If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know that I consider myself a feminist. But my particular brand of feminism is so intricately connected to my faith in God; I doubt that many secular feminists would claim me. So I wanted to see just how my beliefs measured up to secular, mainstream feminism. This book was a great introduction to feminism, and I definitely recommend it if you’re confused by all of the contradictory things you hear about feminisms and feminists.
First of all, Jessica Valenti is certainly qualified to write on this subject. After a master’s degree in women’s and gender studies, she started the blog Feministing.com, which is probably one of the greatest resources for those interested in learning more about feminism. Her book, Full Frontal Feminism, is directed at people who are interested but perhaps not quite convinced that feminism is alive, necessary, or helpful today.
Valenti does a great job of dispelling the myths surrounding feminism, myths like, “Feminists are ugly!” “Feminism is for old white ladies!” and “Feminism is so last week.” And then Valenti systematically goes through all of the lies that women (and men) are told about themselves, all of the nonsensical and destructive narratives that we believe. Warning: LOTS of crude language.
Virginity pledges are ineffective and promote the false idea that a woman’s worth is connected to her virginity. Many people insist that there are only two possibilities for women: virgin or slut. You see it in Victorian literature, and you hear it ALL.THE.TIME. in Christian circles. Thankfully, many popular Christian bloggers have recently been calling out this hurtful rhetoric.
“This kind of faux concern about teenage girls and sexual activity has nothing to do with keeping girls safe. It’s about legislating morality and ensuring that someone—whether it be a parent, husband, or the state—is making decisions for young women.” (30)
Especially with all of the hype about the Steubenville rape case, we see that “blaming the victim” is alive and well. Oh, a girl was raped by two boys? She shouldn’t have been out drinking. Because apparently simply being a person isn’t a good enough reason not to get raped—now you have to be a person, and sober, and virtuous, and Full of Promise, and etc. Grrr.
“Violence against women is so common that it’s become a normal part of our lives. And it’s being committed by ‘normal’ people. If you are raped, the guy’s not likely to be some random dude jumping out of the bushes. He will be your friend, a guy you know from school, a friend’s brother, someone at a party. …Young men in the United States have been brought up to think that they have open access to women’s bodies and sexuality. Everything in American culture tells men that women are there for them, there for sex, constantly available. It breeds a society where rape is expected and practically okayed.” (62)
Women are taught that they are responsible for men’s actions, and this is simply not true. Women are told that they shouldn’t wear short skirts, because men will be tempted. Women shouldn’t get drunk, because men will rape them. If women are allowed to take birth control, it is primarily their responsibility to make sure no babies result from sex. And we won’t even get into abortion, though Valenti does and it is certainly an intriguing chapter.
I love that Valenti does a great job recapping the history of feminism, celebrating what has been accomplished, and looking forward to the work that still needs to be done. Even if you are conservative and do not consider yourself a feminist, you will (hopefully) at least see that today’s expectations of gender roles are far from perfect and have a long way to go toward making the world a better place for men and women.
I feel more confident in calling myself a feminist after reading this book. My style and personality isn’t as in-your-face about it as Valenti’s. I know and love too many conservative Christians to call out their misunderstandings about feminism and the destructive rhetoric they use in teaching about faith in such a harsh way, but I definitely identify as a feminist and am working on developing a Scriptural approach to starting constructive conversations about it with them. I look forward to the release of Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey to help me find the right words to share with my loved ones.