There are a number of well-known feminist authors that are often studied in various Gender Studies or Women’s Studies university courses. Names like Simone De Beauvoir, Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Bell Hooks and Andrea Dworkin are common among those who have studied the history of the women’s rights and feminist movements. It’s important to know history and track the progression of women throughout the decades.
Just as important is to take note of what is happening today in the 21st century. While what many of the aforementioned authors have to say is indeed still relevant (because we have not achieved full gender parity around the world) we also need to hear from contemporary authors to understand how feminism is impacting modern culture. Social media, digital platforms, and technological innovation have played a huge role in the way feminist activists around the world are raising their voices and making a change.
Which is why we wanted to talk about a few recent, notable books that have been released by well-known feminist authors. These women touch on issues such as how pop culture has impacted the feminist definition, the way digital media and entertainment has validated sexual objectification and assault of women’s bodies, and how women can fight back against smaller everyday micro-aggressions and sexism in the workplace.
We’ll start with ‘Feminist Fight Club’ by Jessica Bennett. This book gives women tools and encouragement to fight back against sexism in the workplace, especially the type that is very subtle and gets ignored because it doesn’t necessarily get communicated in an aggressive or hostile way.
“Part manual, part manifesto, Feminist Fight Club blends the personal stories of a group of women who formed a secret group in New York City with research, statistics, and no-bullsh*t advice for how to combat today’s sexism. Bennett offers a new vocabulary for the sexist archetypes women encounter everyday—such as the Manterrupter, who talks over female colleagues in meetings or the Bropropriator, who appropriates their ideas—and provides practical hacks for pushing back…Feminist Fight Club tackles both the external (sexist) and internal (self-sabotaging) behaviors that plague women in the workplace—as well as the system that perpetuates them,” says a description about the book.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Jessica says she wanted to write a book that was easily digestible but also touched on an important topic that she as well as many other women have experienced. While she knows she is not the first to write about this particular topic, she was inspired by the fun, coffee table-type “manual” books found in stores like Anthropologie, that could appeal to a millennial generation.
“Because women are thriving in their academic careers, it can be a shock to get to the workplace and realize that things are still not equal…The baby feminists must know this is an issue — recognizing this is still not equal, No. 1. No. 2, I think, is treating other women as allies. I’m 34 now and I feel like the college women I talk to are much more on board with this idea of girl power and girl gangs and camaraderie than I ever was and the older generations ever were,” she said.
She also encourages women to join and create their own “girl gangs” and feminist fight clubs where they can discuss their experiences and encourage each other.
The second book comes from another Jessica, Jessica Valenti. She is the founder of Feministing.com, a well-known feminist author and also a prominent feminist blogger whose strong voice in the digital media space has been both a welcome beacon to women who have found encouragement and empowerment in the topics she discusses, as well as a threat to many who fear the rise of powerful women in society.
Her latest book is called ‘Sex Object’ and is far more personal than her others. Unlike the light-hearted nature of ‘Feminist Fight Club’, this book delves into the areas in our culture that have allowed harassment, sexual assault, objectification and rape apology to thrive.
Jessica has been on the receiving end of some horrific online trolling, including most recently a comment from a person so angry they thought it would be appropriate to send rape and death threats about her young daughter. Charming. In the book, as you read the many stories from her as a teenager right up to adulthood, you start to recognize familiar themes (especially if you are a woman who ventures out in public at all) and realize this is not just an isolated problem, but a dangerous, disturbing and pervasive epidemic that is found in almost every corner of society, including politics.
In an interview with Vogue.com, Jessica says she decided not to hold anything back in this book, including printing some of the most heinous comments she has gotten from online haters, because it is more important than ever to speak up about the inequalities women face.
“I do think the current feminist moment lends itself in a way that it just wouldn’t have 10 years ago. Women are sharing their stories a lot more. I’m not just talking about the content of those stories, but the act of storytelling itself as a feminist act. And that’s really exciting to me,” she said.
Included in her series of candid moments from her life is one incident where a guy was having sex with her when she was passed out and her not fully understanding how this constituted as rape or assault at the time, as well as making the heartbreaking decision to have an abortion of a child she and her partner desperately wanted.
Because of health complications to her baby which also had the potential to affect her own health, Jessica explains how difficult it was to have to be in such a position, and why it underscores her belief that women should be able to make decisions about their own bodies, not political or religious institutions. The idea of a “sex object” in this book is more than just what the titles suggests, as it talks in a holistic way about how women’s bodies have become so heavily commodified and objectified as a cultural norm.
The third book comes from Australian feminist columnist and writer Clementine Ford who has a large social media following around the world. She is an unapologetic “Feminist Killjoy” (that is the name of her Tumblr account) and has no problem calling out misogyny, hate, racism, and other forms of aggression online. Her voice is what we need to see more of especially in the digital media space as many women face pushback when they raise their voices, especially about feminism.
