near an equal world for people of all genders.

    On the subject of men and feminism, my favourite male radical feminist is Robert Jensen over at University of Austin at Texas. He said : "For every woman that is treated as a sexual object, there is a man treated as a walking ATM". It's an excellent point. There are lots of male feminists out there (I'm lucky enough to be know and be friends with several!) I'll shut up now, but first if anyone wants to check out some of these videos on youtube...

    Celebrities and feminism- this is fantastic:

    Robert Jensen, radical male feminist- this is a bit long, but it's incredibly good and Robert is a great speaker:

  19. Anna here again- I just read Lyndseys comment- hey Lyndsey!

    Lyndsey, I 100% agree with every thing you said, especially the part when you said usually the views of the extreme in any group are portrayed as the views of the majority. That's so true- just look at the Islamophobia that exists the world today. My lecturer in sociology asked us a question, which my class found kinda difficult to answer: why do you think that feminism is portrayed the way it is?

    Fair fecks to ya for doing so well in your exams and I'm sorry that you were portrayed as 'x's girlfriend- that feckin' sucks! It happens so often as well, which is terrible. You're dead right when you say that you aren't valued as highly in the workforce unless you don't have kids. There was an article about that in The Guardian recently, which said the exact same thing.

    There's nothing wrong with being passionate about feminism, that's brilliant! And fantastic quote at the end!! :-)

  20. I was just thinking about reading this the other day! Someone who my company works with ordered this for her job, and said it was available to borrow it. She mentioned that it was full of F-bombs, which of course makes me want to read it. That, and being a feminist. I am super glad you enjoyed this!

  21. Looks like a book I'd enjoy. Thanks for the thoughtful review.

  22. Jamie, that makes complete sense. I don't think I'd want to identify as something without knowing about it either. Thanks for the perspective, and thanks for responding!

  23. You guys might enjoy/recoil in horror at this article. Especially like the quote:

    Yes, it’s feminism we have to thank for the spread of fast-food chains and an
    epidemic of childhood obesity.

    Oh, of course it is. HOW could I not have seen that before?!?!?!

    Read more:

  24. This looks like a really interesting read. I'll have to check it out sometime. The chapter you mention about men and feminism sounds like a must read.

  25. A little late to the party, but I love Feministing, the blog Valenti founded. It's definitely a great resource and very eye-opening.

    Much as I would like to read this book someday, I'm really bothered by the cover. Body acceptance and diversity are such big parts of feminism now. The movement's had significant problems (and still does) with race, and this image only reinforces the perception of exclusion a lot of non-white women feel. (Alice Walker founded womanism in response to being ignored by white feminists.)

    I get that maybe they're trying to be ironic or reclaim a common but potentially sexist image and use it to promote feminism, but to me, it just looks like a lack of creativity. Surely there are other ways to make feminism appeal to younger women.


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