Jessica Valenti, one of the bloggers at feministing.com, asserts in her book Full Frontal Feminism, that there are many women who are feminists but don’t know it yet. We all have colleagues and friends that we “know” are feminists, but they preface their feminist comments with,”I’m not a feminist, butâ€¦.” Valenti will convince these folks where we haven’t. Within the first chapter of the book, if not the introduction itself, Valenti will have the most closeted feminist questioning her or his fear of the word”feminist.” Valenti holds out the promise that feminism, when separated from its negative connotations, gives women both the vocabulary and tools to assert an equal place in society.
Upon initial read, Valenti’s less-than-scholarly tone is misleading; she seems dismissive of “high feminism” (our term) – the feminist ideas that undergird the equality jurisprudence of the 1970s and 1980s. But by writing in a more conversational style, Valenti makes her words serve her – dare we say? – theory. Valenti’s basic thesis that all women can (and should) be feminists, that feminism is not dead, and that feminism is for everyone, not just impact litigators and academics. Feminist legal scholars will want to take note of work like Valenti’s. Most of the new ideas in feminism are coming out of culture work, not law review articles.
One of Valenti’s most amusing claims is that feminists have better sex (presumably with each other as well as non-feminists). Feminism, she says, allows women to be more knowledgeable about and accepting of their own bodies. We like this idea. We can see the t-shirts now – “Feminists Do It Better.” But if Valenti is correct (and gee, how to study that one empirically?), what does one make of Catharine MacKinnon’s assertion that”sex inequality takes the form of gender; moving as a relation between people, it takes the form of sexuality”? In some sense, Full Frontal Feminism is a (non-explicit) response to MacKinnon’s concept of false consciousness: we really know what we’re doing and it is really fun.
Valenti, like many other young feminist writers (e.g., Walker, Baumgardner), claims control of her sexuality and the power she derives from it. Valenti asserts that sexuality can take a “feminist” form, but she does not fully explain what this means. Is it soft, nurturing feminist sexuality a la Robin West (nod to Janet Halley’s critique), or is it a strap-on sort of feminism? How does a “feminist” sexuality differ from other sexualities?
Call in the theorists. And do some field work while you’re waiting.
-Amanda Kissel and Bridget Crawford