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The Female Thing by Laura Kipnis and Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti

By fff | Books | September 11, 2009 |

By fff | Books | September 11, 2009 |

I just have to admit it: I am not good at picking non-fiction books. I picked up The Female Thing: Dirt, Sex, Envy, Vulnerability and Full Frontal Feminism mostly because I thought, why not? The Female Thing interested me because the author, Laura Kipnis, wrote another book that was a polemic against romantic love and attachment, which I find intriguing. Full Frontal Feminism is by Feministing’s Jessica Valenti, and like the blog, is an attempt to talk about feminist issues to a young audience; unfortunately, that ‘young’ audience doesn’t include me.

Let’s start with the worst. The Female Thing uses the four topics of the subtitle — dirt, sex, envy, and vulnerability — as a ‘map’ to the female psyche. And, already, it’s got points against it, because I really hate anything that pigeonholes men or women into certain boxes. Sure, we can talk about general patterns, but anytime anyone says ‘guys are just like x’ or ‘women are just like x’ their generalizations are severely limited by their own self-fulfilling perceptions. If you’re a woman who thinks that all women love shopping, high heels and makeup, and those things are their greatest concerns, you’re probably not going to have many women friends who hate those things, thus, you have no counter examples from your own life to disprove your shitty thesis. If you’re a man who thinks that all men talk negatively about women and call them ‘bitches’ and ‘cunts,’ men who find that abhorrent aren’t really going to strike up a friendship with you — so you can look around at your troglodyte drinking buddies and say ‘See, that’s just the way men are,’ despite the many men who are not like that.

Not that Laura Kipnis is interested in actually investigating ideas with an open mind — no, she’d rather just ramble her way through a book that reads like intellectual bulimia — she overstuffed herself on Camille Paglia and had to regurgitate something ugly onto her computer screen. Flip to almost any page, and you’ll get some eye-roll inducing ridiculous anti-woman myth repackaged as ‘just telling it like it is.’ Penis envy, women being obsessed with cleanliness (and men as incompetent oafs), women as constant naggers, women only interested in sex to control men, women as catty bitches towards other women — all this crap, pretending to be edgy and new instead of the same old turds.

Now, on to the not-so-great: Full Frontal Feminism might be useful to a young person just starting to acknowledge sexism and misogyny in our society. It’s certainly more useful in that regards than the overly glib It’s a Jungle Out There. Yet, it still seems to concern itself too much with sex — specifically that young women know that it’s OK for them to enjoy sex, that a double standard exists, and that they’re not sluts or whores for wanting to hook up. Yes, that’s true, and it’s an important message for women to hear — but it’s just part of the picture. What about women who feel pressured to be sexual all the time? I’m not just talking about sexual assault or rape, but the increasing pressure on young women and girls to be sexxxayyy in every situation. What about women who aren’t straight? Oh, they get a bone thrown to them — a lip service sentence at the end of pages about straight sex. What about women who don’t want to be women, or weren’t born as women? They don’t really exist in the world of this book. I’m not saying that everything written about gender has to acknowledge every person’s experience of it, but at least acknowledge the fact that you’re talking about a specific segment of women — middle-class, U.S., straight, pretty, young women.

The only other thing I have to say about this book is that I pretty much forgot it the moment I put it into the book drop. Maybe it will be useful to some young women, and it’s surely better than the self-impressed Kipnis’ verbal diarrhea, but I was not impressed. I’m done with this pop feminism crap — I’m either staying away from feminist books, or going back to the big texts - de Beouvoir, Firestone, Wollstonecraft. They may not be light reads, but they won’t make me want to throw something.

Well fucking said, fff. — DR

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of fff’s reviews, check the blog.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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