Clementine made headlines around Australia when she reported a particular male troll to his place of employment for continually harassing and trolling her on Facebook. The company ended up firing the man, and as a result she received a lot of backlash, including rape and death threats. The entire incident exemplified the “victim-blaming” epidemic we see so often. When a woman accuses someone of rape (think Bill Cosby or Donald Trump) as details are filtered through various media outlets, it becomes an acceptable norm to blame the woman and protect the man’s reputation at all costs (as we have seen in a number of cases involving high profile athletes).
‘Fight Like A Girl’ is her first book which is described as part feminist manifesto and part memoir. When she first learned about the feminist movement in college, she said it became a way for her to articulate what she was experiencing and feeling, and as a result she knows the power of the internet to amplify the feminist voice.
Her book discusses the patriarchy, slut-shaming (there was one particular event where a popular Australian news show told women they should “learn” not to take nude photos of themselves and Clementine’s epic dismissal of their statement went viral), domestic violence, and not living life in a way that is geared to pleasing men. She says the internet, while being a cesspool of hatred and vitriol, can also be a powerful tool for women to speak up about inequality.
“Women are trained from early on to figuratively and literally avoid taking up too much room, but we need to do the opposite of that now, and to figure out how to take up as much room as possible. One of the great things that I see happening on the internet now is that it’s enabled women to globally connect with each other. So that not only can they support one another, they can actually see each other,” she told ABC News Australia.
One of the aspects of modern feminism Clementine takes issue with is how pop culture and capitalism has appropriated feminism. This is something Bitch Media founder Andi Ziesler discusses in her book ‘We Were Feminists Once’. The title includes the phrase “from Riot Grrrl to Covergirl” which sums up the evolution of feminism over the past few decades.
Touching on issues such as the amount of celebrities now talking about feminism or being asked about it, to the way advertising and brands are using feminism, in the form of female empowerment messages, to sell and push product in a different way, but with the same intention.
“The business of marketing and selling to women literally depends on creating and then addressing female insecurity,” she writes in the book. Whether it is the choice to get botox, or a credit card company marketing their product to women by co-opting an important milestone such as the anniversary of women’s suffrage in America as an excuse to spend money, Andi says there is a lot of discussion to be had over whether this brand of feminism is impactful or just a vehicle for capitalism.
“Make no mistake, these are not events to empower women, but to sell them to advertisers… It’s a vision of empowerment that, in many ways, erases the presence of anyone who isn’t empowered in the most crucial sense of the word — financially so,” she writes.
“We are letting a glossy, feel-good feminism pull focus away from deeply entrenched forms of inequality…’marketplace feminism’ [allows] a mainstream, celebrity, consumer embrace of feminism that positions it as a cool, fun, accessible identity that anyone can adopt.”
Andi’s voice as well as her Bitch Media platform are well-established in the feminist landscape so it is no surprise that she is commenting on this current phenomenon. It is a conversation that needs to be had, if the continuing important work of intersectional feminism is going to thrive in the digital media space.
Our final author who is well-accustomed to utilizing social media for a feminist cause is Lindy West, author of ‘Shrill: Notes from a loud woman’. If you are thinking her name is familiar, that’s because you most likely heard about the social media movement she helped spearhead at the height of the debunkd Planned Parenthood “undercover videos” saga in the summer of 2015.
Lindy, along with two other activists, began the #ShoutYourAbortion hashtag which just about broke the internet. It was a tipping point at a point in the general discussion over women’s reproductive rights in America, where women decided they had had enough and were not going to remain hidden or silenced about their own decisions to have an abortion. The whole point, which is talks about in her book, was to cut through the myth and stigma that seems to fuel so much of the anti-choice legislation that has been spreading across the country.
“All of that garbage is bolstered by the fact that we don’t talk frankly about abortion. It has this fog around it; people are just mystified. That makes it easy for people who want to shut it down to do that, if they get to just say what abortion is whatever they want, ‘Oh yeah, abortion is hairy feminazis chopping up babies.’ That’s why the next wave of abortion advocacy is destigmatization, talking frankly, and dismantling some of these lies that have gotten into the water supply,” she told Refinery29.
As a columnist for the Guardian, Lindy is well accustomed to raising her voice and receiving hate because of it, especially online. In fact, the word “Shrill” in the title came from a negative Twitter comment which she decided to adopt in an empowering way. A lot of her book touches on the politics of women’s bodies, especially in regard to fat-shaming, something she has personally experienced.
Lindy has always talked about how she decided to contact one of her more prolific trolls and ended up having a very human conversations with him. He admitted that he did it just to hurt her, and she ended up feeling sorry for the guy, who sounded like a regular person who was just threatened by the presence of a powerful woman using her voice and getting attention for it.
Lindy’s perspective on the politics of women’s bodies, and especially how the internet has changed the equilibrium of the conversations about these topics, is important and timely. It’s what all these women have in common – that their perspectives on feminism and how it fits into our current culture dissects the way digital innovation has impacted it and allowed it to become a movement that includes the next generation of activists.
Hear an excerpt from ‘Shrill’ below: