Book Review: Fembodyverse: An Inner-Stellar Adventure into Womanhood, Michele Elizabeth (2012)

June 12th, 2013 12:55 pm by Kelly Garbato

Innerspace meets Our Bodies, Ourselves – in another dimension!

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review at the author’s invitation.

Also, trigger warning for rape.)

“You’re on a mission, Estelle: to know yourself, to become whole, to mature and be who and what you truly are in the external world.”

Seventeen-year-old Estelle Rinoux is on a quest to become a woman – a “real” woman. To Estelle and her peers, this means losing her virginity: in her case, to steady boyfriend Robert Pierson, who is as handsome as he is chauvinist. Unsurprisingly, Estelle’s first time isn’t as nearly as magical as she hoped it would be, and leaves her feeling less connected with both Robert and her own body than she’d been before.

Enter Pudi. An “emufté,” Pudi serves as Estelle’s own personal guide through her inner feminine universe – her “fembodyverse,” if you will. From the tips of her toes up through the top of her head, Pudi introduces Estelle to the “divine cosmos” within. A magical place which exists in the “feeling dimension” (hence the lack of organs and tissue), Estelle’s fembodyverse is comprised of such varied phenomenon as smart skin, the directors, the wisdom center, Mama Party, lost girls, and the Oracle – all of which make up the Body Goddess. In turn, the Body Goddess is connected to Grandmother Gaia, from which she draws strength and power. With Pudi’s assistance, Estelle comes to accept her inner goddess, and to understand that true self-worth comes from within. When women measure their value through external cues – wealth, beauty, social acceptance – they are playing a losing game, one constructed by the patriarchy.

Written in beautifully poetic prose (to wit: “Estelle knelt down upon the toe’s floor, her celestial hair waving like a slow-motion flag.”), Fembodyverse: An Inner-Stellar Adventure into Womanhood has a vaguely ecofeminist feel to it. (That said, I couldn’t help but laugh when Estelle fumed about Robert’s “[bug- and frog-] slaughtering shithead” friend Nathan – all while chowing down on a tuna salad sammie. Oh the disconnect!) Unfortunately, the story also shares in some of ecofeminism’s flaws, such as gendering nature (“Mother Nature,” “Grandmother Gaia”) – nature is no more female than it is male. The idea that women are inherently connected to the land and its nonhuman inhabitants has long been employed as a justification for their oppression (and male dominance). Likewise, equating the mind/rational thought with masculinity – and the body/nature with femininity – does a disservice to those of all genders. (Not to mention, the mind and body are essentially one.) And compassion is a wonderful thing, but it’s a role that women are socialized – not born – into.

Whereas author Michele Elizabeth describes the fembodyverse in fantastical and imaginative detail, the characters feel rather one-dimensional. Estelle’s friends, mother, and the members of her social circle are mostly devoid of personality (it’s been nearly two decade since I was a teenager, but I don’t remember kids being that shallow and superficial – not even the rich, popular ones!), and I found it difficult to muster up much empathy for Estelle in her journey. Additionally, Estelle’s privileged background may make it difficult for readers of more diverse backgrounds to identify with her.

Fembodyverse is a difficult book to rate – it’s not really my thing (a little too New Agey for this atheist’s tastes), but liberal religious/spiritual moms may find it a useful resource for helping their teenage daughters brave the tumultuous waters of adolescence. Just be sure to pair it with more practical and overtly feminist* resources, such as the above-mentioned Our Bodies, Ourselves, and perhaps a subscription to Bitch magazine.

* Take, for example, this passage:

“Blake approached the table, his sandy hair nearly bleached white by the sun, and greeted the group with a somewhat predatory grin as he assessed the estrogen level. Having screwed half the girls in their class and the grade below, he carried himself as if his charisma was irresistible, an attitude belied by the fact his success depended largely on getting girls drunk and having his way with them.”

You mean rape. Blake is a serial rapist. Let’s dispense with the euphemisms and name Blake’s behavior for what it is: RAPE. Anything less obscures the issue and perpetuates rape culture.

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

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