Jessica Valenti and me at the Full Frontal Feminism book party
A prediction: Full Frontal Feminism, the debut book from Feministing.com founder Jessica Valenti, is going to change young girls' lives, and help replenish the ranks of the feminist movement. While political elders continue to fumble and stumble in their attempts to connect with young voters, and soon-to-be voters, Valenti's "Young Woman's Guide To Why Feminism Matters" succeeds by talking straight and not down.
LiberalOasis interviewed Valenti via IM on April 29 about the book, the state of feminism and anti-feminism, her straight talk on teen sex, and how to deal with "porn culture." An edited transcript is below:
LiberalOasis: So, isn't feminism dead?
Jessica Valenti: hahahaha
JV: nope, still here
LO: Time Magazine said you were dead, like, 10 years ago. After Ally McBeal.
JV: Time magazine can suck it
JV: if feminism were dead, why would so many people be trying to kill it?
JV: i mean, there are organizations dedicated to beating feminism down (IWF, CWA, etc)
JV: so if feminism wasn't seen as a powerful force, i doubt they'd be putting so much cash into these orgs
JV: you better put in that time mag can suck it comment
LO: LiberalOasis is a family-friendly website
JV: damn you
LO: Kate O'Beirne, when she was plugging her book "Women Who Make The World Worse," said: "Too many people think feminism is a spent force ... They don't realize how influential the feminist agenda is. The feminist ideology is in our schools, on our campuses. We certainly saw that with the trouble Larry Summers at Harvard got into. Boy, was that brutal..."
LO: "When he said very unremarkable things at an academic conference and we saw what a grip Harvard is into the feminists. Enormously influential on Capitol Hill."...
LO: ..."They're the kind of women who have hyped the phony gender gap in politics to intimidate politicians into thinking that they represent American women."
JV: i think as a whole this is typical
JV: it's either, feminism is dead OR feminism is dangerous and it's coming for your kids!
JV: they really need to make up their mind
JV: and i also think the idea of some nefarious feminist agenda is hysterical
LO: Is feminism as influential, and insidious, as Kate O'Bierne claims?
JV: i think feminism is influential, though not as influential as it should be
JV: though certainly not insidious
JV: i mean, jeez, what's wrong about an agenda that says women are people and deserve equal rights?
JV: is this really so frigging controversial?
LO: It seems like some conservatives, like O"Bierne, are trying to shift the argument, embracing equality in general, but then saying things like "...they have gotten such mileage out of the phony gender gap. The kind of women who promote that in order to paint America as a discriminatory country..."
JV: well that's what folks like the iwf do
JV: they paint themselves as the "real" feminists
JV: "don't worry, gals--we have all the rights we need! those 'radical' feminists are just whining!"
JV: and let's face it, america IS a discriminatory country
JV: and the pay gap isn't phony--i think that's the worst anti-feminist argument ever
JV: because real women, women who work and see the inequality, aren't going to fall for that line
LO: Do you think folks like O'Bierne are having any success in holding the feminist movement back?
JV: but i think they're maintaining the status quo of anti-feminism
JV: and i think that women speaking out against feminists is a really easy way to get media attention
JV: any book that says sexism doesn't exist or that has a regressive message, like women LIKE making less money and don't want jobs--that's going to be a book that gets a lot of play
LO: What does that say about the media?
JV: that they suck
JV: no, it says that they're catering to the men who want to hear that shit and to the women who will get pissed
JV: i mean, media backlash against feminism is nothing new
LO: Now, in your book, you have some critical things to say about the leadership in the feminist movement...
JV: i just think we could all be doing a better job
JV: especially when it comes to reaching out to younger women
LO: ...is the Veteran Feminists of America going to come after you like the Black Crusaders did against Tracy Jordan on 30 Rock?
JV: i've been watching my back
JV: no, i think that leaders in the feminist movement probably don't care much about what I have to say--they're busy doing their own thing!
JV: but i would say that i've gotten a lot of positive emails and notes of support from veteran feminists
JV: and i don't think generational tension is necessarily a bad thing--we all want the same thing at the end of the day
LO: So your concern is not part of an ideological split?
JV: no i don't think so.
