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Feminism is not the Story of My Life

Feminism is not the Story of My Life - Elizabeth Fox-Genovese Zero stars. That's right, zero!!!

I guess I can start with why I checked this book out from the library in the first place: I thought this offering by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese was going to be about intersectional feminism. L O L ! This passage is as close as it comes: "Both groups talk as if sexual freedom means the same thing for women of different classes, races, and ethnic groups--as if all women are vulnerable to the same kinds of abuse and as if all could afford the same sexual risks" (page 64). I could have done with a lot more in that vein. But that is one of the only instances (and the only noteworthy one) of such points I found in this book. Contrastingly, later she says, "Contrary to stereotype, it is especially striking that black and Hispanic men, who are more likely to be unemployed than white men, claim to care even more about working" (p 122). Yes, how especially striking that racist stereotypes are wrong! I am just plum shocked! I also notice her use of the more dubious "claim" in place of a more neutral "state" or "said." More benignly, in other instances, the author says, "for reasons that need not concern us here, African American women xyz..." and such things. To which I say: LET it concern us here! This is, after all, a book about how "feminists" have "lost touch," and I would think that to learn more about any given person or group's situation would help to counteract that.

So that's why I picked the book up. I figured out pretty quickly that I wasn't going to get what I was looking for, but I continued because she made some interesting points. Its subtitle was intriguing to me--"How Today's Feminist Elite Has Lost Touch With the Real Concerns of Women"--because although I do consider myself a feminist, I recognize that many people in the movement and even the movement itself in some cases can and should rightfully be criticized on many fronts, mostly for being exclusionary (from what I've seen/had experience with: practicing racism, transphobia, cissexism, gender essentialism, body shaming, etc--although there may be other accurate criticisms that I am as of yet unaware). So, the subtitle: that would be a story well worth hearing. However this book does not cover that. It lists a couple of instances where "feminism" has "lost touch" (although these instances listed were more like how feminism has been twisted and sensationalized by the media, which has its own agenda), but that's not the majority of the book. The first chapter is all about clothes and aren't clothes great and isn't shopping what really bonds females together and EVERY SINGLE TIME a woman wears clothes or goes out in public she's costuming. But men aren't. For some reason. Which she doesn't explain. I mean, costuming is a really interesting subject, as is portrayal of self, creation and expression of personality, artifacts, etc etc. But to just be like, "For WOMEN, costuming is INESCAPABLE" and not really examine it further seems irresponsible. She may have a point (or have had more of one 20 years ago when this was written), but it just didn't resonate with me at all. Still, though, I read on, thinking that maybe this book would get a 2 star rating. So when did she lose it?

Well, friends, I can tell you that the second I saw "Katie Roiphe" on the page, followed by "her basic point deserves serious attention," I knew we were headed for choppy waters. For those not familiar with Roiphe's point, here Ms. F-G lays it out: "The demand that the 'authorities' protect women from men carries the depressing suggestion that independent, 'liberated' women are not capable of taking care of themselves--or capable of showing the prudence to steer clear of the most dangerous situations" (p 164). Just so we're clear, this is what she's saying: everyone can use the police--men who have been assaulted late at night on bike trails, people whose cars have been stolen, homicide victims, women who can't find their Peet's gift certificate (saw this in the blotter), victims of drunk drivers, victims of identity theft, people who see stray dogs--all these people can turn to the police without having their independence called into question EXCEPT for women who have been raped. The way that she phrases this is just so offensive to me. Also bothersome is the way she frames the issue as "protect women from men," instead of the actual "protect the public from rapists." Not content just leaving it there, she continues on the next page, "How could this intelligent young woman not understand that there were likely to be consequences if she exercised her right [to say no] by engaging in heavy petting with a young man, going to his room, removing her clothes, initiating sexual foreplay, and then just saying no? I could not help thinking that it would be more prudent if she said no before taking off all of her clothes" (p. 165). Honestly, it doesn't MATTER what YOU think would be "more prudent," because no is no and forcing yourself on an unwilling partner is rape. I am all about being as clear and intentional as possible when it comes to sexual conduct; setting limits beforehand and stating what your boundaries are at the beginning is something I advocate for; things are a lot smoother and easier to handle that way for everyone. But doing that is not going to prevent a person from getting raped if someone decided to rape them. Rape isn't about getting laid or sexual desire, it's about control and power.

