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What We Need Is an F-Word Revolution
He's the boss, she's a bitch. He's independent, she's pathetic. He's childless, she's selfish. He's a Romeo, she's a stalker. He's angry, she's PMSing.
These are just some of the gender inequities in Jessica Valenti's new book, He's a Stud, She's a Slut and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know.
Pay close attention to how men and women are commonly characterized -- come on down, Hillary Clinton! -- and you can't miss the so-ingrained-most-can't-even-hear-them-any-more slurs against women.
"After I wrote my first book (Full Frontal Feminism), I got a lot of amazing responses," says Valenti, 29, on the phone from her home in Queens, New York, where she lives, writes and edits the popular blog she founded four years ago, feministing.com.
"I saw what resonated most with women of all ages, the everyday inequities, the everyday slights that really affected them, that made them understand why feminism is so important, that make women go "Wow, that is sexism!'"
Which is why she is helping to draw a crowd of young women tonight in Toronto at the Camera Gallery, for an event sponsored by The Miss G Project for Equity in Education and Shameless magazine.
All these gung-ho third-wave feminists gladden the heart of an old second-waver like moi.
That's because, rather than run from the f-word while benefiting from the hard-won battles for equal rights, these women embrace it.
"I call it 'I'm-not-a-feminist-but' syndrome," explains Valenti. "It's like 'I'm not a feminist but I think it's terrible that we don't have equal pay yet. I'm not a feminist but I think that women should have access to birth control without having problems at their pharmacies.'"
"The conservative movement and the backlash against feminism have been extremely successful and smart in labelling feminism with all these ridiculous stereotypes that really serve a specific and strategic purpose. If young women believe that feminism is for man-haters, is uncool, is ugly, then why would they ever want to identify with it?"
When I was Valenti's age, feminists were labelled bra-burning, hairy-legged beasts that could never catch a husband.
Some things never change.
"They have been pushing the same nonsense for so many years and we continue to fall for them," she agrees. "I tell readers they're trying to pull one over on you. They're hoping that you're going to fall for it."
That's because "they" -- the religious right, conservatives and others threatened by independent women -- want to keep us "in our place."
In-your-face feminism is what Valenti is about, and has been ever since she went for her master's in women's and gender studies at Rutgers.
Although the fierce and funny Feministing, where she and seven other under-30 young women post, does carry ads, they barely pay for its costs. The website is a labour of love for its contributors, who attract some 250,000 readers, and about 1.2 million page views a month.
On a typical day, you'll find news and potty-mouthed views about Republican presidential contender John McCain's anti-abortion stance, or how some guy got away with rape, or statistics on wife battering, or misogyny in the media, or the sexist attacks on Clinton.
"The amount of sexism and misogyny on the campaign was shocking even to me," Valenti says. "I wasn't expecting the widespread acceptance and the kind of pooh-poohing of feminists.
"But I am an eternal optimist," she adds. " I am hoping it will start a national conversation about sexism and to really call people out, call pundits out, for perpetuating this nonsense."
Valenti isn't just calling them out. She'll drag them out, kicking and screaming.
As she writes, "Take being called a bitch as a compliment. Because it means you're doing something right."