Valenti, Jessica. Full Frontal Feminism. Seal Press, 2007. 269p. Grades 9 and up. Non-fiction.
With a blunt, brash tone, this self-proclaimed “guide to why feminism matters” breaks down the major tenets of the feminist movement and attempts to explain to young women why they should care about the issues facing 21st century women. Each chapter deals with a specific topic (ranging from sex to reproductive rights to the beauty industry) and presents both anecdotal and research-based information on each one. While there is often a heavy left-leaning bias, the information given is relevant, fact-driven, and accurate, and the book not only covers current trends in pop culture but also touches on feminist theory and the history of the feminist movement in America.
Thoughts- I picked this book primarily because of its title—you can’t get much more “in-your-face” (without resorting to obscenities) than calling something “full frontal.” I appreciated the humor in that and the subversion inherent in titling a book about feminism with a reference to pornography. I also found that the subject matter, and the author’s attempt to persuade young women of the importance of the feminist movement (and of actually calling yourself a feminist) spoke to me on a personal level; on the other hand, I felt like I was stepping out of my comfort zone some because I really do not enjoy reading informational non-fiction. I like my non-fiction to be narrative-driven—memoirs, stories about historical events, really well-done biographies—not chapter after chapter of statistics and facts. This book managed to hold my attention, primarily because of its tone and humor. The first-person narration and emphasis on current events (well, current in 2007) were engaging, and I liked some of the more shock-value elements Valenti uses. Additionally, the book is very, very well-researched—there are twelve pages of references at the end and an entire section on further resources for learning more about the feminist movement. I appreciated the quality of the research, especially when juxtaposed with the extremely casual, sometimes flippant, tone of the book.
As much as I enjoyed this book, I do see some significant flaws in it, particularly in terms of teen readership. One, it is so politically biased. Admittedly, feminism is liberal issue, but the personal diatribes about President Bush and religion seemed to go too far…even for this bleeding-heart. I think if you present the facts about legislation during the Bush years and the positions different church groups take on feminist issues then you don’t need to make personal attacks—the facts speak for themselves. I felt like Valenti was lowering herself and weakening her argument by being so vitriolic. Two, I think the book is itself conflicted on the issue of beauty and sex appeal. Valenti vacillates wildly between arguments for body-positivity/acceptance and “just because I’m a feminist doesn’t mean I’m not hot.” Most women have difficulty with these issues, so I think the book’s conflict is totally understandable, but it made me just a bit uncomfortable. Third, and I’m going to be very blunt here, the word “fuck” (in addition to just about every other curse word you can think of) is EVERYWHERE in this book. I wasn’t particularly offended by it, and I get that Valenti is trying to be edgy, but I did find it problematic. Many readers would be put off by the language in this book, especially because it often seems gratuitous. What if you want to be a feminist, but don’t like those words? Does that mean you can’t your activism on? I think a more careful use of language would really have helped Valenti’s argument because lots of readers are going to not even give this book a chance due to the rampant use of obscenities.
Overall, I found Full Frontal Feminism an engaging book that really packs a lot of information into an interesting, current package. It covers all of the major issues of the feminist movement in a fun and accessible way—it was kind of like taking an Intro to Women’s Studies class from a super politically charged stand-up comic[*]. I do see it as having a more specific audience than maybe the author intended, but I also think that the audience it does find will eat this book up.
[*] I particularly loved the humor of the chapter titles and the little illustrations of message T-shirts at the beginning of each chapter. Chapter 9, “I Promise I Won’t Say ‘Herstory’,” and its accompanying shirt, “Ask Me About Bra Burning,” were my favorites.