This brings me to another point the author repeated a few times which annoyed me greatly--she contends that "sexual violence" is the result of "sexual liberation"/"sexual freedom." I really don't know what agenda she's pushing with this one because if her own research is to be believed, she should know that it's just Not True: she says that rape and sexual harassment have always been around and even experts don't know if it's the occurrence or reporting of rape that has actually increased. So why then does she conflate "sexual violence" with "sexual freedom"? She says things like "the most ominous manifestations of sexual freedom walk the streets and prey upon women and children" (p 102)? Why does she make it sound as if we only have to put up with and hear about sexual violence NOW, only AFTER the sexual revolution? As if the sexual revolution created sex predators out of thin air? A world where people live in fear of sexual violence (a world that objectifies and commodifies women & their bodies, a world where rape culture is the norm, a world where even women's studies professors like the author think that it's unrealistic to not expect consequences for saying no to sex, a world where women get harassed on the street merely for existing) is not, for me, a world that contains meaningful sexual freedom or liberation.

Which leads me to this: I don't even know what the author means when she says "sexual freedom." And then she relies on opinion polls, without telling us the wording of the questions or numbers of responses, to make sweeping generalization about how "Americans" feel about "sexual liberation." I don't even know what she means by sexual liberation. I have an inkling that to the author "sexual freedom" merely means "women can have premarital sex without being shamed forevermore," but I'm not sure because she's really unclear about it. She is really unclear about other terms too, especially "morality," which she loves to throw around. On a single random page, I counted the word "moral" (or some derivation: "morally," "morality") six times. But she never tells us what "morality" means for the purpose of this discussion. She just says things like, "Since the sexual revolution Americans no longer see sex as a moral issue." Well...I don't think premarital sex (or promiscuity, which she painstakingly differentiates from premarital sex) makes anyone "bad," but I do think sex (and everything else that touches human conduct for that matter) do have to do with morality. My box fan has something to do with morality, inasmuch as if I take the cover off and push someone's face in it while it's running that would be hurtful and wrong. What does she mean by the words "moral" and "sexual freedom"/"sexual liberation"? I have no idea because: a) her use of it and my use of it don't match up and b) she doesn't give a definition of either. Meanwhile, she DOES give a definition of the word "luck" on page 152. So...in case you can't figure out what luck is, maybe pick up this book or something.

Anyway my enthusiasm for giving a scathing review of this book is waning, having gotten out my main complaints. The author does write in an engaging enough way and at first I was interested in what she said. I can handle, enjoy, and learn from reading viewpoints that differ from my own, and I did like some of what she had to say (in the three big Post-it notes I covered front and back with page numbers, there are a COUPLE with stars next to them indicating that they are praise rather than complaint) but in my eyes nothing can redeem this book from the rape apologism mentioned above. Even at best it was sloppy and unclear. It practiced gender essentialism by saying "women this, men that" without any kind of qualifiers and without making any mention of the impact of culture on learned and gendered behaviors. In fact she says at one point, she says of the "asymmetry between women and men": "How it arose and whether it is good or bad ... matter little or not at all" (p. 159). I vehemently disagree. If the "asymmetry" IS harmful, if people ARE suffering because of it, and if we have found out that it IS a product of social and cultural learning, that means that we can undo it; that it's changeable, it's not an immutable fact of nature. By merely shifting our attitudes we can affect a healthy, beneficial, and productive change in people's lives. I'm confused as to why that matters "little or not at all"?

In conclusion: mostly garbage with gusts of putrefaction.