I just noticed that Piny has posted a follow-up as well. Read hers, because it’s good, and it points to the very important and substantial criticism that I did not address in my initial post.
I’m still in DC and internet access is still limited because I’m running around doing family stuff, but apparently there’s been a wee explosion about my Full Frontal Feminism post (which I posted and promptly ran away from). I’ve pissed a lot of people off — and justifiably. I’m glad that so many people have shown up in the comments and on their own blogs and called me out. Various aspects of my first post were unfair and fucked up. I was trying to only focus on the nasty criticisms, but I ended up conflating the more substantive criticisms with the personal ones as I read and wrote. I unintentionally lumped a lot of the critics together — someone who calls Jessica a feminist Ann Coulter is not the same as someone who says that yet again, issues of women of color are being ignored. So I guess I just want to point out that I’m hearing your criticisms, and I’m grateful that you’re generous enough to take the time to write them all out. I’m genuinely sorry that my post has started a huge mess, and I’ll shoulder the blame for that, because I should have been much more careful with my words, my issues and my structure. The “see if you can write a better book than Jessica” thing was shitty, and I wish I could take it back. This post will probably not rectify all of those issues. I still do stand by much of what I wrote in the initial post. But hopefully this will allow me to flush out my thoughts a little bit more.
I have made some very public fuck-ups on this blog. I don’t think defending Jessica was a fuck-up, but I think my tone and some of my arguments were problematic. I’m not asking for anyone who is legitimately pissed off at me to just forgive and forget. I can understand that when you spend your whole life marginalized it’s especially frustrating and hurtful to be fucked over by someone who you thought was an ally. I understand that those wounds do not heal easily. I understand if there are many people who will use this incident to write me off entirely. That’s fair. I don’t deserve support or the benefit of the doubt simply for existing. I guess all I can say is that I’m trying — and I know that isn’t good enough, so I’m trying harder. I can guarantee that I will fuck up in the future. I may fuck up in this very post. I apologize for the things I got wrong this time around. I am trying to be a better ally, and to be more cognizant of my own privilege. I am very far from where I want to be in that respect, and I’m working on that. I’m a very bull-headed person and a very loyal person, and my first response when I feel attacked — or when I feel someone I care about is being attacked — is to come out with guns blazing. This is certainly not the first time I’ve regretted the harshness of my tone or the thoughtlessness of something I wrote. Apologizing is not particularly easy, and I think most people hate admitting that they messed up, but I can stand to do that here, because I’m realizing that as I’m digging my heels in to defend myself, I don’t even agree with what I’m saying. I want to be the kind of person who can admit when I’m wrong — and while I don’t think I was wrong on everything in that initial post, and while I still very much support Jessica and like her book and think that some of the criticisms are insubstantial and cruel, there were many things that I was wrong on. The primary thing I did wrong was to marginalize the voices of women of color and women who were making very fair criticisms of FFF. I contributed to a conversation dominated by white feminists and the interests of feminists like myself at the expense of women who are routinely pushed aside. I’m embarrassed by that. That is not the kind of feminist movement that I want to be a part of, let alone promote. So for that, I am genuinely sorry.
I do not expect to be treated with kid gloves when I screw up. As I wrote earlier, I am incredibly grateful that other people have responded to what I wrote, and have responded strongly — it’s not your job to teach me or to correct me, but I am learning from you. I need to do a lot more work on my own. But thank you for your generosity, and for engaging instead of giving up or writing women like me off as hopeless causes — and if you have written me off as a hopeless cause, then that’s my problem, and I’m sorry for the frustration, anger, and general irritation I’ve caused.
So I should clarify a few things. There are almost 200 comments so I’m not going to get to all of them, but I’ll try and hit the big ones, and clarify the issues that my initial post was weak on:
1. I am not saying that every criticism of Jessica’s book is invalid. I am saying that I take serious issue with the ones that attack her personally or that are unnecessarily nasty — like the ones that call her a feminist Ann Coulter. Those are the criticisms that I was primarily addressing in my post. I was not doing a full review of every criticism leveled at her. What inspired me to post was the nastiness of some of the criticisms, so that’s what the post was on. The argument that I should have covered every single criticism is fine, but that wasn’t the point of why I was writing — I wasn’t doing a round-up of critiques. Perhaps that’s what I should have done in the first place.