JV: i think that i just wish folks in positions of power were doing more to be inclusive of young feminists and doing better outreach
JV i think that we're all fighting for the same things...but that maybe we have different ways of going about it
JV: and that some more mainstream leaders or organizations don't realize that working together on things like messaging and outreach would probably benefit all of us
JV: i think that feminist orgs have a very specific way of going about things--and for good reason. they've been having to deal with bullshit backlash for a long time
JV: so they play it "safe" in a way
JV: but that's just one woman's opinion
LO: Why shouldn't young feminists defer to those who are more experienced? What do young feminists bring to the table?
JV: I think we can have conversations with, and work with more experienced feminists without having to defer to them
JV: and i think with issues like outreach, and messaging to young women--other young feminists are doing more successful work than our predecessors
LO: is that because you don't play it "safe"?
JV: i think so, yeah
JV: but also...we know how to speak to each other in a way that's not patronizing
JV: i think there's a language of "you're taking your rights for granted" or "you don't know how good you've got it" that's happened...and it's not very helpful
LO: Everyone in politics wants the secret to reaching out to young women...
LO: ...what do you got?
JV: and candidness
LO: like Imus!
JV: EXACTLY like imus
JV he's my feminist idol
JV: no really...i think things like feminist blogs are successful because they're bringing it back to the personal
JV: and because they're not dry or academic...they're fun, funny, and community building
LO: so speaking of candidness...
LO: ...perhaps the most bold part of Full Frontal Feminism is your unapologetic support of teens making up their own minds about sex
JV: but, in a way, i don't see why it's bold--i think it's necessary
LO: can the broader feminist movement get behind that without alienating those over 40?
JV: i think so, yeah.
JV: i mean, what's controversial about wanting young people to make informed decisions?
JV: i think we have to go from framing teen sex as "well, they're going to do it anyway"
JV: to a more positive view
JV: sex is a GOOD thing.
JV: even for some teenagers.
JV: i don't see why we should talk about sex in a negative way and raise a generation of kids thinking that sex is dirty dirty dirty
JV: and i also don't buy the "not emotionally ready" argument either
JV: sex can be confusing and emotional and overwhelming (or not) no matter what your age
JV: it depends on the person, and the level of information available to that person
LO: Are you opening up feminism to the charge that it encourages irresponsible behavior by kids, and taking power away from parents?
JV: i don't think having sex is irresponsible, so no
JV: this is what i'm talking about--we talk about sex as "irresponsible"
JV: we talk about an at-risk teen as someone who maybe does drugs, drinks and...is sexually active
JV: having sex is not a dangerous activity like drinking or doing drugs--if you're informed and protected
JV: and framing it as dangerous i think is dishonest and damaging
LO: How do you reconcile your support of teens making their own informed decisions about sex, with your criticism of Girls Gone Wild and related "porn culture" phenomena?
JV: well my criticism isn't that girls are participating in that culture--but that they're doing so uninformed
JV that's my concern
JV: there's a difference between making a sober, informed decision about your sexuality...
JV and i would say that it's difficult to gauge just how "informed" young women are when they're given all of the fucked up messages about sex
JV: but what i propose about the GGW stuff
JV: isn't all of this finger wagging and telling young women they're being taken advantage of
JV: but instead, engaging women
JV: and talking with them about their choices
JV: well, like on blogs for example!
JV: or when we write books aimed at young women...or aimed at parents for that matter
JV: instead of taking the "isn't this terrible" approach
LO: So you don't necessarily advocate having this sort of engagement in public schools?
JV: yes, i definitely do
JV: but i think that's what comprehensive sex education does
JV: in that it doesn't take a moral stance on sex
JV: which i think is really dangerous, esp for women
JV: because we're taught that our ability to be moral agents is tied up with whether or not we have sex. which is just insane.
LO: What's on the mind of the average 16 year old that feminism can speak to?
JV: i think the main thing feminism can speak to, that's really huge in young women's lives, is the almost indescribable feeling that there is something wrong with you
JV: when you grow up in a sexist society...you're just inundated with all of this stuff that tells you you're less than just by virtue of being a girl
JV: and if feminism can address anything in young women's lives--i think that's it. and i think it's transformative.