One book – three reviews

Annika Spalding, Jamillah Knowles and LonerGrrrl offer three different and independent takes on Reclaiming the F Word: The New Feminist Movement by Catherine Redfern, founder of our site, and Kristin Aune

, 4 June 2010

book cover

Annika Spalding

When I was asked to read and review Reclaiming the F Word, I was a little apprehensive. Not because I am intimidated or offended by the ‘F’ word, or because I have difficulty in reading a book (I love books). I’ve tried to read books on feminism previously, and felt alienated by them. The content is not always UK specific, or is difficult to understand because of the way they are written, meaning I’d have to use a dictionary to get through the pages. Some books can be a little preachy, and I find them difficult to relate to.

I’m a mixed race (or dual heritage, as some prefer to say), 20-something, secondary school educated (although have ‘graduated’ from the University of Life), working class, feminist mother (of one) and this book appealed to me.

Instead of giving a one-sided view of modern feminism and dictating the qualities of a ‘good’ feminist, Reclaiming the F Word examines the many different aspects of the modern women’s movement and looks at the opposing views within that movement.

Whilst examining research taken from other countries, it has managed to maintain a UK focus throughout. I found myself engrossed in the chapters, fascinated by the statistics and research, taking notes of campaigns and organisations that I haven’t heard of. Issues have been tackled, from body image to violence against women, politics and religion. The writers don’t appear to have made any assumptions about the reader’s knowledge around these issues, so this book will appeal even to those who are just curious about feminism.

My passion for feminism has been recharged; I’m full of ideas and positivity

Parts of Reclaiming the F Word gave me food for thought, causing me to have debates with my colleagues, and tempted me to promote further discussion by putting phrases as my Facebook status. (Don’t worry, I resisted.)

I thought this was powerful: “The more women opt for Botox, the older women with wrinkles look. The more women remove ‘unsightly’ birthmarks or moles, the uglier women who don’t remove them are made to feel. We have to question whether striving to fit the beauty ideal is doing anything but harming other women.”

At the end of each chapter are small suggestions of feminist activism, encouraging the reader to take small steps which will have a ripple effect. People’s experiences are quoted throughout the book, making it feel personal and relevant. I think Reclaiming the F Word would work well as an introduction to modern feminism, or even as a study guide.

My favourite chapter was the very last one, titled ‘Feminism reclaimed’. I finished this chapter, and the book, feeling inspired and excited, feeling proud to be part of a movement that is actively making change. I feel my passion for feminism has been recharged; I’m full of ideas and positivity. I think if I had Reclaiming the F Word in my teens, I would have ‘found’ feminism sooner. Finally, a feminist book I can relate to!

Annika Spalding divides her time between working full time as a Domestic Violence Outreach Worker, and raising a 13 month old future feminist

Jamillah Knowles

When first approached to write a review for The F-Word, of a book by the woman who created the site, I wondered if this might be a set up. I am not a feminist. I stand by that still. But naturally I respect the work and study the feminists do, in the way that I support all walks of social awareness and improvement. I stand for equality and I hope that others can respect that decision.

Reading Reclaiming the F Word: The New Feminist Movement was certainly an education for me. As someone who stands for equal rights but has not entered into gender studies or feminist progression, I was delighted to learn more about the topic. But this reading was not without its moments of questioning.

I am not someone who believe that feminism is dead or simply a movement for my mother’s generation. I was a passionate Riot Grrl and I support raising awareness of women in sectors where they appear to be marginalised. As a global reporter, I am also aware of the mass injustice perpetrated in countries where women are treated as second class citizens or worse.

The opening introductions to this book include a quote that made me feel separated and guilty about my thoughts on the topic. That I should feel ashamed not to wear the feminist label after all the sacrifices made by women before me. Thinking that maybe this might be the tone for the rest of the book, I cannot say I was keen to read on, to be berated for my own personal beliefs.

This book is a fair illustration of feminism today. The women listed are vital, the issues considered are contemporary and inspiring. The focus on recent history and division through the 1990s intrigued me as, along with many others, I was more interested in keeping up with the ‘Ladette’ end of Brit Pop.

Reclaiming the F Word did not change my mind about feminism, but rather opened it and increased my appreciation

Reclaiming the F Word provides further information at the end of each chapter – at some times I found this very helpful, but at other times I questioned the wisdom. In particular, encouraging people to deface public property made me wonder what I would think if I had daughters to cover if they were fined for vandalism. I believe there are smarter methods and indeed there are many other more positive options listed to help women find ways to express themselves and highlight issues.

In some ways I finished the book still confused about the boundaries of feminism. I certainly don’t knock anyone supporting those around them, but the current wave of feminism seems to encompass a lot more than core issues about women. I had no idea that feminism covered LGBT issues or body dysmorphia in boys, for example. I don’t think I would have counted these into my own definition. Maybe adopting the label for myself as someone who stands for equality is a semantic problem. If feminism encompasses all of the cases included in equality campaigning, then it seems like a matter of choosing a category that feels right, if you are one for categorisation.

I found that this book lay somewhere between academic and instructional handbook. A guide about what to do to refresh your feminist credentials with some intriguing ideas and a pointer for what is being done at the moment. However, I did not feel a part of this movement, but that it was for women who had already made the decision to be or become a feminist. In some places the examples are heavily numbered and indexed to references that meant little to me holding the book. Had this been a live digital set of essays, some links would have provided the answers I sought – but as someone new to the field, I would have been looking up everything along the way leading to an interruption of narrative and understanding.

