I apologize for the lack of entries in the past week – presentation-writing followed by a computer meltdown and trip to Belfast took up all of my time!
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I’ll be reviewing several popular feminist books, just in case you’re looking for some feminist-style stocking stuffers for the people in your life. (Or, in the case of this review, a VERY last-minute Hannukkah gift!)
This week, I’m looking at “Sexy Feminism” by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong and Heather Wood Rudulph. In their book, Armstrong and Rudulph tackle issues similar to those found in the average glossy women’s magazine – plastic surgery, hair removal, fashion, makeup, sex, diets, and careers. The text is interspersed with personal anecdotes, mini-listicles, and “Sexy Feminist Action Plans,” all of which contribute to the breezy, magazine-like feel of the book.
Armstrong and Rudulph obviously tried to cover a lot of topics from multiple perspectives. They provide backgrounds of the various issues they discuss in order to give readers an idea of the context of the issues facing women today. For example, they look at the history of makeup as a class signifier, as a form of rebellion, or as a way for women to control something in their lives when they feel that they have little control over other things. They profile makeup companies that were founded by women and others that are involved in feminist causes, and they warn the reader about potentially dangerous makeup ingredients. Throughout their explorations, they make a conscious effort not to judge individual choices or to offend anybody.
The authors work SO hard to not offend anyone that they sometimes end up not making much of a point at all. While I appreciate that they tried not to prescribe narrow feminist “rules” to the reader, their lack of conviction sometimes comes across as a cop-out. At times it seems as if the purpose of the book is simply to make women feel better about or justify the kinds of choices they were going to make anyway. Furthermore, they’ve tried to cover so many sides of each issue that they don’t have a chance to go very in-depth into most of them. Each chapter ends with advice that has been repeated a million times over in self-help books and magazines: “Don’t give in to fads” at the end of a chapter on dieting, or “Splurge on long-lasting investment pieces […] Buy your everyday staples […] for cheap” at the end of the chapter on fashion. The idea of a “feminist action plan” to wrap up each chapter is a great one, but these seem tacked-on.
I cringed when I got to the “Sexy Feminist Reading List” at the end of the book and realized that it contains no women of color. To its credit, the list includes a few queer women and a book on feminism for men, but it’s disappointing and a bit embarrassing that the recommended reading simply reproduces the face of white, middle-class feminism that the third wave was meant to be changing.
The most frustrating part of all of this is that when I got to the afterword of the book, I realized that Armstrong and Rudulph really do understand the importance of activism and political involvement. The last few pages of the book provide resources for getting involved with charities that support children and victims of violence, that fight for abortion rights, that work to alleviate global poverty, and that champion environmental causes. While I totally do understand that it’s the “sexy” version of feminism that’s going to sell, and that the magazine-buying crowd would prefer to read about, I wish that they had been able to work these ideas of political consciousness into the rest of the book.
Whose stocking should it go in?
“Sexy Feminism” would make a great gift for a high-school girl, college woman, or young professional who seems more interested in fashion and dating than in rights and freedoms. The book is mild enough that it won’t turn her off from feminism, contains some interesting information on various women’s issues, and may even encourage her to think more carefully about the decisions she makes on a day-to-day basis.
Interested? Purchase the book here.