I don’t know about you, but when I’m facing a polar vortex, the only thing I really want to do is snuggle up under the covers with a book. The most recent one I’ve read is Julie Zeilinger’s A Little F’d Up. I was particularly excited to read this book since it is aimed at young women in their teens, a group that is woefully underrepresented in published feminism.
In this book, Zeilinger, founder of The F Bomb, energetically tackles all kinds of issues facing women and feminists today.
Zeilinger packs an immense amount of information into her book. She starts with the history of feminism, detailing the actions of “badass” feminists throughout the various waves. She then moves on to feminism’s “PR problem,” as she terms it, followed by a chapter on how feminism benefits men as well (and how men can benefit feminism).
One issue I thought Zeilinger covered particularly well was the internet’s role in girls’ lives. She discusses the ever-present threat of bullying (a topic that has been extensively talked about in media), but she also takes time to address the less-concrete issue of gendered performance, where girls feel like they have to be “perfect” both online and off.
Zeilinger also makes sure to include a section on global feminism, including sex trafficking, FGM, and female infanticide / sex-selective abortions. Her list of resources at the end of the book tries to be pretty comprehensive, and she helpfully takes the time to briefly describe the books and websites that she’s recommending.
(Also, bonus points for including the story of Eris and the start of the Trojan War; while I don’t think her conclusion that “girls have been trying to tear each other down” since the beginning of time is necessarily the best feminist message to take from that story, the nerd in me loves that she included it).
I guess my one big complaint about the book speaks partly to its strengths. Personally, I found it hard to stay focused on the book because there was SO MUCH INFORMATION. Zeilinger admirably tries to at least touch upon dozens of issues facing feminism today; unfortunately, the structure of the book comes across as a little jumbled. There are also places where her analysis seems to fall into broad generalizations.
Furthermore, Zeilinger’s tone, at times, seems a little disparaging of those who do buy into gender roles or anti-feminist behavior. She often talks about how, at various points in her life, she did not participate in those behaviors or understand them. While I definitely understand the feeling, as someone who was often confused by or oblivious to “girl” behaviors, Zeilinger’s repeated statements about how “worried” she was about her peers in middle school made me feel a little defensive of girls who, at some point in their lives, bought into gender roles (or continue to do so). Her criticism of girls who participate in certain behaviors sometimes comes across as unnecessarily snarky; this criticism might have been better aimed at the structures that make these behaviors seem desirable .
I can’t tell if I’m being oversensitive to issues of race in the books I’m reviewing, or if it is a point worth addressing again and again. Zeilinger brings up something that I think a lot of white, cis, hetero, middle-class feminists feel: her feelings of inadequacy at being unable to authentically address issues of race or class. She does an admirable job of explaining that she understands that it’s nobody’s job to educate her, but that she does wish there were more genuine representations of people of color in the media. (Although her statement that she wishes she “at least had an idea of what it’s like to be a person of color, or a person of a different class, in our society” comes across as a bit tone-deaf).
In her “current feminist you need to know” series in her chapter on internet feminism (divided into the good, the bad, and the ugly… guess my format isn’t that original, huh?), she makes sure to include a Black feminist and an Asian feminist alongside two white feminists. She is also very aware of her privileged position, and stresses the need for more intersectional feminists to have a voice.
I guess I have this filed under “The Ugly” more about popular feminism in general than about this particular book, and largely because I’m looking to write a book on feminism. Even though my dissertation was about how the last thing we need is another privileged white feminist writing books about privileged white feminists, that’s pretty much what my book will likely end up being. Talk about cognitive dissonance! I’m trying to figure out ways to make it less so, but I am very worried about falling into the same pitfalls as the books I’ve been reviewing.
Who will enjoy it?
This book would be a great resource for a teenager who’s looking to get into feminism. Zeilinger covers enough topic to give any reader a solid foundation in feminist issues that the reader can then use as a jumping-off point to learn about more specific issues in-depth.