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April 28, 2007

Jessica Valenti


Jessica Valenti, originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.

Jessica Valenti, author of the new book Full Frontal Feminism, seen her at her book launch party at The Black Door in Chelsea.

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Full Frontal Feminism smells like used toilet paper bound into book form. Forget for a moment that it falls flat on every one of the criteria I mentioned in the other thread. It doesn't even take itself seriously; the writing style made me cringe.

Now I'm trying to think of the last book I'd read that's as bad as this one. I know it's the worst I've read in 2007, and probably worse than anything I read in 2006 or even 2005, but earlier than that I don't remember enough. I think it's the worst book I've read since The Da Vinci Code, but I'm not sure.

Gee Alon, tell us what you really think.

What I really think is, those are 23 dollars I'm never getting back.

You just sent Althouse into a coma.


.

I have to say: I've never read a book to completion that I could describe in such crude terms. Perhaps your opinion was influenced, Alon, by the fact that someone fooled you into paying twenty-three dollars for a book available for ten.

Well, I hadn't read a book that bad in years.

And I'm pretty sure I had to pay those 23 dollars to get it quickly. It was partly because I was planning on going to the book launch party if I thought it was any good; of course, it turned out to be horrendous, so I stayed home.

Would binding used toilet paper into book form make it smell any different?

No, I don't think so. But it would make it look more like a book, so it would be referred to a publisher rather than to a modern art museum.

Alon Levy -

Can you give us specific examples of the supposedly terrible writing?

I read the excerpt at Alternet and felt completely unqualified to evaluate it. I really don't know what it's like to be a member of its target demographic, so I've got no clue what will come off as condescending or trite or boring or silly to them. And since the book's clealry designed as something of a gateway drug, it doesn't seem like it makes much sense to criticize it as fluffy or superficial or insubstantial. I can't tell if those things are more features or more bugs in a work like this.

Alon,

It should be beneath your dignity to resort purely to insults in your critique. What specifically so offended you? That would be more worthy of discussion.

AF

Sure. Take her reference to Bill Napoli. Her first reference is on page 68, in the middle of chapter 4: “Remember our friend Bill Napoli on the only girl who should be able to get an abortion? The sodomized virgin?” She only explains what exactly that was about on page 95, in the middle of chapter 5. Unless you follow politics, you’ll have no idea what Napoli actually said when you read the first reference.

That's just one type of bad writing: the constant assumption that you read Feministing regularly so that you know what's going on - combined with, I should add, a very superficial take on every issue that everyone who's read Feministing will already be familiar with.

Another is more stylistic. On pages 31-32, in the middle of chapter 2, she gives sex tips. Under the heading "Take responsibility for your partners," she says,

Love and attraction are curious things, and there aren't many women who don't have at least one partner they regret. But that doesn't mean we can't at least try to choose wisely. I never liked the word "promiscuity," because it's defined as having sex indiscriminately. So have sex with whoever you like, and as many people as you like, but I think we can all afford to be a bit [emphasis in original] discriminating.

Don't have sex with someone who won't use protection.

Don't have sex with someone who is anti-choice--they have no respect for your body or your ability to make decisions for yourself.

Don't have sex with someone who doesn't respect your physical and emotional boundaries.

Don't have sex with Republicans. (Okay, that one is just mine.)

Points number 3 and 5 are beyond partisan; they're up there in Rush Limbaugh territory. Women should avoid having sex with pro-lifers to the same extent Jews should avoid making friends with pro-Palestinians. While points 2 and 4 are good, almost all readers already know them. When non-feminists make observations about rape feminists feel are obvious, the feminists have no trouble calling them condescending. By the same standards, Jessica manages to both offend and condescend to her readers at the same time.

Finally, point 1 underscores a running theme in the book: Jessica pretends not to harp on people's personal choices, but ends up doing exactly that. She says, be more discriminating sexually. Don't change your name when you get married. Wear makeup if you want, but acknowledge you're bowing down to the patriarchy. And don't fuck Republicans.

Point number five is also pretty obviously a joke.

No, it's not obviously a joke. As far as I can tell, Jessica really takes that seriously. I'll admit that this is coupled with what I read on Feministing and in interviews - at one point she started going on about how she'd been Republican-free for X amount of time. But even if I was only given the book, the fact that the point appears together with "Don't have sex with someone who is anti-choice" would suggest it's serious.

Look, jokes are for people who already agree with you. Rush sells because there are tens of millions of conservatives in the US, who appreciate his crude humor. Jessica not only begins from a smaller support base, but also wrote the book intending to appeal to people who aren't movement feminists or Feministing readers.

