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BOOK REVIEW: Full Frontal Feminism, by Jessica Valenti July 11, 2008

Posted by Onely in book review, Reviews.
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Valenti, Jessica. Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters. Seal Press, 2007:

“Value yourself for what the media doesn’t–your intelligence, your street smarts, your ability to play a kick-ass game of pool, whatever. So long as it’s not just valuing yourself for your ability to look hot in a bikini and be available to men, it’s an improvement.”

Full Frontal Feminism‘s text skips along while it imparts knowledge–a rare enough combination. The book condenses the contents of a thirteen-page bibliography into colloquial prose, presenting vivid example after vivid example of why we all (women *and* men) need to identify as feminists and buck the ridiculous stereotype that feminists are always hairy-legged man-haters. (Not that it isn’t sometimes delightful to forego shaving for weeks on end during the winter.)  

Don’t open this book if strong (some would say “foul”) language offends you in and of itself. But if you’re ready for a dose of hard-core truth about women’s ongoing struggle to even the playing field with men, then you’ll love this book. Valenti speaks her mind, but her style is not so much “in-your-face” as, “Hey, you’re a smart reader–once I tell you this shocking story, you’ll have the awareness and incentive to do better, to change things”.

I remember when the media were ragging on Hillary Clinton because of her headbands. As a frequent headband wearer myself at the time, I felt indignant. I didn’t scale back on my headband-wearing, but when I did wear them, a niggling part of me wondered whether they were as stylish as I had thought. So I was thrilled to see Valenti bring up the headband issue and carry it through with this example: “While all women are subject to being judged by their appearance, women in leadership positions get it like crazy. . . former governor of Maryland and 2006 state comptroller William Donald Schaefer told a Washington Post reporter that his 2006 opponent, Janet Owens, is a ‘prissy little miss’ who wears ‘long dresses [and] looks like Mother Hubbard–it’s sort of like she was a man.’ He said in an interview, ‘She’s got these long clothes on and an old-fashioned hairdo. . . You know, it sort of makes you real mad.’ Uh huh. Can you imagine someone talking about the hairdo and clothes of a male candidate?”

Here’s another good one:

“In the same breath, President Bush managed to talk about his Healthy Marriage Initiative (the program that tells women on welfare that they don’t need a job, they need a man) and define marriage as a heterosexual institution. . . Clearly, romance has become the domain of the dollar–and the government. So I say let’s take it back. There’s no reason we can’t have fulfilling romantic lives without adhering to bullshit standards that are set before us. Mix it up. Create your own standards and your own romantic norms.” 

That’s Onely!

Above I said that Valenti’s style, while strong and direct, is respectful of her readers’ intelligence and decision-making capabilities. (A metaphor for feminist culture as a whole?) I only noticed one instance in the entire book where this style falters:

Background–Valenti firmly believes that women should keep their last names when they marry. So, as it happens, do I. I’m astonished that this remnant of the women-as-property days remains so ensconced and pervasive in society. However, my friends who have taken their husbands’ names say they do it as a loving gesture, a way to commit. So I was wondering how they would react to this in-your-face part of Full Frontal Feminism:

“While at the end of the day I’m not going to fault someone for wanting a ring, there are certain things (and maybe because they don’t have anything to do with jewelery) I can’t get over. For the life of me, I will never understand why a woman today would change her last name. It makes no sense whatsoever. You want future kids to have the same last name as you and your hubby? Hyphenate, bitch! Or do something, anything, but change your last name. It’s the ultimate buy-in of sexist bullshit. It epitomizes the idea that you are not your own person.”

My reaction was to laugh hysterically and add “Hyphenate, bitch!” to my not-yet-online quoteboard. Then I wanted to tell someone about this awesome line I read in a book–but all of a sudden I wasn’t sure whom to tell. Lisa, my Onely co-blogger, for sure.

But most of my friends are married, with changed last names, and of those who aren’t, I’m not sure how they feel about the whole issue. I could bring up the topic with them, but not necessarily the (to me) fabulous wording. The strong wording of the above paragraph, which so pleased me (because I happen agree with it), might have antagonized the people I wanted to share it with, if they weren’t on my same page about namechanging.

I guess that’s always the question–where is that line between straight-talk and and talk that puts people on the defensive so that they actually rebel against absorbing what you’re saying? Where is the line between refraining from saying something because you’re chickenshit afraid to offend a friend, or refraining from saying something our of respect for your friend’s judgement?

FFF walks that line but never crosses it except, maybe, just that once. However, I’d be interested to see what other readers think–especially readers who don’t necessarily *start* reading as Full Frontal Feminists already (which probably has skewed my impression of the book). So, comments anyone?????

Thanks to Penny for giving me this book! 



1. Jen - August 28, 2008

I’ve never understood the name change thing, esp for those who do marry later in life. My name is my identity and it’s special to me. I remember discussing this with a friend’s boyfriend – he thought it horrible I wouldn’t change should I ever marry, believing that one family should have one name; funny considering he changed his name to his mother’s maiden name. Based on your excerpt, I don’t think the way the author made her point would win too many people over though!
Interestingly, where I live now, it’s standard practice NOT to change names and hyphens for children abound. (http://www.justice.gouv.qc.ca/english/publications/generale/maria-a.htm#names)

2. onely - August 28, 2008

Thanks Jen!
Copious Readership, Jen is referring to Quebec; here’s an excerpt from the website she cites: Spouses’ names

“Both spouses keep their birth names after marriage and continue to exercise their civil rights under that name, i.e. they must use their birth name in contracts, on credit cards, on their driver’s licence, etc. However, women are free however to assume their husband’s name socially. Women married before April 2, 1981 who already use their husband’s last name to exercise their civil rights may continue to do so.”


3. Evgraf - November 5, 2008

Interestingly was, but there is someone who does not quite agree with the author?

4. Ann - February 9, 2013

I also do not understand women changing their last name. Although, many probably have last names that are their father’s. So it’s still a male thing. I’ve often thought, “Why don’t partners who get married take a new last name together?” This would be a gender-neutral way to show your together-ness, and have a common name your children could take. In the long run this would do away with family history by name, but it would at least get us away from the male lineage.

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