Cannonball Read IV: Bitchfest by Lisa Jervis and Andi Zeisler
Bitchfest is a collection of different short pieces of writing published in Bitch magazine during the first ten years of its publication. It showcases many different writers through the magazines history, and the variety of writing styles, topics, and lengths lets the reader move at his or her own pace. Some pieces are one or two pages in length, and others are ten pages. The stories are organized into eight chapters, with themes ranging from gender identity and reviews of feminist theorists to feminist theory in mainstream media and representations of women in popular culture.
In many ways, Bitchfest is similar to Jezebel, Feministing, Crunk Feminist Collective, or other contemporary pop-culture infused feminist writing. However, I would argue that many of the pieces in Bitchfest are more hardcore feminist (and much less about pop culture) than the writing on Jezebel, less politically oriented than those on Feministing, and more inclusive than those on Crunk Feminist Collective (which I love, but is aimed at black women). Because Bitchfest is a collection of the work of many different writers, there are stories from many different feminist points of view - black, white, latina, asian, south-east asian, bi, queer, lesbian, trans, and many many more. I loved reading about all these different people and their views on feminism, what was important to them in their lives, and seeing the different faces of the feminist movement. I think that Bitchfest does a good job of representing a wide range of feminist views, and tried to be inclusive when considering the pieces in the collection.
I am a feminist, and I have many friends and acquaintances (male and female) that call themselves feminists as well. However, there are many more people in my life who may believe in equality between men and women, but don't do anything to promote feminism in their lives. According to bell hooks (one of my favorite feminist authors), feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression. I understand that not everyone wants to fight sexist oppression and exploitation every single day in their personal lives. For my part, I talk about feminism with my friends and family, discuss articles we've read, things we saw posted on Jezebel or other websites. My academic research relies heavily on feminist concepts and theories, so I usually rely on colleagues and mentors to discuss the heavier topics, but when I cannot, or when there is nobody to talk to, I read.
When I read feminist literature in my spare time, I look for well written prose that challenges me in some way. When I say prose that challenges me, I mean a piece of writing that provokes a debate (internal or external), illuminates a new facet of the feminist experience, or challenges my conception of feminism. For me, a piece of writing is thought provoking when I realize I've stopped reading, and have been sitting in my chair, wrapped up in my own thoughts for several minutes. When a piece of writing challenges me, I spend as much time thinking about what I've read as I do actually reading it (if not more). The writing in Bitchfest was snappy, intelligently written, and challenged me in several different ways.
Although there were dozens of pieces that stood out in the collection, I found myself coming back to one specific essay, days after I'd read it. The author discussed the simple act of saying "Hey guys" or "You guys" to a mixed gender group of friends, or even a group of women. She argued that the default setting of masculine pronouns undermines women's linguistic importance in society, and continued that we should condition groups of men to accept the greeting "hey ladies". While I didn't agree with the majority of her argument, and I don't have any particular problem with using the pronoun 'guys' for a mixed gender or all female group, her words stuck with me. I found myself using "Thank you ladies" or "Hello ladies" when addressing a group of women in the days after I read the essay. While I will not stop saying "you guys" the essay was certainly thought provoking and made me reconsider the impact of a single pronoun in my daily speech patterns.
All in all, I was extremely impressed with the collection. There were several essays that I didn't care for, but several of the pieces have remained fresh in my brain, even a few weeks after reading them. I was disappointed that there wasn't more writing on religion and feminism, although an essay about conservative Judaism and gender roles was particularly interesting. Although the title may be off-putting (a few male friends were somewhat disdainful) I think there's something to be gained by reading it, whether or not you call yourself a feminist.
For more of faquin's reviews, check out her blog, lefaquinreads.wordpress.com
This review is part of Cannonball Read IV. Read all about it.