Thursday, March 17, 2016

Reinventing the F Word


I have finally found a book that explains feminism and presents it an updated manner appropriate for middle schoolers.

I was hooked on this book as soon as I opened it. Instead of beginning with an introduction to Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton or an explanation of what the word means, this book begins by setting the stage just prior to second wave feminism.

It describes a woman giving birth in a hospital- Mrs. Doe. Her name was changed when she married. Of course. And the baby will also receive the name Doe, because children always have their father's name. Of course. And the nurses in the hospital do not address her by her first name- Jane- they call her Mrs. Doe. Of course. Because being a Mrs. and a mother is her entire identity, and no one thinks to question it.

The book doesn't waste any time, and swiftly moves to an introduction to Betty Friedan. No offense to Susan and Elizabeth, but by middle school, alot of students are tired of reading about those two serious looking ladies in the long dresses. They need a fresh perspective on what women's rights mean, and how they apply to the 20th and 21st centuries. They already know that women had to fight for the right to vote and own property. But many of them still don't seem to grasp that when a woman gets married, she can be a Mrs. or a Ms. She can change her name, or hyphenate two last names, or simply keep her own. I have first hand experience trying to explain (not just to kids either) that even though I am married, I am still a Ms.

The book doesn't mince words either. It discusses sexual identity, rape culture, pornography and even forced sterilization.

It's timely in its discussion of gender identity, specifically Caitlyn Jenner's recent transformation, but it's not just about the pop culture tabloid issues; there is also a section on breastfeeding controversies, pointing out that in the notoriously repressed Victorian era, breastfeeding was often done in public simply because that's how most babies were fed, whereas now there is sometimes a public backlash towards nursing mothers.


The book also provides visual examples of how society has perpetuated our view of how women/females should look and act. For example, one little blurb contrasts the Columbia Pictures icon as she appeared in the 1940's and as she appears now:

Her mid-section is slimmer and her expression looks softer.

They also provide commentary on how even children's toys have undergone changes in order to reflect our current perception of females. My Little Ponies on the 1980's were undoubtedly girly, with doe eyes and curly locks and 'cutie' symbols on their haunches, coming in a rainbow of colors. But with the relaunch of the toys, they went from girly to sexy. Now they have pronounced waists, longer legs, and even little curved chests.

Yikes. These changes to well-known images and children's toys are so subtle and pervasive that they become part of our background, and when we grow accustomed to them, we forget to think critically about them and challenge them. That's what makes them so dangerous.

I love that this book presents the goals and values of feminism in a way that does not speak down to the teen/pre-teen audience, yet makes it easy for them to understand by providing examples like the ones above.

The last thing I want to say about this book is that I applaud it for not presenting feminism like it's an independent  phenomenon. With its example of the Columbia Pictures icon, there is a discussion of fat shaming. With the example of Mary Alice and Minnie Relf, two mentally impaired black girls who were forcibly sterilized using federal funds, there is a discussion of race relations within the feminist movement as well as a woman's reproductive rights. There is also a page which provides examples of some of the types of feminism such as cultural feminism, queer feminism and radical feminism.

This book is a 2016 publication; it's brand new.

And yet it's LONG OVERDUE.


  1. This book has been on my to-read list since I first saw it reviewed in a book journal. I'm glad you liked it and can't wait to try it myself.

    1. Thanks for reading. It makes for a pretty quick read, but very thought provoking.