Monday, April 16, 2012

BITCHfest: a very brief critique

A year ago during a long bus ride from Montreal to Boston, I read the book Bitchfest: Ten Years of Cultural Criticism from the Pages of Bitch Magazine (Miya-Jervis, Lisa, and Andi Zeisler. Bitchfest: Ten Years of Cultural Criticism from the Pages of Bitch Magazine. 1st ed. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006.).

I remember the book being great, and I am finally incorporating my notes and thoughts from it into my dissertation on the role of illiterate women in grassroots activism. I especially enjoyed two chapters by Rachel Fudge: Celebrity Jeopardy: The Perils of Feminist Fame (pages 125-133) and Girl, Unreconstructed: Why Girl Power is Bad for Feminism (pages 155-161). In both chapters, Fudge provides some great nuggets about feminism, such as the notion that women and men “should have equal access to the public realm” and feminism can be “used to describe anything that is culturally oppositional or seeks social change.”

However, I wrote a note to myself expressing disappointment at the frequent missed opportunities to discuss the feminization of poverty or the importance of including poor women in re-development efforts in their own communities. The absence of these ideas struck me because a lot of what I see when I deconstruct the world is the result of reading Bitch Magazine, where I learned about interesting subjects like the non-disabled privilege and thin privilege and other eye-opening, life-changing topics that had never occurred to me.

Another missed mark is Fudge's comment that in cases where women are reluctant to adopt the label ‘feminist’ it is because they are reluctant “to be allied with anything that implies they are weak, or victimized, or unequal.” But this overlooks groups like Islamic feminists who reject the label feminist for other reasons, such is its association with secularism or westernization or colonialism. I can forgive her these missed opportunities because I love the takeaway, in my own words: Feminism isn’t just about giving women choices. It’s about a collective struggle, not a personal decision. It is about politicizing and contextualizing cultural messages about gender and behavior.

Anyhow, the entire book is a great read with a few missed opportunities.