If Your “Click” Moment Didn’t Make You Feminist, Where Do You Sit?

Click! When We Knew We Were Feminists / Edited by J. Courtney Sullivan and Courtney E. Martin. Seal Press, 7 April, 2010. U.S. $16.95

It being February, I decided to post my first review with Persephone as a reminder to consider the exclusionary history of feminism in context of the newest versions of feminist thought and practice. A version of this review was originally posted at on August 6, 2010.

I probably would have finished Click in a day, except my dog ate my first copy and I had to replace it with a warning that if he ever ate another book it would be his last meal. I don’t know if I got my point across, because a few minutes later I felt so guilty for being so mad and for yelling at him that I was lying on the floor snuggling, but that’s not the point! Not! The Point! Anyway, a credit on Amazon combined with my student Prime account got me a new copy for $6, and all was well.

When I pick up a recently published feminist book, I am hit with the same fear every time–that it will nestle itself comfortably into a particular style of writing about young feminism (think Feministe). While the experience of young white women is obviously not a bad thing in itself, there’s a tendency among the most well-known young feminist writers to minimize or completely erase the experiences of other women (read this as any woman who is socially aware but remains reluctant to take on the label herself, generally but certainly not always women of color). In its first two essays, one of which is written by Jennifer Baumgardner (herself one of those Faces of Young Feminism), Click fits this trend. Because this was the point when Hobbes gobbled up the book, I was understandably concerned that this would continue. Reviews and summaries told me that Click does include essays from women of color, but judging from the title, I expected that all of them would identify enthusiastically as feminist, eliminating the kind of critical thought that Womanists and others who don’t take on the Big F Label can bring to the table.

Cover Image for Click! When We Knew We Were FeministsThe review I’m writing, I think, pretty well exemplifies my torn feelings about those first essays. It’s about me; it’s my life, but it’s not my feminism. My feminism is, or tries to be, more aware than that. In many ways this kind of writing is reminiscent of my own early feminism–the “why wouldn’t a woman identify as feminist?” kind of indignant question I asked to myself-and out loud-when I was 20 and 21 and hosting events on the subject. The problem is, to be a responsible, intersectional feminist in today’s environment, the question isn’t “why wouldn’t she,” but “why would she?” What has feminism done for her, and, perhaps more importantly, what has it done to her? Are feminist spaces safe for her, or silencing? Too often, it’s specifically her doubts about the movement that are silenced, but in a woman who has chosen to contribute to feminist spaces even when they aren’t entirely welcoming to her, those doubts are often valid. As Sophie Pitt-Cohen muses in her essay Finding and Making the Reasons, “I realized [feminism] is a special, specific word. It’s more than just caring that women not be treated like dirt, or believing in basic, vague concepts of equality. It’s taking it upon yourself to be aware of what you are involved in and what’s going on around you.”

And then my second copy found its merry way to my mailbox, and I started reading the essays from the women (and one man) of color. Because the book is about individual adoption of the feminist label, although many of these essays mention parallel movements, several dismiss them in favor of mainstream feminism. Luckily, later essays like Joshnunda Sanders’ “What’s the Female Version of a Hustler?:” Womanist Training for a Bronx Nerd and Mathangi Subramanian’s The Brown Girl’s Guide to Labels prove that the topic can be handled delicately without abandoning the conflict that surrounds the question.

On a personal level, though, I found myself identifying with a lot of the essays. Written for feminists (and not-quite-feminists) born circa 1970 or later, I was able to identify with a lot of the cultural references and therefore the stories through parts of my own memories. In her own “click” essay, Jennifer Baumgardner writes, “People protested their exclusion and oppression–they kicked open doors, they demanded to be let in. But that way of being activist is less germane today, when exclusion is not the primary oppression. The activism of today…requires listening as much as…speaking out. It is the activism of inhabiting a space once the door has been kicked open…” Again, recognizing that, systemically, plenty of women still aren’t in the doors, this is something that I relate to in my own life experiences with feminism. Though I wish the author had included greater recognition in her essay of those still excluded, at the same time I am aware that it’s a sentiment that reflects my life–but also my privilege.

14 replies on “If Your “Click” Moment Didn’t Make You Feminist, Where Do You Sit?”

I read this book when it came out late last year. It was okay, but as other people have mentioned, most of the essays didn’t deviate from the cis, white, middle-class version of feminism. Also, being 38-years-old, I’m not really the target audience for a book like this. I am curious about those who’ve actually had “click” moments. I never had one, or don’t remember having one. (I do like Jennifer Baumgardner’s quote about channeling clicks from another generation and trying to make them your own.)

What makes you say you’re not its target audience? I ask because the review says it’s meant mainly for people born around 1970 “or later”, which should be a perfect fit for you. Do you disagree?
I haven’t read this book, but I am interested in it now, flaws and all (btw, good review, Anna!) And I am curious as to whether, at 23, I’m part of its intended audience.

I would say that at 23, definitely. The editors themselves make the “1970-or-later” designation; I personally would be more likely to put it 5+ years later. I’d be hesitant to suggest it to someone older than 35, especially if they were established in their ideologies.

I’m trying to say this in a way that doesn’t do too much age-splitting in movements, but there’s not a lot of real DISCOVERY or NEW MATERIAL in this book, just the points at which younger women find that the older material fits their lives.

Does that make sense? I’ve been hacking away at this reply for ten minutes, so I’m giving up if it doesn’t.

Thanks. Five years doesn’t make much of a difference now, but when you’re talking cultural references, there’s a huge difference in something happening when you’re seventeen as opposed to twenty-two or twenty-three. I was just out of my teens when riot grrrl, and Courtney Love and Liz Phair were popular. Not that I think they’re the end-all, be-all of third-wave feminism, but I seem to have a different set of references. Or maybe it’s just being a working-class girl living in the midwest and not attending a liberal college. There’s some disconnect there, I just haven’t found it yet.

Well now I have to read the book because the quotation at the end has potentially pissed me off. “It is the activism of inhabiting a space once the door has been kicked open…” sort of implies that the only issue is for big-F-Feminism to allow those previously marginalized into the fold, doesn’t it? There’s no recognition that they have their own space, their own thoughts, and their own movement that is at least as valid as Feminism in that assumption. I’m quibbling over a metaphor without its context, which probably isn’t fair. Anna did a good job of explaining why this book is still problematic… but that bit made my lip curl involuntarily.

I tried to get at that but may have missed–there’s definitely a sense in a lot of the essays that someone who has thought through feminism will accept the label, which is obviously not the case. There are a couple of other essays that I referenced earlier in the review that are from people who don’t actually identify as feminist. The Baumgardner piece is…Baumgardner.

By which I mean that the book doesn’t fully redeem itself, but it’s not all terrible.

This was a great review. I haven’t read a whole lot of feminist literature because I’m afraid I’ll be disappointed or frustrated if it is exclusive of anybody or differs significantly from my personal view of feminism, but I’d really like to read this. I think it will be interesting to read about feminism from all these different perspectives.

Really great review, Anna! I’m always hesitant to purchase books about feminism, largely because I don’t want to end up reading the same OMFG (WHITE GIRL) OUTRAGE + rah rah sisterhood over and over and over again. I’ll definitely be adding this book to my (approaching out of control long) to-read list.

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