Lollygagger’s #CBR5 Review #47: Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future by Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards

As I close in on the full Cannonball, I’m trying to wrap up a lot of books that I’ve put down over the course of the year. There’s a science book, one of the Song of Ice and Fire series, another etiquette book, and one on goddesses (seriously). And then there’s this one, which I started way back in January. Why the ten month break between starting and finishing it? Well … I just did not like it.

Manifesta is on a lot of ‘must read’ feminism book lists, but I found it to be mediocre. The writing isn’t bad – it’s not like Cinderella’s Lost Diary or whatever that unfortunate book was that Cannonballers were offered for free earlier this year. My problem is that it’s not actually what it claims to be – a feminism manifesto. It’s more like a thrown-together anthology of white feminism, with some ‘picture this’ writing thrown in. The chapters feel disjointed, and I’m not entirely clear what the authors sought to do with this book. Were they trying to say what the ‘third wave’ feminists are contributing to feminism as a whole? Were they trying to explore what previous feminists did (and how that was and was not successful)? Trying to outline what we should be doing going forward? I think a book could be successful in doing all three, but that’s not this book.

In addition to the book feeling disjointed and unfocused, there were so many areas where they missed opportunities to really explore feminism – warts and all. There was even one point where I wanted to just throw the book out the window, but was nearly 200 pages in so I just stuck it out. That moment was during a discussion of toys for young girls, and the issues with Barbie, and the attempts to push Mattel to sell Barbies that look more like all girls – so not just blond, white Barbies. The authors passed that off as “PC,” and they meant that as an insult. Any book that uses the concept of “Politically Correct” as though it is derogatory just isn’t a good book in my opinion. Saying something is ‘politically correct’ means that it’s showing some empathy to people, and recognizing that straight, white, cis people aren’t all who matter.

That very specific issue is one example of the larger problem with this book – it’s so, very, very white. Yes, the authors mention contributions from women of color (usually in passing), but they don’t acknowledge any of the larger issues with mainstream white feminism. They buy into the “women fought to join the workforce and stay there after the war” story, for example, but don’t acknowledge that many women of color had already been working for decades. They don’t recognize the complexity of race, gender and sexuality – it’s a lot of Gloria Steinem and one reference to bell hooks.

Going forward, I’ll be avoiding these generic overviews of feminism, whether targeting and young women or not. I’m more interested in learning about the full history of feminism, and womanism, and reading books that look at the bigger issues of intersectionality that mainstream feminism keeps ignoring.

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