ICYMI: Feminist Oasis now has a Feminist Book Club! The book club meets bimonthly, on Sunday afternoons, at rotating locations across the Seacoast. Book club reads will be picked based on three categories:

  • Contemporary Feminist Theory
  • Feminist Classics
  • Fiction by WOC (Women of Color)

First up was Jessica Valenti’s Sex Object: A Memoir, which we selected as part of the Contemporary Feminist Theory category. The first question asked at the March 2018 book club meeting was “what makes this book ‘Contemporary Feminist Theory’?” And y’all, we weren’t 100% sure how to answer. Because we are a values-driven entity, intentionality must be part of our focus. So, we thought we’d challenge ourselves to consider what Contemporary Feminist Theory means and why we should continue to pick titles like Valenti’s Sex Object: A Memoir for our Feminist Book Club. Let us be intentional with our choices!

Being the word nerd that I am, I started this investigation of meaning and purpose by diving into Merriam-Webster (who, if you don’t already follow on twitter, you should follow immediately – so much sass). One definition of ‘theory’ in particular stood out to me: “a body of theorems presenting a concise systematic view of a subject”.  Valenti’s Sex Object is a collection of stories and personal observations about the horrific, misogynistic, and often simply uncomfortable experiences women live through – from adolescent confrontations with sex and sexuality to the life-long ebbing and flowing of self image and self worth. The compilation of these stories, from our point of view, are a body of theorems that Valenti places together to present a concise and systematic view of feminism. This particular view of feminism explains that misogyny is alive and well. That women are not yet equals. That society at large hates women. When Valenti opens the book with the question “Who would I be if I didn’t live in a world that hated women?” she presents to us her hypothesis and the following stories are her supporting proof of misogyny’s ongoing presence in our lives.

Often when we hear ‘theory’, we anticipate a different definition. One more connected to the feminist theory and literature of the women’s liberation movement, which clearly stated what was wrong and what we (women, men, society) should do to fix it. We expect a definition of theory more like: “the analysis of a set of facts in their relation to one another,” which I also found in Merriam-Webster. Valenti does not analyze in a traditional manner. She doesn’t point out the parts, explain their faults, and propose an action to encourage change. Instead she simply shows that there is consistency in what happens to women, proving that the patriarchy still rules all without saying those exact words. Her stories, or theorems, present a concise view.

As was mentioned at the book club, there is a new wave of feminist theory at our fingertips. Valenti, Gay, Bennett, Massey, and many others are writing about today’s world, today’s feminist experience, and are doing so in a new way. They do not necessarily analyze experiences and propose solutions, but rather tell honest stories and encourage discourse. Contemporary feminist theory analyzes by being honest and personal, and through this approach it proves that feminism is still very much needed in our world. While the approach of today’s feminist leaders differs from those of second-wave feminism, the powerful statement “the personal is political” from that time period still holds true.

It’s all semantics, but in the end we know that #WordsMatter. Taking the time to investigate our choice of language was an important step towards being more intentional. We’re sticking by our choice, but we’re happy to have taken time to consider why we should.

P.S. You can still register for our next book club meeting! Join us on 5/20 at 2pm at a location TBA to chat about bell hooks’ Feminism is For Everybody. Spots are limited – register today!