Book Review: Full Frontal Feminism

Welcome back to the last entry in my holiday book-giving guide! Don’t worry, I’ll still be reviewing books, but just won’t be able to call them holiday reviews. My first two reviews can be found here and here, and if you want gift ideas that go beyond books, check out my last-minute feminist gift guide.

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The original cover for Full Frontal Feminism. Thank goodness they changed it for the second edition!

Today I’m looking at Jessica Valenti’s Full Frontal Feminism. In this 2007 book, Valenti tackles many of the issues facing today’s young feminists, examining things like double standards, double binds, structural obstacles, internalized misogyny, and regular old sexism.

The good

Valenti packs an impressive amount of information into one book, citing studies, laws, and pop culture events and explaining the issues surrounding them in clear, easily understandable language. She skillfully makes connections between tangible things like restrictions on reproductive rights and their theoretical implications, such as the assumption that women need other people to make decisions about sex for them or that women’s bodies are supposed to be under the control of men.

When Valenti does occasionally (gently) chide her readers for buying into the patriarchal norms, she does so with a tone of concern and encouragement, not faulting. She places the blame for things like women’s preoccupation with weddings squarely on the heads of the industries that profit from these societal norms, and manages to point out the misogyny inherent in these rituals without coming across as too harsh or ranty (and since we feminists do love a good harsh rant, I’m especially impressed by her ability to avoid it!). Readers will leave this book feeling educated and inspired, not lectured.

The bad

There’s not really much “bad” to say about Valenti’s book. She puts in an effort to address gay and lesbian issues, and while she doesn’t thoroughly delve into issues of race and class, she does mention them often as factors in oppressive structures. I was a little disappointed that intersectionality was relegated to a short chapter at the end, and presented more as “academic” than as lived reality, but I also admire Valenti’s commitment to including it at all (especially in a book that is obviously marketed as more “pop” feminism than academic).

While she does occasionally use anti-feminist jokes and language in an effort to be edgy or humorous, she doesn’t do it nearly to the extent that Caitlin Moran did in How to be a Woman. My one complaint about the book is that Valenti’s attempts to sound hip through slang and cursing get tired pretty quickly. However, since I’m a little older than her target audience, I may not be the best judge of that.

The ugly

Well, I was going to comment on the cover of the book, which features a thin, naked, white female torso (even though book titles and covers often have more to do with the publisher than the author). However, the revised edition of the book, published this year, has a much less offensive cover.

Basically, the “ugly” surrounding Valenti’s book is the same kind of “ugly” that surrounds a majority of popular feminist books. This is a book by and for white feminists. While Valenti tries to acknowledge intersections of race and class, as a white feminist herself, she can’t truly address those issues. These are issues within the current feminist movement well beyond just one book. And I’m not going to try to address them in this review, although as a white feminist myself, I’m going to try to address them in the future (one of my New Year’s resolutions is actually to educate myself about these issues).

Whose stocking should it go in?

Well, I’m posting this review on Christmas Eve, so the book is probably not making its way into any stockings! However, I’d absolutely recommend this book for a high school girl who’s interested in feminism (especially because it was recommended to me by some of my students – hi Maia and Sarah!).

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5 responses to “Book Review: Full Frontal Feminism

  1. I wrote a lot of my masters dissertation on this book. It drives me crazy! Although it was one of the first feminist books I ever owned and I loved it at the time. Have you read ‘He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut, and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know’ by Valenti? I recommend you read it just because of how unbearably annoying it is. It’s an entire book of comparisons that doesn’t offer any practical solution to overcome double standards. She just flippantly declares the situation is shit and the patriarchy sucks.

    Also did you see the argument between her and Nina Power? In ‘One Dimensional Woman’, Power has a go at Valenti, saying she’s as radical as a diamante phone cover (haha) and that pop/liberal feminism ignores collective action and structural explanations for inequality. Then the internet exploded and Valenti wrote an essay in response. It’s all rather amusing, but also interesting in terms of academic versus popular/activist feminism.

    Oooo – have you read ‘The noughtie girl guide to feminism’? I read it over Christmas and I think it’s literally the worst book I’ve ever read. Please read it just so I can read your review.

    Anyway, rambling over. My viva is in two weeks and I’m seriously procrastinating 🙂

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    • I am SO glad you feel the same way that I do – sometimes I feel like I’m being too negative about the books that I review. I haven’t read the Noughtie Girl Guide – totally going to put it on my list though b/c it sounds pretty much right up my alley. I thought Power’s insults towards people like Valenti began to sound a little high-school after a while, but I’d love to read Valenti’s response. The irony is that I’m working on a book proposal and it’s REALLY HARD to figure out how to avoid all of these pitfalls!

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      • Ooo how exciting – what’s your book on?

        Yeah the Noughtie Girl Guide says that rape isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a woman. “It’s just a penis after all.”

        Also, I gleefully looked up Laurie Penny’s review of it and it’s actually relatively nice. Apparently Levinson was some sort of feminist mentor to her and Penny didn’t want to be too harsh.

        I actually emailed Nina Power last year and she replied to loads of questions.

        Just tried to find the Valenti response and it’s been deleted! And I haven’t saved it! Unbelievable. It was a great argument too because Nina Power kept appearing in the comments with intellectual comebacks.

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  2. Pingback: Feminist gift guide / Reading list | I was a high-school feminist·

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