2. Just because I disagree with you doesn’t mean that I think your argument is invalid. From my privileged position as a middle-class educated heterosexual white girl, I think Jessica did a very good job of addressing issues of heteronormativity and racism within the feminist movement. Before reading her book, I knew that would be a criticism, so I read it and paid specific attention to how she took on those issues — and I was really impressed. However, I am a middle-class heterosexual white girl. I do trust women of color, queer women, low-income women, and women whose voices are otherwise marginalized to judge for themselves whether the issues that greatly affect them were properly covered. You all would know better than I would. So I’m not trying to tell other women that their issues were adequately covered and they should shut up. I’m not trying to say that Jessica tried and that’s good enough. I am saying that I read the whole book with these issues in mind, and I’m genuinely confused at the claims that she ignores issues that non-white non-hetero women face. But my questioning does not mean that I think other people are wrong. How can I? I think I know better than most white dudes when women are being excluded. I have no doubt that women of color or queer women know better than I do when they are being excluded.
3. That said, I feel like Jessica and Full Frontal Feminism have become lightning rods for much deeper feminist divides and issues. I’m not sure the problem is FFF — I think the problem is more a long history of exclusion, racism, heteronormativity, etc within the feminist movement and within society as a whole, and those issues are being hashed out on a smaller scale here. I think, unfortunately, that FFF is being used as a proxy for a slew of things that Jessica didn’t actually do, but which she appears to look like or represent.
4. So that’s why a lot of this strikes me as unfair. I think Jessica walked a very fine line between being inclusive and not co-opting the experiences of others. I do think that Maia made a good point about universalizing — writing about “younger women” as if they’re a monolith, and assuming her experience to be representative. I’m not even sure Jessica did that, but I can see the argument, and I can definitely see how lumping “young women’s issues” together can be problematic. I do think that Jessica made a big effort to be inclusive, though. I do also hear the arguments that it wasn’t enough, or that it wasn’t done properly — and I wonder if there’s any way to actually do it fully and properly. I get the feeling that the problem isn’t Jessica or FFF — it’s a long history of women of color and other traditionally marginalized groups of women being ignored and pushed aside, and FFF was expected to play into that narrative. I’m not sure, though, that FFF actually does (or at least to the extent that it’s being characterized as), and I find it troubling that the book is being used to lay out all these other issues which are incredibly complex, and which I’m not sure Jessica could have handled very much better than she did, given the book’s style, its target audience, and the identity of its author. Let me be clear that I think it’s great if the book is used as a jumping-off point for these wider and bigger issues — I just think it’s problematic when the book is assumed to be an illustration or microcosm of those issues.
5. There are serious race, class, sexuality, ability and other problems within the feminist movement. There are those problems within the supposed meritocracy of the blogosphere, and within the publishing industry. When I wrote about jealousy in the last post, I meant it — but not necessarily in the petty, undeserving sense. I’m jealous of Jessica. Shit, I wouldn’t mind a book deal! I can think of two dozen feminist bloggers who are great writers and whose books I’d buy in a heartbeat, but they aren’t talking to publishers. Now, I also haven’t pitched a proposal around to publishing companies, nor have I come up with some brilliant idea that I could turn into a book. But, if I did, I would have greater access to a publishing house and to a wide audience that women who are generally more socially marginalized than I am. That sucks. It’s shitty that the publishing world falls into these racial hierarchies. It’s not good enough to say, “It’s shitty, so deal with it.” But I’m not sure it’s fair to blame Jessica, who took an opportunity that she earned, for the systemic faults of our culture, of capitalism, and of the various industries and communities that we work in. And while it’s unfair to blame her, I can understand being jealous or even pretty irritated. I feel that way whenever another white boy liberal blogger gets a book deal or sits on a blogging panel, even though I know it’s not that he’s undeserving — it’s that there should be more people in general, including more women and more people of color, up there with him. And, again, lots of people weren’t blaming Jessica.
6. As for the substantive critiques of Jessica’s book, I’ll let her address those — because I’m not Jessica. By not linking to certain posts, I’m not trying to erase particular voices. I’m not trying to say that those voices are irrelevant. I said this in a comment on the other FFF post, but I found the sites I linked to through a BlogHer post and a google search. It was not an exhaustive search. Several of the posts I’ve been told I should have linked to didn’t come up in my very cursory, very limited perusal of the internets. Some that did come up I read, perhaps disagreed with (or not), and moved on. I linked to the ones that got under my skin — something I thought I made clear in the post. As I was writing, I was aware that Jessica was planning on responding to the more substantive critiques on Feministing. Given that I am not Jessica, and I don’t actually know the answers to many of the critiques, I didn’t have much to say about them. In hindsight, that was a mistake, and I’m sorry for not including other voices. Thankfully, piny is more sensitive and and intelligent than I am, and she has kindly cleaned up my mess a little bit by linking to the numerous people who are saying very important things about this book.
