Jessica Valenti talks about Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman's Guide to Why Feminism Matters.
Feminism is alive and well and has a lot to say about the world's problems. In this book Valenti shares the ideas that she posts on her popular Web site Feministing.com. Her topics include pop culture, health, reproductive rights, violence, education, and relationships- Book Passage
Jessica Valenti is the author of Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth about Parenting and Happiness. She has also written three other books on feminism, including The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women, which was recently made into a documentary. She is editor of the award-winning anthology Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape and the founder of Feministing.com, which Columbia Journalism Review calls “head and shoulders above almost any writing on women’s issues in mainstream media.” Jessica was the recipient of the 2011 Hillman Journalism Prize and was called one of the Top 100 Inspiring Women in the world by The Guardian.
Today's author is Jessica Valenti, a feminist writer from New York; she has a Masters degree inWomen's and Gender Studies from Rutgers and has worked for such organizations as NARAL Pro-Choice America, the National Organization For Women's Legal Momentum. Planned Parenthood, thewoman's environmental beautiful women's environmental and developmental organization newsmagazine; she is also the co-founder of Real Hot 100, a campaign to highlight the important work thatyoung women are doing across the country. Her essay, The Taming of the Shrew has been included inthe collection called Single State Of The Union. Single women speak out on life, love and the pursuitof happiness whose author we had here several months ago. Please a warm welcome for Jessica Valenti.Thanks. I didn't realize you have that one too. That's kind of exciting. So a big thanks to Book Passageand to you guys for showing up, what's actually can you hear me okay. What's actually missingfrom that bio is the of course my blog, feministing.com which do you people know at all? Yes, yes,yes okay. So some people know. I figured that before I did a reading I would just put the book incontext for those of you don't know feministing or don't know my work. The book really is kind ofwas a natural progression from the work that I do on feministing.com which is a blog/website. For ayounger women, younger feminists that I started, when I was working at a national woman'sorganization and I was working in non profits in the feminist movement and I was kind of feeling likeyounger woman's voices weren't necessarily being heard or being taken very seriously. And at the timeactually there wasn't all that much in terms of young feminism online. I remember doing a Googlesearch at the time and coming up with like a null page from 1996. So it just got to show you therewasn't really much of anything going on.I think that has changed a lot with feminist blogs and a whole bunch of other stuff. But that's kind ofwhere this is coming from. So what I started find really interesting with feministing and the work weare doing now is that we started to get a whole bunch of e-mails from younger women like girls youknow, teenagers, girls in their early 20s who kind of stumbled upon us by accident and would writething as like wow I had no idea this is what feminism is like. I thought feminists burned their brasand hated men and had hairy legs. I mean they had really fallen for all of the you know, the ridiculousanti feminist stereo types. And it really kept them from embracing something that probably could makea big difference in their lives.So that's kind of why I wanted to write this book. I wanted to write something, that was for youngerwomen who aren't necessarily politically active, who are probably afraid of the effort and asidentifying as feminists even they probably have feminist's values. And I wanted to make somethingthat was really accessible and informal. And it wasn't condescending because I just I got the feelingfrom from e-mailing with a lot of these girls that they were nervous about trying to get engaged withpolitics. They were nervous about picking up a political book because they were going to feel stupid.Or they were going to feel like they didn't know what they were talking about. So that's really wherethis is coming from.So I thought I would start in the very beginning which is the first chapter You are hardcorefeminist, I swear. This may be a little interactive. So what's the responsible you can call a woman.Don't hold back now. Feministic what do you have to cut to the chase like that, bitch, slut, whore,cunt sorry for the profanity. Okay now what are the worst things you can call a guy. Pussy, sissy, girl.I have even heard this term mangina, that's a popular one online with a lot of the weird men rightsfolks. Notice anything, the worst thing you can call a girl is a girl. The worst thing you can call a guy isa girl. Being a woman is the ultimate insult. Now tell me that's not really fucked up. Recognizing thescrutiny to this little exercise doesn't make you a feminist, but it should. Most young woman know thatsomething is off. And even if we know that some things are sexist we are certainly not ready to say we are feminists.It's high time to get past the I am not a feminist's but stuff. You know, what I am talking about. I amnot a feminist or anything but it's total bullshit that Walmart won't fill my birth controlprescription. Do you think it's fair that a guy will make more money doing the same job as you? Does itpiss you off and