After a full 23 years as a pure Californian beach town gal, I am currently on my way to being an East Coaster. Well, physically anyway. Just over the wing and with Cactus at my feet, my window view boasts the fertile tapestry that is the middle of this country. Yeah I know, shut up. To accompany me on this journey I brought along my must-read-before-school-starts non-fiction, Jessica Valenti’s Full Frontal Feminism. Subtitled “A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters,” FFF is clearly targeted toward 13 to 17-year-old should-be feminists. As an avid reader of Feministing.com, however, it was a mandatory read for me as well.
First, I have to address the infamous cover. If you do not frequent the feminist corner of the blogosphere (outside of LG&PS, of course), you may have missed the Great FFF Cover Debate of 2006. When Jessica posted the cover of her new book on Feministing, all kinds of hell broke loose. A skinny, white woman’s flawless torso serves as the cover’s background image, with a perfect hand on her perfect hip and “Full Frontal Feminism” splayed across her in thick lettering. This was, of course, very controversial and everyone within reach of a keyboard had something to say about it. I didn’t participate much in the discussion because my feelings about it were continuously fluctuating. From the moment I saw it posted online to when I finally began reading the damn thing my feelings changed tremendously. My initial reaction was surprise and confusion; why would Jessica choose such a picture? Finally though, once I opened it up, it made perfect sense. This book is about feminism today and if feminism is not completely tied up with images of skinny-ass white women’s torsos, I don’t know what is. Of course I never believed, as many said or implied at the time, that Jessica was participating in the objectification of women’s bodies in a racist, fatphobic way. I have more faith in Jessica than that. Now I realize that the photo makes sense in the context of the content so before the cover turns you off, open it up and check out the text.
If it hasn’t become glaringly obvious, I love Jessica. She has a Master’s in Gender Studies but, being a 20-something herself, she is very connected to her audience. This is unlike pseudo-feminist writers like Laura Sessions Stepp, author of Unhooked (this year’s other non-fiction for young women), who discusses young women’s sexuality from a judgmental outsider’s perspective. The only real bone I have to pick with FFF is Jessica’s choice to use slang and expletives in every other sentence. I mean, yeah I talk like that, and no I don’t think it should read like a textbook, but I wonder if it was wise to go so far in the slang direction. I think it’s great that Jessica felt confident to use her voice, but I hope that young women perceive it as genuine. I worry that young women, especially those unfamiliar with Feministing.com, might read the slang as condescension or a fake, superficial tactic to create a sense of sameness and equality. I am confident that Jessica was simply speaking in her language about her ideas on her terms and I totally respect that. I just hope others recognize it as such.
Besides the possible misunderstanding of her loose use of language, I have very little other criticism of Jessica’s work. She covers all of the biggest topics, from birth control to pop culture to intersectional oppressions, and she doesn’t shy away from the personal or the political. Even for a seasoned feminist, the book is a great review. I recommend picking it up and passing it on to that favorite (or least favorite) young woman in your life. Bravo Jessica!
FYI: I refer to Ms. Valenti by her first name throughout the post as she has created such a warm, down-to-Earth identity through her website and her book that I feel like I know her. It’s one of those weird Internet celebrity things I guess.