7. I remain bothered by the tone of some of the comments. The “empowerful” accusations — that Jessica is trying to tell us that high heels and lipstick are the keys to liberation — are complete crap. She flat-out does the opposite. She does not try and draw lines between those old dowdy feminists and the shiny new hot girls. I brought up the grim issue in my post because that was a criticism of Jessica — that she wasn’t taking feminism seriously enough, that feminism is a very serious social movement that isn’t about making your day-t0-day life better. I take issue with that characterization of feminism. If that’s your feminism, fine, no skin off my nose. Different strokes, etc. But I believe in a feminism which should make women’s lives better in the day-to-day. I don’t think it has to tell you that lipgloss is the key to female empowerment, but I think it can recognize that lipgloss is something you do for a variety of reasons, and that wearing it doesn’t have to be a feminist act for you to be a feminist — and that the woman who doesn’t wear it isn’t necessarily any more or less empowerful than you are. Jessica didn’t draw these lines in her book. She didn’t say that feminism is for the cute girls, or that the hairy-legged ugly chicks need to take a hike. I don’t have the book with me here, but she says something along the lines of, “If you’re a feminist, you’re going to be called ugly, fat and hairy. There’s nothing wrong with being ugly, fat or hairy. But ugly is powerful.” She recognizes the reality that being branded certain things — particularly, for many women, ugly — resonates. It matters. It can really shift behaviors, and it can scare younger women away from feminism. Is that dumb? Sure. But ignoring it isn’t helpful. Neither is saying that you aren’t like those ugly hairy feminists. Jessica does neither — she recognizes the reality without buying into the shitty belief system it perpetuates. So the whole “Jessica is a shallow hot feminist who is drawing lines between young hot chicks and old ugly feminist” definitely didn’t come from Jessica.
Which is why I’m getting the feeling that this is much more about who Jessica is (or who she’s perceived to be) than what she actually wrote. She’s young, heterosexual, pretty, educated, white, middle-class, fashionable, and engaged with popular culture — that means something in the wide world of feminism, and it’s assumed that she’s going to be approaching issues in a particular way because of that background. Which, to a point, is fair — she is coming in with a particular bias, as we all are. But I think the perceptions of that identity have overshadowed a lot of what she actually wrote. And those perceptions obviously come from somewhere, and the frustrations that stem from them are very real and very valid. We should be talking about that. But we should be doing it in a way that doesn’t personally attack Jessica. We should be talking about the fact that these issues are much, much bigger than her and than FFF. Thankfully, many people are talking about that. That should have been included in the initial post.
8. My central point in the previous post — and that one that I stand by — is that almost wherever you fall in the feminist world, Jessica Valenti is not your enemy. You may not agree with her. You may point out that she comes from a place of privilege. You may recognize that white heterosexual American middle and upper-class feminists continue to dominate feminist discourse, and continue to be offered more privileged spaces. White heterosexual middle and upper-class American feminists aren’t blameless for that, and they can certainly be criticized. But I really don’t think that Jessica was attempting to harm or marginalize anyone. I think she was conscious of these issues. She did not brush off the concerns of any feminists as irrelevant or silly. She may not have addressed every issue perfectly (or even adequately, as some have argued), but she did not only focus on her own tiny section of feminist theory. She did not write off the perspectives of all other feminists. She tried to avoid a lot of the traps that more privileged feminist women fall into. That’s why the personal attacks bother me so much — because, as much as you might not have written the same book that Jessica did, she was never cruel in writing it. She never tried to do any other feminist harm, and she made an effort (even if it was an imperfect one) to affirm a wide variety of perspectives. How she could have done that better is, of course, up for discussion. That discussion doesn’t have to be nicey-nicey, and we don’t have to make sure that no one’s feelings get hurt. Calls for “civility” are too often used to dilute perfectly justified anger and frustration, so I’m not calling for that. I’m not calling for an end to the criticism. To be clear, the majority of the discussion has been constructive — I’m certainly not arguing that everyone has been mean to Jessica and that she’s being totally oppressed. I was just astonished by the ones who were, and so that’s what I posted on, because I found it really depressing. Again, that was the point of my original post — to call out what I saw as unnecessary nastiness, not to do a full over-view of everything being written about Full Frontal Feminism.
That’s it. I’m looking forward to reading what Jessica has to say about the various critiques of her book. And I hope everyone will check out the links in piny’s post below, and read about the substantive issues being raised.