I think I finally get it. I think I finally understand what it is about Jessica Valenti in Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman's Guide to Why Feminism Matters and "He's a Stud" that bugs me.
You know how you go to a party and maybe your friend came in with this loud, obnoxious person? And in order to spend time with your friend (and being an introvert, you hate parties anyway) you must spend time with this obnoxious person? And you realize that everything about you and your friend's companion is opposite and there is NO WAY unless hell freezes over you will be friends? So you stand around, listening politely while the other person shoots off at the mouth, saying things you agree with, but you find yourself almost immediately inwardly opposing?
Well, that's how Valenti and I are. She's got some great ideas, but the way she writes totally grates on me. Little to no research or references, a too-casual approach, tons of f-bombs and lots of goofy, supposedly funny comments to more serious topics. Some people are going to adore this frank discussion; they are going to learn oodles from it. They are going to love how relaxed and carefree Jessica Valenti is.
But when I open a non-fiction book, I want professionalism. I want to see a big, fat Bibliography with lots of references - weblinks AND books, magazines, periodicals. I want a certain tone in the writing. I don't mind some anger, but I want some attempt at objectivity.
This time around, Valenti tackles the double standard. How guys can be ugly, but women have to be gorgeous. How men want careers, and women want marriage and kids. How guys can have frequent sex, but women are called prostitutes. And Valenti attempts to provide solutions to each one.
If you have been a woman not secluded in the Andes mountains, you are well aware of most of these double standards already. So this book might be more interesting for the research/solution portions. Or, I supposed, the "humor" part.
But here's where I start having problems.
1) There are 50 of these double standards, but in a sense, there are much fewer as several overlap. Two are so intimately tied (18 & 46) that Valenti uses the same quote in both and even slightly references the title of 18 in 46. Not to mention, due to the size of the book, a mere 4 pages tops is given to each double standard and that is with a whole page typically dedicated to a "solution". Honestly, I would rather have Valenti condensed these hypocrisies down into as few as possible (10? 12? 5?) and spent MORE time going into depth on each one.
2) If you are lucky, the double standard will have a weblink in the "Bibliography" (actually just a couple of pages where Valenti tosses the mostly weblinks up, without proper refencing). Otherwise, large portions of the text remain unreferenced. You have to take Valenti's word when she says things like there is a "boy crisis" in colleges. And for a non-fiction book, I shouldn't have to take someone's word; I should be directed to a source that has research backing up the claim. Otherwise, it's no different than me making a Feminism Wiki and linking it to my "Chicken and Men Conspiracy" blog.
3) When Valenti does reference stuff, sometimes it's questionable. For instance, she gives definitions for "pussy whipped" from Urban Dictionary - whose submissions, according to Wikipedia are "regulated by volunteer editors and rated by site visitors". Yeah, that certainly sounds credible! Also, the other part that kinda perturbed me was how frequently Valenti would reference her own work (in which the excerpts were of better professional quality than the book!) or the work of another Feministing blogger. Is there no one else that can provide quotes and references for your work, that you have to resort to using your own or your blog?
4) The solutions are terrible. Not as in "don't do them", as in "not helpful". Most are "Speak out!" or "Tell them to f@#$ off!" Yup, that is certainly going to make you a lot of friends! The worst though was for #44, where at the end of one section, Valenti goes, "I really just wanted to bring up...how much work we have to do." So what IS the solution to the horrible rape laws, the unfair sex laws? The ever popular "speak up"? Support rape groups? I wish: "I don't know, dude. Move?" And THAT'S IT!!! End page! No more! Valenti didn't even bother to toss a repetitive SPEAK UP? I spent more time thinking of solutions to this problem than she did - join a rape crisis center, donate money to rape advocacy groups, support elected officials who will change laws, etc.
5) The titles range from being spot on "He's a Stud, She's a Slut" to being confusing "He's a Hipster, She's a Ho" (I suggested that "Ho" should be "slob") to being downright misleading/incorrect "He's Protected, She's Property". To me, this smarts more of having too many hypocrisies and not enough material to work with.
6) While most of the double standards I agree with, some of them I am unsure about. For instance, the "He's 'Lucky', She's Lolita" is about how teenaged boys having sex with older women is OK, but teenaged girls having sex with older men is squicky. It confuses me mostly because - aren't older women in that case "cougars"? And wouldn't teenaged boys "look bad" for sleeping with "prowling women"? A few of these that I had questioned (such as being approached when dining alone), fellow friends corroborated - too bad Valenti didn't provide more examples, other than her own experience for this. The other one, "He's Hot AND Heady, She's Brainy OR Boobilicious", I somewhat disagree with. How many hot, too-young female doctors do we see on TV? These women are in their mid-twenties; there is no way they would have finished college, residency, etc. at that age and be respected doctors!
7) This one is VERY subjective, but I don't really find the work very funny. Most of the time, Valenti tries to be funny by inserting jokey comments, but I find those sarcastic, obnoxious and derisive. Now, some people like this, and even I can myself, but for whatever reason, Valenti's humor did not jive with me. And then at one point, she tosses in a rather crude (IMO) sexual joke, to prove that women can be "funny", and I didn't find the joke funny at all. (And no, it's not because she's a woman and women can't tell crude sex jokes - if a man had told the same joke, my reaction would have been the EXACT same.)
In my opinion, Valenti's best work was The Purity Myth. She was professional, well-researched and candid without being abrasive and dumbing down her content. These earlier books ("He's a Stud" and "Full Frontal Feminism") seem to be more like long blog posts - so perhaps if that is how you found Valenti, these would really click with your personality. By no means is this book bad; I find it an improvement over "Full Frontal Feminism". A lot of these double standards are one that women everywhere will have experienced. However, I doubt many people who have read anything about feminism will learn anything new from this book - and if you are reading this for the solutions, I can save you time: "Speak out. Tell people who don't like what you do to leave you alone." If you were hoping for something more substantial, keep looking. If you want a little time waster and adore Valenti's style, then this book will be right up your alley.
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