Reclaiming the F Word: The New Feminist Movement (A Review – of the Book, Not the Movement)

June 22nd, 2010 5:26 pm by Kelly Garbato

At first glance, this book review might seem a bit out of place on an animal rights blog (even one written by a vegan feminist), but grumble not!: Animal advocacy does make a cameo near the end.

Reclaiming the F Word (2010)

“I’ll be a post-feminist in the post-patriarchy.”

The book cover for Reclaiming the F Word: The New Feminist Movement depicts a “We Can Do It!”-style tough woman, complete with kerchiefed head, rolled sleeves and flexed bicep. The cover’s background is shaded a subtle gray, and most of the text is white – save for the “F” in “F Word” (which is neon green) and “The New Feminist Movement” (vibrant purple).
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Feminism 2010, 101 (or, “I’ll be a post-feminist in the post-patriarchy.”)

five out of five stars

Spurred by the disconnect between the mainstream media’s treatment of feminism (depending on the source, feminism is: dead; outdated; a fad that’s passed; bad for your health; an utter failure; and/or proven so successful that it’s outlived its usefulness) and the “vibrant feminist movement” that they bear daily witness to, UK-based feminists Catherine Redfern and Kristin Aune decided to investigate and document the “new feminist movement.” Redfern – founder of The F-Word, a website dedicated to issues of contemporary UK feminism – and Aune – a sociology professor who teaches courses on feminism, gender and religion – surveyed 1,265 UK feminists in order to assess their thoughts on sexism and feminism and compare these to the demands made by their “second-wave” foremothers.* The results appear in the soon-to-be-published Reclaiming the F Word: The New Feminist Movement (July 6, 2010), along with a cogent introduction to the “third-wave” feminist movement. (The survey results are also available at http://www.reclaimingthefword.net.)

Redfern and Aune open the discussion by identifying the seven demands made by feminists meeting at Oxford’s Ruskin College annually throughout the 1970s:

1. Equal pay now

2. Equal education and job opportunities

3. Free contraception and abortion on demand

4. Free 24-hour nurseries

5. Financial and legal independence

6. An end to all discrimination against lesbians; assertion of a woman’s right to define her own sexuality

7. Freedom from intimidation by threat or use of violence or sexual coercion, regardless of marital status; and an end to all laws, assumptions and institutions which perpetuate male dominance and men’s aggression towards women.

While feminists have made significant progress on many of these issues, clearly there’s still much work to be done. For example, while legislation regarding rape and sexual assault has improved in both the UK and the US, women (particularly women of color, women with disabilities, trans women, children, etc.) are still physically and sexually victimized in great numbers – both by male perpetrators, and again by a culture fraught with rape apologism and a largely uncompassionate judicial system. Thus, it should come as no great surprise that contemporary feminists voice similar concerns some forty years later.

Based on the responses they received, as well as their own knowledge of current feminist activism and writing, Redfern and Aune group the interests of the “new feminist movement” into seven themes, in homage to the Ruskin College feminists’ seven stated demands:

1. Liberated bodies

2. Sexual freedom and choice

3. An end to violence against women

4. Equality at work and home

5. Politics and religion transformed

6. Popular culture free from sexism

7. Feminism reclaimed

Following the book’s introduction, subsequent chapters explore each of these themes in greater detail. Though the scope of their topic(s) could easily fill an encyclopedia, the authors manage to distill the issues into a compact-yet-comprehensive 220 pages. A sort of “Modern Feminism 101,” Reclaiming the F Word is an excellent introduction to contemporary feminist issues. If you have a younger sister, teen daughter, or college-age granddaughter who’s been known to preface a pro-feminist thought with “I’m not a feminist, but…,” Reclaiming the F Word might just be the thing to bring her around. From violence against women to the unequal representation of women in politics to the objectification of women’s bodies to sell anything and everything under the sun (including other social justice causes) – there’s no shortage of fuel (renewable, natch) within these here pages to ignite the feminist flames within.

And focus them, too: throughout the text, the authors highlight feminists who are taking action in the here and now to combat the problems at hand. (Those already active in the “new feminist movement” will recognize more than a few names and faces.) Additionally, each chapter ends with a bulleted list of steps that the reader can take to further effect change in her (or his!) own life.

