We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl®, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement
★★★★☆ (I really liked it.)
“The rise of feminist underpants is a weird twist on Karl Marx’s theory of commodity fetishism, wherein consumer products once divorced from inherent use value are imbued with all sorts of meaning. To brand something as feminist doesn’t involve ideology, or labor, or policy, or specific actions or processes. It’s just a matter of saying, ‘This is feminist because we say it is.”
I added this book to the 2016-2017 purchase list for the high school library with the note to the teacher-librarian that “It’s The Beauty Myth (already in the collection) for 2016 instead of 1992.” Not that I’m knocking The Beauty Myth! We should have both in our collection and I hope this becomes a classic.
Andi Zeisler articulated my frustration with mainstream contemporary feminism, which Zeisler labels “marketplace feminism.” The coopting of feminism for capitalist ends isn’t new (“You’ve come a long way, baby”?), and neither are attempts to “rebrand” feminism. Ziesler examines the flaws of a neoliberal, capitalist “feminism” and deconstructs the ideological failure of an “I choose my choice,” individualist “feminist” identity – and slams the companies who want to sell it to you.
Ziesler argues that “feminism” isn’t a static metric to measure consumer choices. “Empowerment” (another word Ziesler argues has been coopted and diluted to virtual meaninglessness) should mean more than the freedom to choose which color of $45 “feminist” granny panties you buy. (Yes, $45 underwear are an actual thing.) It’s not a victory if a few (mostly white) women make it to the top by stepping on other women and conforming to strict hetero-patriarchal capitalist standards.
I can recommend this book instead of explaining (again) why I haven’t read Lean In and probably won’t ever.
I wanted to rate this book as four stars, but it lost one whole entire star for “women-born-women.” That is some TERF bullshit, usually written “womyn-born-womyn.” I tweeted about my displeasure – and to my surprise, Ziesler responded. Hopefully the transphobic construction “women-born-women” will be edited in later editions to “cis woman” or something less ugly. I bumped my review back up to four stars under the assumption that this will be fixed. How she didn’t know this already is beyond me.
Judging a Book by its Cover
It’s OK? I bet most of the people buying this book know about Ziesler through the magazine she co-founded, Bitch. I think it’s supposed to look like a riot grrrl zine? I don’t know, it doesn’t really do it for me.
I called it “The Beauty Myth, but for 2016.” What more do you want me to say?