In the world we live in, we are reminded daily of why feminism is important.
For blogger and author Jessica Valenti who spoke Monday at Grand Valley State University, she cited a few recent examples: the story of an Arizona State University student raped by a man who was kicked out for rape accusations but was allowed back into school to play football, an ad using women’s bodies to sell shampoo, and the media’s publishing photos of pop star Rihanna after being the victim of domestic assault.
For Valenti, these are just a small sampling of the many reasons why she calls herself a feminist. She said that the common stereotypes of feminism–from man-haters to bra burning–are cultivated by groups who want to benefit from keeping women in subservient positions.
However, Valenti said that the fact that so many seek to discredit feminism is proof its power.
Feministing.com and Young Feminism
Back in 2004, Valenti started the blog Feministing.com while working at a national feminist organization. At the time, she saw few outlets for young feminists online and had experience the marginalization of their ideas within the major feminist organizations.
She took a new approach with Feministing.com and worked to make feminism “fun, cool, and edgy” to extend its appeal to a new group of women. The site thrives based on its community (readers interact extensively through comments and blog posting) while at the same time it works to move blogging away from simply being commentary and towards activism. She cited examples of getting lawmakers to pull patriarchal legislation and pressuring companies to stop selling offensive clothing. The website also engages in media watchdogging and highlights examples of sexism in the media.
Valenti emphasized that the site has been able to attract thousands of readers by being informal and funny. She said that if you talk “to” and not “at” young women, they are quite receptive and that they understand the importance of feminism. Moreover, she also said that it is critical to make feminism accessible to anyone and not just college-educated people reading feminist theory.
The Purity Myth
Valenti’s work on Feministing.com has led to three books–Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters, He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut, and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know, and the forthcoming The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity Is Hurting Young Women.
Over the past few years, she has begun to take an interest in how women’s sexuality is being portrayed in the media and how that relates to notions of purity. This led to The Purity Myth. She cited examples of media coverage that express fear of women’s sexuality, books that argue sex leads to depression, and rightwing groups that charge that female students will become dropouts with STDs if they have sex. At the same time, she noticed a parallel trend of legislative policies that have emphasized abstinence only education, banned access to Plan B, and other such policies. This has created a situation in which a moral panic, conservative organizations, and traditional gender roles are pushing women to choose between an unattainable purity myth and a hyper-sexualized version of femininity.
Optimistic about Feminism’s Future
Despite the daily outrages of a patriarchal society, Valenti said that she is optimistic about the future of feminism. She said that she sees more people getting involved and is inspiring by the steady stream of victories and activism ranging from girls pressuring Abercrombie to pull sexist t-shirts to rock camps for girls.