scare you when you find about your friends getting raped? Do you ever feel likeshould about your body? Do you ever feel like something is wrong with you because you don't fit inthis bizarre ideal of what girls are supposed to be like? Well my friend I hate to break it to you, but youanti sexism, anti everything. And while some of these antis aren't bad things, it is not exactly excitingto get involved in something that's seen as so consistently negative.The good news is that feminism is in all about antis. Its progressive and its choosy as this sounds, it isabout making your life better. As different as well are there is one thing most young women have incommon, we all brought up to feel like there is something wrong with us. We are too fat or dumb ortoo smart, we are not lady-like enough, stop cursing, shrink with your mouth open speaking your mind,we are too slutty or not slutty enough. Fuck that. You are not too fat, you are not too loud, you are notun-lady like, there is nothing wrong with you. I know its sound simple but it took me a hell of a longtime to understand this and once I did, damn did it feel good. Why go through your life believing thatyou are not good enough and that you have to change. Feminism not only allows you to see through thebull shit that would make you think of there is something wrong with you but also offers ways to makeyou feel good about yourself and have self respect without utilizing any mom popular sayings like"keep your legs together" or boy popular screaming like "show me your tits".Really imagine how nice it would be to realize that all the stuff you have been taught that makes youfeel crappy just isn't true. It's like self help times 100. But all that said I really do understand thehesitancies surrounding the effort. My own experience with the exercise that kicked off this chapterwhat's the worst possible thing you can call a women was presented by a professor on the first day ofwomen's literature class after she asked us how many of us were feminists. Not one person raised thehand, not even me. My excuse of it - my excuse ridden thinking of the time was oh there is so manykinds of feminism, how can I say I know what they are all about blah, blah, blah I am a humanistblah, blah, blah, bull shit. When I think back on it, I knew I was a feminist; I was just too damn freakedout to be the only one raising her hand.I am going to go and skip ahead to the sex chapter; sex is generally the most fun. This is called,feminist do it better and other sex tips. I am better in bed than you are and I have feminism to thank forit. There is nothing more hackney than the notion that feminist hate sex, but I guess if you buy the uglyman hating stereotype eating sex follows, feminist do it better because we know how to get passed allthe bullshit. Women sexuality is often treated like a commodity, a joke or a sin. This is especially truefor us younger women who end up getting totally screwed by social influences telling us what hard ordesirable behavior is. Generally it's flashing boobs or faux lesbian being make out sessions. I havenever been a fan of either. When you are getting abstinence on the education during the day, girls gone wildcommercials at night, it is not easy to develop a healthy sexuality. You are taught that sex beforemarriage is bad, bad, bad but if you want to be a Spring Break Hottie you better start making out for the camera.While these two messages are seemingly like conflicting, they are actually promoting the same idea.The young women can't make their own decisions about sex. Whether it's a teacher telling you not toor a cameraman telling you have to, having sex that's about making yourself happy as a big no, nothese days. Shit. You can't even buy vibrators in some states you can't. And I think 11, eight oreleven now I forgot, it's one of those numbers. So I am just going to skip ahead. This is a sectionI did on abstinence only education which is something I talk about on the side because it's areally huge pep heave of mind. And not just because of the you know the medical misinformationthat's out there. But also because so many of these programs that really rely on in a ridiculous sexualdouble standards and they are really about reinforcing traditional gender odds not only in sexuality but basically in relationships.So this is from some of the programs. One program teach us that women need financial support;women need admiration and tells students, women get their happiness and judge their success on therelationships. Men's happiness and success hinge on their accomplishments. And other program tells usa fairy tale that isn't so much about sex; it's about how women needs to keep their mouth shut. Onebook used an abstinence curriculum choosing the best tells us the story of a knight who saves theprincess from a dragon. It's very original. When the knight arrives to save her the princess offer someideas on how to kill the dragon. Her ideas work but the knight feels emasculated. So he goes off andmarries a village maiden, "only after making sure that she knew nothing about nooes or poison." Thecurriculum concludes the moral of the story and this is also a quote, "occasional suggestions andassistance may be all right. But too much of them will lessen a man's confidence or even turn themaway from his princess". Here that gals, if you let on then you are smart, your prince on the whitehorse is likely to run scared.Abstinence programs are also huge fans of making sex a ladies' responsibility. It's up to us to makesure it doesn't happen because guys just can't help themselves. One program actually advises girls,watch what