Monday, April 17, 2017

Book Review - Why I Am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto by Jessa Crispin

I have to admit that it's been very difficult to engage with Jessa Crispin's Why I Am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto.  I tend to shy away from the kind of name-limiting, line-in-the-sand tomes as this one.  However, in our current political climate of alternative facts and non-empathy, I decided it was the right time to give this book a chance.  The title certainly is provocative - for someone who, until recently, was known widely as "Bookslut", it is a bit odd to think that she wouldn't be a feminist.  She spends the rest of the book clarifying her titular statement; she IS IN FACT a feminist, but not in the way that is most commonly encountered. 

Jessa's main point of contention with the widely-used terminology of the word "feminism" is that it is seen as something to be universally accepted.  She argues that things which are commonly accepted are the least threatening, unoriginal, and ineffective.  Feminism, therefore, needs to be radical and uncomfortable.  It should be something that only the most passionate and invested people will desire to perpetuate.  You won't need to buy that organic, fair-trade, cotton shirt with the phrase "feminist as f*#k" printed on it, because people will be able to tell by your words, actions, and lifestyle choices that you are a feminist, rejecting the patriarchy. 

The reason that a feminist needs to be unapologetically radical is because, for too long, mainstream feminism has tried to make equality within the current system its goal.  Having more women CEOs, more women having successful careers in male-dominated fields, etc. is seen as making inroads for equality.  However, the author argues, the system is still patriarchal and built around inequality.  A woman may be the CEO, but if her company relies upon sweatshop labor - inhumane conditions with little/no compensation - how is that promoting equality?  How is that feminism?  Is it essentially different having a woman in charge vs. a man?  Jessa says no.

Believing in equality means understanding that men and women are not fundamentally different.  Although society conditions women to be more empathetic and emotional, they are not absolutely so; men are just as capable of emotional engagement as women.  Therefore, men are not the problem.  The patriarchal system is the problem.  In order to achieve full and total equality for all people, there needs to be a new system.  The author argues that the needs to be a new way of organizing and living, in order for feminism's ideals to truly be achieved. 

This is where, in my opinion, Jessa's book falls short.  She makes repeated claims for a revolution where feminists, those who are ready to make radical changes, overthrow the current, patriarchal system and replace it with something better.  However, she presents no ideas of what that new, feminist system could look like.  There are bread crumbs throughout the book: Fair wages, rejection of gender roles, inclusivity of those with disabilities, severing the relationship between physical attractiveness and societal/self-worth.  Lots of great and important points are made, but there is no attempt to frame these within a more concrete vision.  

Throughout the nine chapters of Why I Am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto, the author speaks in quite wide generalizations.  There are mentions of some feminist theorists, but nothing more concrete and specific.  There are many assertions, but without much in the way of support.  In this, the book reads less like a manifesto and more like a rant - a fine line, perhaps, but one that I found a bit off-putting.  It's also interesting to think of how this book's publication fits into her arguments.  Jessa posits that patriarchy is closely tied to a capitalist society, and therefore feminism should partake in something non-capitalist.  However, she chose to publish this book about feminism within the confines of American publishing - a system that relies on and benefits from capitalism for its very survival. 

While there were many interesting points to take away from Jessa Crispin's Why I Am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto, I was left wanting much more.  It was disappointing to read a book that repeatedly calls for the creation of a non-patriarchal, non-capitalist society yet offers nothing in the way of concrete ideas.  I certainly agreed with some of the points that the author made, but found her generalizing and sweeping statements to take away from the impact that a work like this could have had.

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