Book review: Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti

Posted June 27, 2011 by Heather in Book Reviews / 5 Comments

Book review:  Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica ValentiFull Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman's Guide to Why Feminism Matters by Jessica Valenti
Published by Seal Press on April 2007
Genres: Nonfiction
Format: Paperback
Pages: 288
Source: my shelves

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What is the first image that comes to your mind when you hear the word “feminist”?  If you immediately think of an angry, hairy, man-hating, bra-burning, anti-everything woman who yells a lot, then Jessica Valenti’s Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters is for you.  Aside from the fact that women burning their bras never happened, if you pictured the woman I described above, you are harboring some serious misunderstandings about feminism and feminists.  Let’s take a look at the dictionary definition of feminism:

  • Belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.
  • The movement organized around this belief.

That’s it.  So if you believe that women and men should be treated as equals—socially, politically and economically—then guess what?  You’re a feminist.  This word gets so much harsh and negative treatment, though, that many women are afraid to call themselves feminists.  And although I personally know quite a few men who are feminists/pro-feminist, many men would shudder if they were labeled as such.  It doesn’t have to be this way, though.  All people need is some further education and a better understanding of the subject.  That’s where Full Frontal Feminism comes in.

Full Frontal Feminism was written with the younger generation in mind and it describes what modern feminism is all about.  Valenti was getting frustrated with all of the “feminism is dead” articles she was reading, and was also disappointed with how many young women were shying away from (or refusing) being called feminists.  She wrote this book to explain “not only why feminism is so necessary and relevant, but also why it’s so damn cool.”   She did a damn good job, too.

Valenti starts off by asking a bunch of questions to get the reader thinking:  “Do you think it’s fair that a guy will make more money doing the same job as you?  Does it piss you off and scare you when you find out about your friends getting raped?  Do you ever feel like shit about your body?  Do you ever feel like something is wrong with you because you don’t fit into this bizarre ideal of what girls are supposed to be like?”  She follows these questions up with a simple statement:  “Well, my friend, I hate to break it to you, but you’re a hardcore feminist.  I swear.”  She goes on to explain what feminism is, and why embracing it will make women feel better about themselves in all aspects of their lives.  There are sections on sex and sex education, pop culture, how women are made to feel bad about and ashamed of themselves, domestic abuse and the ways in which victims of rape are still the ones being blamed and shamed, reproductive rights and birth control, dating and marriage, women as baby-making machines (one of my favorite chapters), the history of feminism, and politics.  There is also a great section detailing the ways in which sexism hurts men just as much as it hurts women, and the problems with our culture raising men to be these ultra-tough, non-crying, non-emotional, opposite-of-women people.

Another section (which was another favorite of mine and super important for people to understand) detailed intersectionality:  the ways that all of the “-isms” (sexism, classism, racism, etc.) intersect in messed up ways.  For example, this is a quote from the United Nations, talking about the intersection of oppressions:

Central to the realization of the human rights of women is an understanding that women do not experience discrimination and other forms of human rights violations solely on the grounds of gender, but for a multiplicity of reasons, including ages, disability, health status, race, ethnicity, caste, class, national origin, and sexual orientation.  Various bodies and entities within the UN have to a certain extent recognized the intersectionality of discrimination in women’s lives.

Kind of heavy stuff, but something every feminist should understand and be consciously aware of.  Much of the infighting among feminists is caused largely by some women thinking that we are this big sisterhood and that we are all confronted with sexism in the same way (that sexism is sexism and that’s all there is to it).  Valenti explains why it’s very important for women to be able to recognize the differences among us—according to race, class, age, etc.—in order for the women’s movement to keep moving forward.

If I were to detail every part of this book that I found interesting and important, I would have to re-type the entire book here, word for word.  Not only are there copyright laws that prevent me from doing that, but then you probably wouldn’t be interested in buying the book or getting it from your local library (which if you haven’t guessed, I am seriously recommending that you do).  But here are some of the statistics/facts from the book that I highlighted to share with you:

