Is This What It’s Come To?: Sexy Feminism by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong and Heather Wood Rudulph

Sexy Feminism by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong and Heather Wood Rudulph sexy feminism

Published: March 12th 2013 by Mariner Books

Source: ARC from Publisher

Synopsis (Goodreads): Not your mother’s feminism! A humor-filled action plan for an accessible, cool, and, yes, even sexy brand of 21st-century feminism

A Mariner Original Paperback

Feminism can still seem like an abstract idea that is difficult to incorporate into our hectic, media-saturated, modern lives, but Jennifer Keishin Armstrong and Heather Wood Rudúlph show how the everyday things matter. In an age when “concern-trolling,” “slut-shaming,” and “body-snarking” are blogosphere bywords, when reproductive rights are back under political attack, and when women are still pressured to “have it all,” feminism is more relevant than ever.  For many young women the radicalism of the Second Wave is unappealing, and the “do me” and “lipstick” feminism of the Third Wave feels out of date. Enter Sexy Feminism. It’s an inclusive, approachable kind of feminism—miniskirts, lip gloss, and waxing permitted. Covering a range of topics from body issues and workplace gender politics to fashion, dating, and sex, Sexy Feminism is full of advice, resources, and  pop culture references that will help shape what being a feminist can look like for you.

My thoughts: It’s amazing that the blurb claims “do me” and “lipstick” feminism of the third wave feel out of date, when the image on the cover is one of parted, pouty, and glossed lips. Of course I can’t blame the authors for that, but what were the publishers thinking?

Reading this book gave me the hollow feeling that I had when reading MWF seeks BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend (which I reviewed here). I got what the authors were saying, but I couldn’t see myself actually being friends with them. In the end, their arguments were not only watered-down, but hypocritical (and not nearly as entertaining and funny as Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman, which I reviewed here).

I do think feminism is relevant, and yet I’m not immune to the allure of Clinque bonus time or a Kate Spade sale. Despite my personal taste in cosmetics and fashion, I think there are more pressing questions that feminism needs to address than whether bikini waxes are in line with feminist beliefs.  I’d like to think that the perspective of people of color and non-heterosexuals/non-cisgendered people would be considered in any feminist guide, and that rape culture and war should have their own chapters. These are the types of issues that I want the fourth wave to address. I don’t think feminism should be un-sexy; I think advocating for peace and consent is sexy. This response to “sexy feminism” in The Guardian sums up my feelings rather well (thinks to Anna at Big Sky Books for sharing it with me):

In my mind, if being sexy and funny are the two cornerstones of a new feminist movement, we may as well all pack up and go home now. At its core, feminism should be angry. It should be angry because women are still being taken for a ride…Feminism’s most basic function should be to emphasise that sexism is not an accident, but an inevitable consequence of a society structured to favour men. Jokes about vaginas and reassurances that we won’t have to give up lipstick are not enough. To put it bluntly, a new feminism should not be afraid to piss people off.

And by god, I’m gonna keep pissing people off. Because despite the improvements in women’s lives over the last 100 years, it’s still not enough. This guide is certainly not enough. We still have more pressing concerns than love, success, and style.

Dismantling patriarchy is hard work.  I get pissed off when my state legislators want to put extreme and illogical restrictions on abortion or mainstream news media act as if the tragedy of two football players convicted of rape is their derailed careers and not that they raped a girl and showed no remorse. If you talk about these types of issues, labels like “femi-nazi” and “loud-mouthed bitch” and “slut” are often thrown around. They stick, because they still reflect the dominant views in our culture.

I keep asking myself the same question young feminists routinely pose, as seen in a recent article in The Nation entitled “Battling Feminist Burnout”:

 How do you continue to do this work when it’s just so depressing?

Sexy Feminism does not contain the answer.

The only thing I know to do is to keep making feminism a part of the conversation, to challenge my own beliefs and those of others, and to help people personally through volunteering for my local domestic violence shelter where I answer the crisis hotline, work as an advocate for women in shelter, and present a program on teen dating violence prevention. There are lots of other organizations that do feminist work, and one thing I did like about this book is the list of them in an appendix.

Ultimately, this guide for “girls” is not something I’d recommend to anyone. Readers can find the same information for free on blogs and there is nothing particularly insightful about the way they present it.

Second opinions:

The New Republic: “There is always a need for books that encourage young women to embrace feminism and, in this regard, Sexy Feminism is a decent primer, reassuring young folk out there that they can enjoy fashion, have sex, and go on a diet without having their feminist membership card cut in two. But ultimately, it’s a book for girls, not women.”

Kirkus Review:  “The authors aim to “show young women how fun, empowering and, yes, sexy it is to fight for women’s rights and choices.” After a minihistory of feminism, they cover a variety of topics, including Brazilian wax jobs, plastic surgery, vanity and makeup, dieting, fashion, dating, the conundrum of working women, female friendships and feminism in the bedroom.”

7 thoughts on “Is This What It’s Come To?: Sexy Feminism by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong and Heather Wood Rudulph

  1. Nice review. This book’s subtitle seems so irrelevant to the main title which makes me think right off the bat that they’ve missed the point. It’s not that you can’t talk about love, success, and style from a feminist viewpoint, but they aren’t the first concepts I would think of when talking about feminism, sexy or not. They certainly wouldn’t rate the front cover to the exclusion of other more pressing concepts and issues. This kind of sounds like feminism for the “me” generation.

    1. Yes, “feminism for the ‘me’ generation’ seems about right. I knew I was probably going to have issues with this when I started, but still wanted to see if it could prove me wrong.

  2. Fantastic review! I’m always fascinated by discussions of modern feminism, and I really appreciate your points! Keep it up!

  3. Great discussion! I haven’t heard of this book until now either. Based on your review, I can’t say that it’s one I’ll likely read or recommend to anyone, unless as an example of how I see feminism being watered down, misused, or even co-opted. I really appreciated the quote you shared from The Guardian and your discussion following it. I think they both apply not only to feminism–but any ‘ism’. Things like sexism, racism, classism, etc. (all of which I believe intersect in how they operate in society) are not accidental, but a consequence of the structures and institutions we’ve created. Books like this don’t seem capable of moving these conversations and any action toward change forward.

  4. I haven’t heard of this book until now. Books like this always get under my skin. I applaud efforts to engage younger audiences with feminism, but it only distracts from the real issues to speak of “miniskirts, lip gloss, and waxing.” It’s about women’s ability to make free choices in our society and to live without oppressive stereotyping and discrimination. Lip gloss doesn’t matter.

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