Although Reclaiming the F Word is written by UK feminists, about UK feminism, primarily for UK feminists, there’s still much for international readers here. As someone who’s mainly focused on US feminism, I found the discussions of UK laws, politics and culture especially enlightening. (Indeed, since I was already familiar with the basics of today’s feminism going in to Reclaiming the F Word, the UK-specific information was really all that was new to me.) While we as individuals have the most power to impact our own communities, it’s also important to keep abreast of world politics and events, to draw parallels and make connections between various forms of oppression – and liberation! – both at home and abroad. Think globally, act locally, yes?

Finally, a brief digression: As a vegan feminist who considers these two issues inextricably intertwined**, I would have liked to have seen some mention of nonhuman animals and environmental ethics in the seven “new feminist” demands. But, given mainstream feminism’s tendency to ignore (at best) or openly mock (at worst) environmentalism and (especially) animal rights/anti-speciesism, I was not at all bewildered by their absence.***

I was, however, pleasantly surprised to see ecofeminism included as one of twenty possible answers on the “new feminism” survey, with 163 of the respondent identifying themselves as such (making ecofeminist the 9th most commonly identified “branch” of feminism). (Other choices include: general feminism; socialist; academic; liberal; radical; sex-positive; 3rd-wave; queer; riot grrrl; revolutionary; lesbian; pro-/male feminism; 2nd-wave; spiritual/religious; trans-; womanist; black; separatist; and other.) Similarly, “the environment” is listed as an area of concern (with a paltry .6% identifying it as one of their “top three” issues), though animal welfare and/or rights are not (though I suppose these could be included under “intersectionality/intersecting oppressions,” which garnered 2.8% of the vote).

Baby steps or low expectations (or both)? You tell me.

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* An interesting aside: Mozilla’s dictionary does not recognize “foremothers” as a valid word choice. The dictionary does, however, understand its male counterpart, “forefathers.” IBTP. IBTK.

** The whole of animal agriculture, for example, is based on the objectification of nonhuman animals and the attendant exploitation of their reproductive systems; at least half of these animals are female, and females suffer some of the most prolonged and egregious abuses. Women’s and animals’ bodies as public property, anyone?

*** Happily, The F Word has featured vegan and vegetarian bloggers, both as guest posters and regular contributors. While I’m not a regular reader – mainly owing to the fact that I don’t have nearly enough leisure time to read everything I’d like – I feel as though I’d be remiss in not mentioning this.

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This review also appears on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!

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2 Responses to “Reclaiming the F Word: The New Feminist Movement (A Review – of the Book, Not the Movement)”

  1. Amy Clare Says:

    Great that you’ve reviewed this book! I have a quote in it somewhere (haven’t got around to buying it myself yet). It does sound fantastic generally and should be a fascinating read.

    Like you I’m bound to be disappointed with the absence of attention paid to speciesism / animal rights issues; although this is quite normal for mainstream feminism as you rightly point out. The comments on my guest post for The F Word (thanks for linking to it again!) about speciesism show very clearly how much hostility there is among feminists toward the issue of rights for nonhuman animals, and I find this very sad.

    Mine and Jess’s posts about the intersectionality of sexism and speciesism are I think the only two posts addressing nonhuman oppression on the entire site. I think I’m the only person who’s written for them from a vegan perspective.

    Feminism it seems is getting much better at recognising multiple oppressions, such as racism, homophobia, transphobia, disablism etc (and I’d expect these to be the ‘intersecting oppressions’ referred to in the book tbh), but speciesism seems to be an exception and I will never understand why. People who object (quite rightly) to oppression happening to them but are glad to inflict it on others… I don’t get it.

    I have always been and always will be a feminist – and I’ll definitely buy this book when I have the funds – but like you I’m frustrated at the lack of consideration for nonhumans within feminism. Mention of ecofeminism/the environment is a start I agree but concern for the environment doesn’t necessarily include concern for nonhumans (grass-fed beef, anyone?!).

    Sadly, in my experience feminists’ justifications for using nonhuman animals for their own gain/pleasure don’t differ from anyone else’s. I’m only just learning (the hard way!!) about how people can be very selective in the oppressions they choose to recognise. There is a long, LONG way to go.

  2. Kelly Garbato Says:

    Yeah, I know what you mean! I’m always excited to see vegans and animal advocates writing for (or profiled on) mainstream blogs and websites, but the comments are always so…toxic. I know I should be somewhat used to the speciesism – and yet it hurts that much more when it comes from folks whom I’d otherwise consider my allies, you know?

    I’d offer to send you my copy of The F Word, Amy – but sadly, as one of those “I’m not a feminist, but…” would-be-feminists, I already have it earmarked for my younger sis :)

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