As of 2006/2007…

  • In Mississippi, you can buy a gun with no background check, but vibrators are outlawed.
  • In 2005, the South Carolina House Judiciary Committee voted to make cockfighting a felony, but tabled a bill that would have done the same for domestic violence.
  • Women make up 85 percent of the victims of intimate partner violence (IPV), and one-third of American women report being physically or sexually assaulted by a partner (husband, boyfriend, whoever) at some point in their lives.
  • One report says that 40 percent of teenage girls say they know someone their age who has been hit by a boyfriend.
  • The Equal Pay Act was signed in 1963, when women were making about 60 percent of what men did.  By 1990, that number went up to 70 percent.  Now it’s a measly 76 percent.
  • Men outnumber women six to one in top corporate jobs.
  • Statistics show that working mothers earn less and less with each child they have.  For the first kid, they make 2 to 10 percent less than women without children.  For the second kid, the gap grows to 4 to 16 percent less.
  • Among women born after 1960, a college graduate is more likely to get married than her less-educated counterparts.
  • Teenage pregnancy has gone down by 50% in the last 25 years.  Three cheers for birth control!
  • In 2003, more than 331,000 plastic surgery procedures were performed on people younger than eighteen years old.  Yeah.  Read that again and let it sink in.

Those are just some of the many reasons why feminism is so important.  Valenti did exactly what she set out to do with this book.  She detailed the ways in which feminism is still relevant today and why it’s still important, and she gives great suggestions for what we can do to keep the movement going.  She provides citations for the many statistics, quotes and facts she includes in the book, and she also provides a long list of websites and books for further reading.  Full Frontal Feminism is well-researched, thought-provoking, well-written, entertaining and an important piece of work concerning the feminist movement; and although it’s written with young women in mind, everyone can learn something from this book.  If you are at all interested in feminism and learning more about it, I highly recommend you read it.

(Side note:  This book contains explicit language.  The majority of teenagers are swearing up a storm when they’re out of adult earshot anyway, so as far as I’m concerned it’s not an issue.  Just a warning to those of you who might not be comfortable with it.  I would set the minimum reading age at the high school level.)

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(Jessica Valenti is the founder of Feministing.com and the author of three books.  To learn more about Jessica and the work she does for the feminist movement, visit her official website.)

**If you choose to purchase this title–or any others–using the links below, I will receive a small percentage of the sale (to be used toward site maintenance and buying more books).

Amazon | Powell’s Books

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  • I have to say, I found the description of this book on Goodreads off-putting: ‘Valenti knows better than anyone that young women need a smart-ass book that deals with real-life issues in a style they can relate to.’

    This assumes young women can’t relate to other styles?

    (And one’s definition of ‘so damn cool’ very likely varies from woman to woman.)

    I don’t accept ‘You’re a hardcore feminist – I swear!’ Such a statement is groundless.

    • We all know you can’t fairly judge a book until you’ve read it (or at least tried), but no book is for everyone. Hence my ‘side note’ at the bottom of the review. I don’t feel that the description you quoted from Goodreads presupposes that every young woman needs a ‘smartass’ book to learn about this stuff, but you and I both know that there are many people who would get bored with some stuffy book that reads like an acedemic textbook, especially high school students and college students who are already getting enough of that. There are plenty of those types of books on feminism, too, if that’s more one’s style. I’ve read my share and have personally enjoyed them as much as Valenti’s book. Everyone is different and everyone has different reading tastes.

      This book was Valenti’s way of reaching out to those young women who are under the impression that feminism ‘isn’t cool’ and that being a feminist means one has to be anti-everything: anti-men, anti-makeup, anti-high heels, anti-sex, etc. Valenti herself had many misgivings about calling herself a feminist until she was in college and took her first women’s studies course. She knows from personal experience just how many young women refuse to call themselves feminists because they think feminism is ugly, unpopular and anti-cool. This book was written with those many young women in mind. It’s a great book, but if it doesn’t sound like something you would enjoy, go with something else.

      As far as the last statement you quoted being ‘groundless,’ she backs it up throughout the book. She is also quick to point out that “not all women are feminists by virtue of having ovaries,” and she’s fine with that. She has an audience, though, and that’s who she’s writing for.

  • This sounds like a good one. The statistics you listed are disturbing, all except for the teenage pregnancy one. That’s great that those numbers are down, definitely! Great in-depth review, Heather.

  • Jessica Valenti rocks my socks. I’ve been meaning to actually buy this book for a long time now. I love your review.

    • She’s so awesome. I can’t believe this is the first time I’d ever read this. Now I need to read the rest of her books.