Volume , Number 0
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Rebels with a Cause: a â€¦
John laforge and bonnie Urfer
Q & A
War & Peace
Henry A. Giroux
Jennifer baumgardner and amy Richards
Slippin' & Slidin'
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Ariana Ghasedi &
With Bush poised to create a straight flush Republican government, with female incarceration rates soaring as poverty is increasingly feminized, the time couldnt be better for activists to assess the current state of the feminist movement and lay out a plan for the future of feminism. The new 400-page book, Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future by Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards, promises just such a panacea. Dont get your hopes up. The title is a misnomer and the praise from prominent feminists on the back cover and in subsequent reviews arouse suspicions of back scratching between friends or a sort of desperation for anything written by someone under 40 containing the F-word. True, Baumgardner and Richards have written an interesting and helpful book, but its hardly the manifesta that we need.
Manifesta first describes what a day would be like without the current achievements of the feminist movement. Subsequent chapters to discuss a variety of currently debated feminist topics including the contributions and shortcomings of girlie feminism, the sometimes flawed methods adult women use to address adolescent girls lack of self-esteem, the dynamics of young feminists personal relationships with their second wave mothers, and a call for rational debunking of, rather than angry out-lashes against, anti-feminist writings. Baumgardner and Richards make valid points in each of these worthy topics. Yet, taken together, they dont give us a clear sense of where the Third Wave of feminism stands and in what direction it needs to charge.
It appears that the authors of Manifesta have set goals too broad to achieve with a single book, and that they write from too narrow a perspective. In one section they try to give history lessons to young women just discovering feminism, in another they constructively criticize their peers, and in others they attempt to engage the godmothers of the movement. This leaves Manifesta un- focused, without a central argument, and lacking a target audience. It reads like a series of commentaries on current conversations within mainstream feminism.
Manifestas discussion of Third Wave feminism is severely hindered by a definition of it based more on participants age and generation than on their adherence to specific theoretical currents and tactical approaches. If the Third Wave lacks these binding factors, the authors might have more efficiently used their pages to highlight coalescing trends and offer more thorough suggestions regarding their vision for an effective Third Wave.
Even Richards and Baum- gardners conception of young women is strangely lacking. They discuss the work of women, like them, in their early-to-mid 30s, who work in media (mostly in New York City), and they discuss the movement towards improving the self-worth of middle school age girls, but leave a gaping hole by rarely referring to the contributions women between the ages of 15 and 25 have made in the last ten years. This means that the book lacks in-depth discussion of important work done by high school and college studentsincluding gay-straight alliances, the activism of women in the hip-hop scene, and the movement to defend Affirmative Action on university admissions. Perhaps the most notable omission is a detailed examination of Riot Grrlone of the most important developments in Third Wave feminism to date.
Early in the book Baumgardner and Richards criticize mainstream media for focusing solely on a few charismatic leaders of the Second Wave, claiming, Its a surefire sign of oppressed status when an entire group gets reduced to one, or even three, individuals. Yet Richards and Baumgardner do this exact disservice to Riot Grrl, by mentioning only a handful of the most visible participantsKathleen Hanna, Tammy Rae Carland, and Nomi Lammand then focusing more on their personalities than on the essential features of the movement they helped form.
This is unfortunate, since a thorough examination of Riot Grrl could be very instructive. Baum- gardner and Richards discuss the importance of consciousness-raising groups to Second Wave women, yet they fail to see trading personal zines about sexual assault, eating disorders, and sexuality as a 1990s reincarnation. They dont attempt to discuss the new perspectives Riot Grrls brought to feminism around self-mutilation, the relationship between sexual abuse and mental health, and many other issues. Nor do the authors consider the merits of the novel tactics employed by Riot Grrls, such as writing derogative stereotypes of women on their bodies with markers. Riot Grrl was often criticized for many of the same shortcomings, such as a lack of racial inclusivity, that Second Wavers were 25 years ago. Sadly, Baumgardner and Richards missed a perfect opportunity to discuss why bridging the current Second and Third Wave chasm is so crucial and how we might go about doing it. While they criticize the Spice Girls for being light on feminism, they lack a deeper analysis of them as an integral part of the co-optation of Riot Grrls radicalismthe process of changing Girl Power into girls spending power.
Another primary deficiency of Manifesta is the authors focus on their own careers as writers and activists, rather than on the work of a wider array of feminists. This leaves poor women, queer youth, anti-sexist men, and many other groups of peoplealong with their important contributions to feminismout of the discussion almost completely. Baumgardner and Richards professional careers have been mainly within the confines of Second Wave journalism such as Ms. Magazine. They discuss books like Reviving Ophelia and The Morning After, web pages such as Maxi.com, and magazines like Bust and Jane, as well as Ms. This focus on media leads the reader to believe that the important feminist work being done today occurs only within the realm of popular media, not in activism and organizing campaigns. One has to ask, Do these women truly believe that the merits of Jane magazines beauty Q & A column are a more critical concern to young women and the future than the Clinton administrations gutting of welfare, or were they just not interested in researching and thinking outside of their field of expertise?
The writers contend that fictitious characters like Bridget Jones, from Helen Fieldings novel The Diary of Bridget Jones, and televisions Ally McBeal represent what the typical face of young feminism looks like. Offering women like these fictional characters as symbols or icons of modern day feminism is highly problematic and the authors suggestion that Jones and McBeal are todays feminists is offensive.
There is no question that a significant number of women today, like these characters, suffer from low self-esteem and feel worthless without male validation. However, Manifesta needs to address the problems that the Jones/McBeal version of feminism presents to the fight for equality, as opposed to agreeing that they are acceptable female role models. In essence, the mainstream media that has aided in the creation of characters like Jones and McBeal have succeeded in allowing a more digestible feminism to perforate mainstream society. This feminism is not one that will radically alter sexism as we know it, or bring about equality and freedom for women. It is a diluted feminism where women have some sexual and professional autonomy, yet are still obsessed with their physical appearance and make their lives goal to find and keep male companionship.
While one of the goals of Manifesta is clearly to move women to action, the authors suggestions are focused more on encouraging women new to feminism to take individual action, rather than on larger-scale movement building. The actual Manifesta is a 13-point program of serious and broad goals for Third Wave feminists to work towards. Concise, concrete, and fairly radical, the Manifesta is one of the most useful parts of the book (another being the letter the authors write to Second Wavers), yet it is only two pages long, buried in the final chapter, and is not directly discussed anywhere else in the book.
Additionally, the authors suggestions for action are mired in liberalism and lack a connection to other current liberation movements. Throughout the book, voter registration and Get Out the Vote Campaigns are celebrated as a perfect example of good feminist activism, yet the authors dont decry the lack of feminist candidates. And, take for example this line from the books epilogue, a vision of the world feminists should be working towards creating: G.I. Joe, now a member of a peacekeeping force, likes to shop at the mall. While the authors complain that other movements lack a feminist perspective, they offer critiques, like this one, so narrow that they fail to incorporate or address other progressive perspectivesin this case anti-consumerism and the fallacies of Military Humanism.
Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future offers helpful insights into the different contexts young women and previous generations work within. The historical anecdotes sprinkled throughout are useful and interesting, and the book is written in an informal conversational tone which makes it accessible and engaging even to those who have never read books about feminism. To this end the book succeeds more as a conversation starter than a plan of action. Discussions of this sort are obviously important, but in the current political climate they are definitely not enough. Z
Ariana Ghasedi is the Western Pennsylvania organizer for Citizens For Consumer Justice. Andrew Cornell is a freelance writer and activist.