Sexy Feminism: A Girl’s Guide to Love, Success, and Style by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong & Heather Wood Rudulph

Sexy Feminism: A Girl's Guide to Love, Success, and Style

Sexy Feminism is the third feminist non-fiction I read in the first month of 2013, and I was hoping for something to fill in the gaps of my self-imposed feminist education. While it sort of fulfilled my requirements with quality advice and interesting points, I had some problems with the writing.

Style-wise, Sexy Feminism is blogger-friendly, and since the title is the name of the authors’ blog, this is to be expected. A little informality can lead to funny, direct and personal dialogue with readers, a lot of informality herein had us hearing life stories and feminist reasons why the authors’ broke up with boyfriends – which were rather reductive, if you ask me. A lot more had to be going on than the relevant explanations given. And I feel bad for thinking that way, but then I didn’t expect to be put in a position of judgement, either. I’d rather not have read intimate details of these women’s lives. After all, this isn’t supposed to be an autobiography.

Conveying these stories upon the reader in each chapter, together with the theory, advice, and action plans, gave the impression of the wise older woman gathering the young-uns and telling them to sit and listen to someone who’s lived life. This unintentional condescension is compounded by the authors’ examples, and favoured feminist role models, many of whom are way before my time – I’m 26. Who the hell is Mary Tyler Moore? She’s mentioned so often, I feel I should know. Perhaps it’s the cultural divide rather than age, since I’m English and they’re American.

As a fan of bluntness, I appreciate the honesty with which these authors expressed themselves in their opinions, they appreciate that the reader heretofore may not have called themselves a feminist or not have acted in a pro-feminist way, however some decisions they do simply call ‘dumb’. Yet, I’m not happy with the way they conflate feminism with promoting environmentally friendly and animal friendly products not made in workhouses or sweatshops, and strongly encourage everyone to research every company before buying their merchandise. All very nice in theory, but how many people have the time to do this, or even the power and availability to make those ‘right’ choices? For instance, the UK’s The Body Shop sells makeup and bath products not tested on animals, yet they’re owned by L’Oreal who do test on animals. To buy from The Body Shop, or not? Anyway, I don’t consider the environment or animal testing to be feminist issues, sweatshop workers maybe, but not the other two.

Certain assumptions are made, for example: ‘heels have been used as throughout history as tools of oppression’ – making no mention of the times when it was fashionable for men to wear heels. Nevertheless, I’m glad rape fantasy and female genital mutilation are discussed, and I was intrigued by the fractious female friendships and competitive female bosses. I’ve always preferred having female bosses, apparently that isn’t the norm. I did however, once have a problem with a much older female colleague. She spread nasty rumours implying I was lazy and incompetent, everyone came to my defense including my ex and current female bosses at the time, which secured me a promotion! Not long after, my accuser applied for voluntary redundancy and it seemed likely she’d get it, they refused, forcing her to retire instead. That’s karma for you.

Although I don’t question the authors’ passion for their subject, it noticeably lacks the urgency conveyed in the other feminist books I read this month, though I’m sure that’s down to the broad range of topics covered as opposed to the sub-sections those other books focused on.

The title gave me pause when I first spotted it. To use ‘sexy’ to describe feminism felt a little risqué. Was it being used as a marketing tool as synonym for ‘cool’ (uh-oh), a play on words for ‘gender’ (clever), or as a critique of our sexualised (objectifying) society (acceptable)? My mind went straight for the first, though hoping for the last, since there are lipsticked lips on the cover. [They’re for makeup if it’s being applied because it makes the woman feel good, and not so she can impress a man or anyone else.] ETA: I’ve just taken a look at my review for Feminist Chauvinist Pigs – which is referenced in SF – and the author condemned the use of ‘sexy’ when it came to feminism, so now I’m doubly surprised to see its usage by these authors, and for the title, no less.

I didn’t mean to be so negative about Sexy Feminism, but unfortunately, so far it’s my least enjoyable feminist read. I’ll admit, I skimmed in places, skipping the more personal bits, pushing through boring areas – not necessarily the book’s fault; certain topics I’ve read about elsewhere and didn’t feel like going over old ground. Those completely new to feminism as a concept will probably gain a lot more from reading Sexy Feminism, especially women in their thirties and older.

*My thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Netgalley for the e-ARC in return for an honest review.

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