Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Noughtie Girl's Guide to Feminism - Ellie Levenson


I was eagerly anticipating the release of this book, so much so that I pre-ordered my copy off Amazon (though is it just me or is it a bit strange that under 'Customers who bought this item also bought...' there is only the Godfather trilogy listed? Anyway...) The book arrived in all its 'chick-lit style' glory (chosen to do so by Levenson) and the first thing I noticed was the straightforward nature of its layout with chapters divided up into: the sisterhood, language, sex, work, play, the body beautiful, how not to be a domestic goddess, love and marriage, children and forward feminism. And, alongside the witty comments that I welcomed also in Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti, this was the book's finest moment. Because past the giggles and the accessible layout I felt that Levenson really did live up to how she characterises a noughtie feminist: full of contradictions.

The book ends on the the chapter entitled 'Forward Feminism' which looks at what steps could be taken to further improve women's position in society. Suggestions include 'Women's History Month' or a 'feminist curriculum' in which it is ensured that history classes talk about women's role in history - Levenson stresses this as important yet at the beginning of the book these were things stated that she herself would not be covering in her writing. Surely if this is a guide then this is excluding readers who perhaps do not have any prior knowledge of the women's movement, and is indeed suggesting that this is in the past and not of such an importance? Aha! The first contradiction...

The chapter on Sex was a particularly difficult one for me to get my head around. Firstly Levenson focuses here, as she does in other capacities, on heterosexual relationships which I felt completely ignores the diversity of feminism today and misses a very important point. Whether or not you yourself are heterosexual or homosexual, it does not, in my eyes, mean you cannot discuss alternative sexualities or the importance of sexuality freedom. Secondly I want to raise what I felt was the distasteful handling of rape in her book. Levenson claims:

But is it (rape) as bad as being violently attacked by a stranger down a dark alley and not knowing whether you will live or die? No - page 65

Well, in some cases that is what exactly what rape involves and even when it does not, one's experience of being raped is completely subjective in that feelings regarding the experience can differ from one victim to another. To some rape indeed is as bad as the example above, if not worse, because of the felt violation of your own body. Something perhaps being attacked physically does not even compare to.

An additional comment on the layout then. Whilst the book itself, as I mentioned previously, is really accessible with clear themed chapters, these chapters are further subdivided. These snippets often felt under-developed and inconclusive as arguments in their own right, or indeed as contributions to a bigger ongoing debate. I was often left wanting more. Ellie Levenson talks about choice and contradictions characterising Noughtie Girl Feminism and she's certainly got the contradiction criteria fulfilled. And whilst I am all for this notion of choice it at times feels stretched too thin. Yes, we as women do have choices (and so we should) but we do need some common thread running through the feminist movement for it indeed to be a feminist movement. Being known as those without a coherent message or those full of contradictions, is not going to help our cause.

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TP said...

Great review Laura. Thanks for posting this.


Charlotte said...

I've heard so much negative stuff about this book, it's going to really divide the feminist communities.

Although I think there is a certain element of positivity as to having basic materials to give people not generally inclined to look at the world of feminism a little flash of the experience.

But maybe a book that can't even get the basics of something as problematic as rape, the language used around rape etc right, or "right on" is not the kind of feminism I want to introduce people to. Not the kind that reinforces cultural ideas of normal and attractive beauty at the cost to those who wish don't choose to conform. It's a bit raunch culture. It doesn't feel like feminism.

laura-ann said...

See that's what I thought - that yes, perhaps as a basic guide to try and encourage young women to talk about the concept of feminism could only be a positive thing. I found it highly problematic though - like when she writes that if you've let the guy pay for dinner it's only right that he assumes that it'll be followed by you returning the (sexual) favour. It was like we were returning to the dark ages...how is it feminism if you are basically accusing women of leading men on because they don't put out? That isn't advice to me, it's basically associating us accepting money in some form from a man with us responding to their sexual needs. Yuck.