Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Reposted from Elsewhere: Review

I felt a self-referential phase coming on, so it may be useful for readers who give a flying fuck to read this old review of Ellie Levenson's 2009 seminal work on feminism in the 21st century, previously published only in a magazine so small and inconsequential that I don't believe I even got hold of a copy myself. 

Nice to see how I have mellowed since then, and no longer feel obliged to constantly pour out my wrath against my journalist sisters, who are after all guilty only of poor writing and of wanting to make a very fast buck.

Review: ‘The Noughtie Girl’s Guide to Feminism’ (from October 2009)

Ellie Levenson combines a Cosmo-magazine-style layout with a frothy, non-confrontational approach in ‘The Noughtie Girl’s Guide to Feminism’, aimed at young women with no previous experience of feminism. The overwhelmingly negative reviews of the guide have tended to focus on her more shocking advice, such as this gem – ‘If you have decided you won’t [sleep with him], then why let him buy you dinner in the first place?[1]- and Levenson’s needlessly provocative and shallow defence of ‘rape jokes’.

However the real danger of the book is in its uninformed and grossly simplified reinterpretation of feminism. Levenson goes so far as to brag about her own complete ignorance of feminist history and theory –‘Wikipedia named sixty-six second wave feminists. I had heard of six.’[2] While it is of course not necessary to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the women’s movement to be a feminist, a beginner’s guide to feminism should at least touch on the subject. Levenson has surely underestimated even her target audience of chick-lit-reading Spice-Girl-loving wannabe feminists in this rambling collection of anecdotes and half-baked analysis which constantly reinforces negative images of old-school bra-burning feminists without offering any solid alternatives.

Instead, Levenson defines feminism as ‘having real choices and demanding equality’, and her book describes a feminism based on capitalist consumer choice. Thus intrinsically flawed from the start, it is no wonder that she is unable to satisfactorily answer any of the questions a young feminist might ask. Her refusal to extend her subject matter outside of her own life experience makes the book useless for anyone who is not a young white married middle-class London-based journalism teacher (and presumably intolerably boring for those who are).  An accessible guide to feminism for young women is a great idea but this narrow-minded approach to British women’s experience adds insult to injury. Read this book only if you are self-hating, devoid of all empathy, and think that feminism is something you can pick and choose from the great salad bar of Western patriarchal society.

[1] Levenson, p. 59
[2] Levenson, p. xvi

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

‘Wikipedia named sixty-six second wave feminists. I had heard of six.’

Wikipedia names forty-two functional analysts. I have heard of seventeen (and met one).

Wikipedia names thirty-nine statisticians whose surnames begin with the letter 'G'. I have heard of four.

Wikipedia names thirty-two towns in Cumbria. I have heard of one, Kendal.

I'm not sure what her point is here. Is this a criticism of second-wave feminists for being too numerous or just too obscure?

The only thing this seems to prove is that Wikipedia is compiled by a large number of obsessively thorough people?