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 LibrariAnna.net 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.
The 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.