What’s with the cover, the title printed across a woman’s bare torso?
I’ve taken a lot of shit about the cover—somebody called me a patriarchal whore. But let’s face it, no young woman is going to pick up a book with the woman’s symbol with a fist on it.
I bought this book at the relatively tender age of 22. And while I've written tangentially about that purchasing decision here, I think I should fill you in on some details I left out.
As many of you know, I was brought up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, better known as the Mormon church. For instilling patriarchy in young women, it's a tough church to beat, though certainly there are plenty of contenders. A conversation I had with my Seminary instructor at the age of 16 will suffice to illustrate my point, however:
Me: Brother Searle, can I ask you a question?
That smug asshole, Brother Searle: Shoot!
Me: You said that in the Celestial Kingdom men will have multiple wives.
TSABS: Now, hold on--that's not official Church doctrine. It's just what many elders of the church think likely.
Me: Do you?
TSABS: It seems like this is bothering you, Ilyka. Does it seem unfair to you, perhaps?
Me: Heck yes it does.
TSABS: Well, let me ask you a question: If you're trying to raise chickens, how many roosters do you need?
Me: [stunned horror at realization that Seminary teacher is comparing people to fucking chickens]
TSABS: [smirk to end all smirks]
TSABS: So, you see.
But the thing was, I didn't see. I didn't immediately walk out of the Seminary building vowing never to set foot in it again. I didn't tell That Smug Asshole, Brother Searle, that his analogy was perfect only in the sense that indeed, he WAS a worthless cock.
Even though I left the church not too long after that conversation, a lot of Bad Ideas about how women are, how men are, and how women should be (but never how men should be) stayed in my system for YEARS afterwards as a result of my religious upbringing. You don't shed that skin all at once or overnight. It all bleeds out slowly. Especially if you're me and you're a little dumb-n-naive to begin with.
By 22, I hadn't been a Mormon for years. But I still felt that women should be gentle, kind, nurturing, and all that happy horseshit. I still felt that my relationship problems, which included a fractured nose and a black eye or two for lucky winner me, were 90% my fault.
I still endeavored to be: Pretty, gay (in the lighthearted and jovial sense), accommodating, gracious, generous, empathetic, cheerful, sparkly, fun, and, yes, sexy. I was as in the game as a young woman could be.
And I remember the first time I saw this cover in the bookstore.
--except it didn't say "Search Inside!" on top of it, BUT ANYWAY, MY POINT.
Yes. I saw that cover and I thought something like, "Holy shit, that's harsh. War? There's a war on us? It seems so extreme."
So naturally I had to pick it up to see what this crazy shit was about an undeclared war against American women. I mean, A WAR! Fantastic! Unbelievable! Preposterous!
And I read:
To be a woman in America at the close of the 20th century--what good fortune. That's what we keep hearing, anyway. The barricades have fallen, politicians assure us. Women have "made it," Madison Avenue cheers. Women's fight for equality has "largely been won," Time magazine announces. Enroll at any university, join any law firm, apply for credit at any bank. Women have so many opportunities now, corporate leaders say, that we don't really need equal opportunity policies. Women are so equal now, lawmakers say, that we no longer need an Equal Rights Amendment. Women have "so much," former President Ronald Reagan says, that the White House no longer needs to appoint them to higher office. Even American Express ads are saluting a woman's freedom to charge it. At last, women have received their full citizenship papers.
And yet . . .
Behind this celebration of the American Woman's victory, behind the news, cheerfully and endlessly repeated, that the struggle for women's rights is won, another message flashes. You may be free and equal now, it says to women, but you have never been more miserable.
Holy shit, I thought, that's true. That's what they say, in the women's magazines, on the news, in the movies--
And I kept reading for a couple more pages and then I motherfucking bought that book, me the beat-up ex-Mormon girl, me the mousy little codependent.
And I can tell you that I have changed a great deal since I was 22, and I can cheerfully admit that society also has changed a great deal since I was 22, and I can freely confess as well that I don't hang out with young people, that I'm 37 going on 38 and I spend more time kvetching that I don't get the kids these days than I do asking them what they think, what matters to them, what do they love, what do they hate. I am a grumpy old lady, that's certain. I am out of touch.
But I'm also dead certain that I would have recoiled from the cover of Full Frontal Feminism with a sneer of disgust and a pang of anxiety (my body doesn't look like that!) at 22. Unconsciously, I was searching for something that would help me make sense of my sex, and the last, I mean THE last thing I needed, was the cover of Cosmopolitan and the implied sexual availability in the title. I was already trying to look good for The Man, I was already making myself sexually available to The Man, I was trying so hard, and I was failing, and I was miserable, and I blamed myself, and I didn't know why, if women were so free, life seemed so fucking hard.
I respect Jessica Valenti--no, I admire her. Hugely. And I've got a link on the front page of Feministing, and I couldn't be more humbled-but-proud to have it. She's tons sharper at 28 than I was. Feministing is an invaluable feminist resource, and Jessica doubtless knows her audience better than I do.
But I hate, hate, hate that cover. And I find that defense of it--that young women need to be marketed to in the very same way women's magazines do it--offensive.
By the way, here's the last feminist book I bought, even though it clearly wasn't intended for my generation either. Gosh, I sure hope that defiant-looking young woman on the cover didn't scare off any of her peers.
Grumpy old lady OUT.
UPDATE: Recuerda, las mujeres jóvenes no les gusta el símbolo femenino con un puño:
First off this is my tattoo (Click here) I’m assuming all of you shall know what it is but for those few who read this and don’t It is the symbol for being a feminist.
I knew I wanted a tattoo, I’ve wanted one since I was a child even before I really knew what a tattoo was, I knew that having stuff drawn on my skin intrigued me and I always saw it as having a work of art on you forever. So I basically started counting down the days tell I would turn 18 and finally the day came.
I turned 18 on April 9th [this year--ed.]. Getting my tattoo was one of the bonuses of finally being legal besides being able to vote. (which had me completely giddy with joy and I sent out for my voters registration card a week before my birthday so I would have it as soon as possible) But anyway the tattoo was what I was looking forward to on my birthday.
I won't hotlink the photo of Elizabeth's tattoo--how rude would that be?--but I hope she doesn't mind if I reproduce it here:
Anyway the kids don't like it, that symbol, because it is so old-fashioned and ugly. They would never buy it.
WHAT'S THIS? ANOTHER UPDATE?: Yeah. So, it's like this: What I'd like to tell you, I can't really tell you, because it'd be betraying a confidence and I'm kind of big on my policy of not doing that.
But it's like this: You know how sometimes something will get buzz and media play, and then the person it was about, they are like, "Hey, I was quoted out of context?" And then, if you hold that person in low esteem, you sneer and go, "Sure you were, buddy--sure you were." But if you hold that person in high esteem--well, nowadays, you go search up the complete transcript on the internet and see for yourself. But if you can't do that, you probably think, "Yeah, that does happen," and you believe that person.
Have I mentioned that I hold Jessica Valenti in high esteem?
And there's another factor in this purely hypothetical situation, which is that feminists get this treatment from the media all the time. "Andrea Dworkin (or Catharine Mackinnon) said all sex is rape." "Margaret Sanger founded Planned Parenthood to promote eugenics." You know the drill.
But I have to say, I'm pretty overall pleased with the comments, because the people who come here and drop me a line, they get it. This hasn't turned into a down-with-Jessica referendum. It's turned instead to what I think is the big question: How do we turn this around? How do we fix it so the next blogging feminist to publish a book doesn't get shoved between a rock and a hard place?
That's a discussion worth having.