I am not a feminist still, because I am not practised in the activities or writings of feminists. My awareness and study of feminist issues has not reached the levels that Redfern and Aune admirably manage. However, Reclaiming the F Word has made me more aware and more likely to think on the world around me and beyond with feminist issues in mind. We make choices about our levels of action and reaction. I will happily fight inequality where I see it across the board, but not specifically as a feminist campaigner. Reclaiming the F Word did not change my mind, but rather opened it and increased my appreciation.

Having read the book, at least I know the roots and thinking of the UK’s foremost feminist website and I can see more clearly the work of women who count themselves as a part of this new wave. If you want to read more about feminism, I can recommend this highly, especially if you are already armed with a firm foundation of knowledge. As an outsider to the movement, I felt a bit lost when it came to the path already explored.

Maybe this book is for feminists rather than those who prefer the term equality. And you may want to wait until your children are old enough to pay their own fines if you pass the book on to the next generation. Either way, it still stands as a remarkable edition to encompass such a broad topic whilst still managing to be educational and entertaining.

Jamillah Knowles is a writer and broadcaster for the BBC. Working primarily in areas of technology and news, she produces and presents the BBC Radio Five Live radio show and podcast, Pods and Blogs/Outriders

LonerGrrrl

Over the past few years, spurts of feminist activism have appeared across the UK, but not until this year – with the BBC’s ‘Activists’ documentary (part of its Women series) and Kat Banyard’s book The Equality Illusion – has it begun to be brought together to point to the existence of a larger, more definable movement.

Reclaiming the F Word: The New Feminist Movement by Catherine Redfern and Kristin Aune, is next to reflect on this reinvigorated feminist energy. They offer a sincere and celebratory account of the recent resurgence, highlighting and legitimising the activities and voices of the mainly young grassroots feminist activists who have spurred it.

The book is based on responses to a survey the authors undertook (to which nearly 1, 300 UK feminists replied), from which they compiled a list of seven things today’s feminists want: liberated bodies; sexual freedom and choice; an end to violence against women; equality at work and home; politics and religion transformed; popular culture free from sexism; and feminism reclaimed.

A chapter is devoted to each, with Redfern and Aune beginning with an outline of the issues, quoting research, statistics – and, importantly – feminists themselves, on everything from body image to homophobia, rape, the division of labour in the home, the under-representation of women in politics, celebrity culture and more.

Reclaiming the F Word is a pretty accurate reflection of the priorities of the current feminist movement – we are more concerned with combating sex object culture than unequal pay

The feminist response to each of these issues is then detailed, and this is where Reclaiming the F Word improves on previous attempts at bringing recent feminist activity together, as it draws on a diversity of examples – mainly from the UK, but also overseas – to give a broader and more thorough picture of feminist activism today. Protests such as that against the Miss University of London contest; campaigns for the regulation, as well as the abolition, of prostitution; and work with more mainstream organisations, such as the National Childbirth Trust, are all mentioned.

The section describing the feminist response to sexist pop culture is the liveliest, with many vibrant examples and voices of feminists included, encompassing blogging, Ladyfest, the Pink Stinks campaign and the individual woman’s refusal to conform to mainstream beauty standards. In contrast, the chapter on work quotes more from secondary sources than it does today’s feminists, and there are fewer examples of action taken to tackle workplace discrimination. Whilst this imbalance could be something to criticise, it would be more accurate to do so in relation to the movement itself; as it is, Reclaiming the F Word is a pretty accurate reflection of the priorities of the current feminist movement – we are more concerned with combating sex object culture than unequal pay.

If you’ve been involved in the new feminist movement yourself, there’s perhaps not much here that will be new to you. But there are a few refreshing insights; on work, it’s suggested that today’s feminists, “don’t want to be house-slaves, but neither do we want to be wage-slaves”, taking the well-worn ‘working vs stay at home mum debate’ down a potentially more radical road. The section on religion also presents a different view. Whilst the patriarchal strictures of most world religions are more often deemed incompatible with feminism’s push for women’s autonomy, Redfern and Aune show – by mentioning groups such as Safra Project, a network of Muslim LBT women who work to “develop frameworks for a ‘progressive Islam'” – that religion and feminism don’t always clash, but can coincide.

Ultimately though, it’s the young woman coming to feminism for the first time for whom Reclaiming the F Word could be an exciting and revelatory read.

Its concise explorations of the key issues, inclusion of direct quotes from feminists and examples of the activism taking place, could be just the thing to inspire her involvement and set her off on her feminist journey. It’s therefore a shame that whilst each chapter usefully ends with a Take Action! box suggesting five ways to get involved, there’s no further list of websites and resources she can refer to so as to explore things further.

It’s the final chapter though, ‘Feminism reclaimed’, which is most likely to leave a lasting impression on the burgeoning and more experienced feminist alike. In describing the need for feminism and what brings women to it, Redfern and Aune emphasise the importance of those first “personal expressions of feminism”. This is a useful reminder to the more seasoned feminist – who may now be articulating feminism in a more complex way than this book sets out to – as to how and why she got involved in feminism in the first place, so that together with the next wave of young women Reclaiming the F Word encourages to get involved, we can continue to build this new “vibrant, living” feminist movement.

LonerGrrrl is a rock ‘n’ roll radical feminist writer living in Leicester, dreaming of a time when her days will be filled with doing more rock ‘n’ roll radical feminist writing and escaping the office-work rat-race rut she’s currently stuck in

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