Also, AF, you're right, and I'm sorry. I shouldn't have gone for the cheap laugh in that first comment; I could just as well say something toilet humor-free, like "The book was horrendous."

It's all speculating either way, but the Napoli problem sounds more like a mistake in the editing than a mistake in the writing. It's pretty common, when writing anything of considerable length, to create problems for yourself in the editing stage by changing the work's structure and not being careful enough in your editing to correct for the new order in which facts and concepts are introduced.

"Don't have sex with someone who is anti-choice" would suggest it's serious.

Gosh, I just can't imagine a single valid reason why a woman might have serious misgivings about fucking someone who fundamentally opposes her right to decide what happens if said fucking results in a pregnancy.

Darcy, try not thinking about it in terms of how a pro-choice activist would see it. If you're pro-choice enough that you're going to make it a litmus test for sexual partners, you're probably politically minded enough that the book won't tell you anything you don't already know.

Darcy, that's true, but it doesn't explain why Valenti seems to apply it to same-sex couples.

I think the much more reasonable rule is to not have heterosexual sex with a fertile person who disagrees with you on abortion. That's been more or less my rule, with the option to petition for an exception.

Darcy, try not thinking about it in terms of how a pro-choice activist would see it.

Alon, try thinking about it in terms of how a woman would see it.

If I were a girl, and pregnancy was a risk I had to take every time I had sex, there is absolutely no fucking way on God's green earth I would ever knowingly have sex with someone who would not support my choice on how to handle that pregnancy. Even putting aside the huge emotional consequences of someone you've been intimate with pressuring you to close down a whole set of reproductive options -- or condemning you as a murderer if you decide to terminate the pregnancy -- there are also a number of practical and economic considerations. Good luck getting Mr. Pro-Life to pay for half of the operation, or helping with transportation if there are no clinics in your area, or state. And if he's enough of a wingnut, there's the risk of legal action to try to prevent you from obtaining an abortion.

For women, refusing to have sex with someone who won't support your right to decide how to handle the situation if a pregnancy results is 100% rational, and Jessica is absolutely right to counsel young women to avoid fucking pro-lifers.

Aeroman, the book in question is targeted at women aged 15-20. In the excerpt Alon quoted, she's clearly giving advice to young, presumably fertile, women.

As for same-sex pairings, is there some significant pro-life lesbian contingent out there I'm not aware of?

I'd never have sex with a pro-lifer who knew I was pro-choice.

Why?

Because the guy would be a total hypocrite to want to have sex with me under those circumstances. If he really cared about his own moral code, he wouldn't risk putting an innocent fetus at risk of abortion.

I am thinking in terms of how a woman would see it. It's just that the women I've talked about sex with aren't generally ideological enough to give a damn. A few are feminist in the same outsider-ish sense I am, and a lot more just don't care about politics.

For example, one of those women is very pro-choice and politically motivated, and still doesn't give a damn. Why would she? When she has a one-night stand, it doesn't matter what the guy thinks about abortion. Another of them is pro-life, so obviously she wouldn't only sleep with pro-choicers. Yet another is pro-choice, but told me she won't have an abortion if she gets pregnant no matter what. The target audience isn't just girls between 15 and 20; it's girls between 15 and 20 with vaguely liberal values but no real interest in politics. That's why I'm criticizing the book so much - as a compact reference for Feministing regulars, it's decent once you get rid of all the fluff.

Also, I haven't seen sexual orientation-stratified polls about abortion, but the gender-stratified ones show that in the US, men and women have about the same views about the subject; women just care about it more, regardless of whether they're pro-life or pro-choice.

Finally, Lindsay, out of curiosity, would you have sex with a pro-lifer who knew you were pro-choice, but with sufficient protection?

Alon,

For your initial comment to be a "cheap laugh" it had to be funny. It wasn't. However, your specific criticisms do give us a basis for further discussion.

I don't think you understand the very basis of feminism. A key aspect of feminism is the recognition that sexual decisions are also political decisions. Like it or not, the Republican Party represents the biggest threat to our citizens' reproductive rights, gender rights, gay rights, civil rights, personal rights, property rights, workers rights, legal rights, etc. I realize that while not all Republicans personally support these positions, they do so tacitly through their party membership and directly via their campaign contributions.

If most women (and, for that matter men,) took a stand and refused to have sex with men who choose to restrict their rights and/or otherwise exploit them, we'd have these issues resolved tout de suite.

AF

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