you wear. If you don't aim to please, don't aim to tease. The Liberation Movement hasproduced some aggressive girls. And one of the top challenges for guys who say no will be thequestioning of their manliness. And because females generally become arouse less easily they are in agood position to help young man learn balance relationships by keeping intimacy in perspective, thelogic is laughable. It seems that girls don't get horny so it's up to us to make sure that the sex doesn'thappen. And if it does, well you should have kept your legs close, you big dummy.But really and truly the following gem is my favorite, it comes from an educate, and I put that insquare quotes, speaking at an abstinence conference last year, and he says, "your body is wrap awrapped lollipop. When you have sex with a man he unwraps your lollipop and sucks on it. It may feelgreat at the time but unfortunately when he all done with you all you have left for your next partner is apoorly wrapped saliva felt sucker". And I just want to add, this is something that they only say to thegirls and not to the boys. Is that clear enough for you, without your precious lollipop, your piece ofshit, dirty ass already sucked on candy, which is supposedly why you have to hold on to your mostprecious commodity, your virginity.This is it goes in to little section on virginity, it's called our hymens ourselves. I have never reallyunderstood what the big deal was about virginity really. Mine was lost without a great deal of fanfairto a high school boy friend, whom I dated for several years afterward. I except it to feel different, itdidn't. The whole precious flower virginity thing always seem silly to me. So imagine my surprisewhen I found out that I was just a used up piece of trash or candy without it. I remember how back inthe day, your virginity was a valuable commodity and your purity was pretty much what your dadbanked on to get a good prize for you when you get married. Do you think that's all in the past, noteven close. One of the most disturbing stories that I have ever heard was about Jessica Simpson and herdad Joe. A gossip magazine reported that during a ceremony when Jessica was 12 years old Joe madeher promise to stay a virgin until marry until marriage. Jessica's dad was also a manager, give her apromise during and said I am going to tell you how beautiful you are every day and I am going to bethat person until you find a man to do that in my place.If you are like me you are probably in the pillow position on the floor right now trying to make thatimage go away. But this isn't unusual. Their virginity cards ring ceremonies, you name it. The onething they all have in common is that girl's virginity and sexuality do not belong to them. And this ofcourse I wrote before kind of the insane upsurgence of purity balls which I assume, some of you guysknow about it]s kind of insane. I can talk more about it later. Not only your virginity pledge is socreepy and wrong, they are not exactly effective. Recent studies have shown that teens who takevirginity pledges are actually more like they have oral and anal sex. The logic is that because its notintercourse, its not real sex. Somehow I don't think the folks that made up the whole pledge thing hadsodomy in mind. You would think that the idea of good Christian girls taking in the ass would motivatesome change in the whole pledge system but they are sticking to their guns.I am just gone to skip ahead to one last section and this is a section called getting carted for sex and it'sanother pep heave of mine, just about consent laws kind of how we treat younger women sexuality inparticular. I never forget the first time I realized just how nutty people could get over the idea of teengirls actually choosing and wanting to have sex. I was watching an opera a while back when Dr. Phil[0:12:33] ____ Self Help Empire, was a regular; he was discussing the problem of teenage sex. Therewas one 17 year old on the show talking about how she and her boyfriend had oral sex. She was superarticulate and smart and made her position very clear. She said that she had been with her boy friendfor a long time and they loved each other but weren't ready for intercourse, so they decided to haveoral sex instead. Dr. Phil ripped into her like a maniac saying, a friend doesn't ask you to go inside thebathroom, get on your knees in a yearn splattered tile floor and stick their penis in your mouth. The girllooked over to her mom and said, that's not what happened to me. But she was ignored.But insults and scare tactics against teen sex are part for the course these days. One conservativeChristian group focus on the family, so concerned about teens having sex that it came out with a study,a very dubious one obviously, concluding that having sex before you are 18 makes you more likely tobe poor and divorced. I suppose I have a life of poverty struck in solitudes to look forward and thatmaster's degree I have must be a mistake of some sort. And just to give you some perspective on this,focus on the family also made a public statement that accused the cartoons Sponge Bob Square Pants ofpromoting homosexuality in children. Yeah, just say get an idea where they are coming from. Nomatter how smart and straight up you are but wanting to have sex, if you are choosing it, you aremaking a mistake that could ruin your life where you are a big whore, done and done. It's no wonderthat so many people would rather think of teen girls as victims, unable to wrap their poor little headsaround the complexities of sexuality.I think I am going to leave it at that and take some questions if you guys have any.