Friday, 15 October 2010


by Catherine Redfern and Kristin Aune (Zed Books, 2010)

I had really high hopes when I started this book. I wanted it to educate and inspire me, to rouse my passions and show me some of the amazing people today who are fighting for equality for all, highlighting the issues that really matter to the modern woman. I think that's probably how Redfern and Aune want their book to be received, too, but sadly, it just didn't hit the spot for me, particularly after reading the amazing The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf a few years ago.

Don't get me wrong, it was an interesting little read. It is split into seven chapters, covering different areas of feminist interest, including body image, sexuality, violence against women, home and work, politics, religion and popular culture. The seventh chapter focuses on feminism itself, and the necessity of reclaiming the term from the negative connotations that have risen up around it. Not knowing that much about feminism over the years, it came as a surprise to me to find, for example, that it is truly about equality, focussing on bringing men up to women's levels in areas where they are undervalued, as much as it as about raising women to the level of men where they face discrimination. Each chapter discusses the modern issues within that particular area of society, giving statistics and survey results, showcasing feminist battles to counteract discrimination, and offering ideas as to how to get involved.

My problem was that it all seemed so shallow, so half-baked, somehow. Feminism-lite, if you will. Surveys and statistics were thrown around without a word of explanation of interpretation, and anecdotes and examples were offered haphazardly for the reader's perusal. Reading it sometimes felt like I was bouncing across a sea of figures and quotes, hopping around without any kind of enlightenment or analysis from the authors. If I'd written an essay like that at university, I'm fairly sure it would have come back with 'own thoughts?' or 'explain further?' scribbled in red pen in the margins. It made certain sections, particularly the politics and religion chapter, very difficult to read without getting bogged down. There were also problems with certain terms and references going unexplained. For example, I know what FGM means, but other readers might not - the briefest of explanations would have served to clarify things.

That said, it was an easy-to-read introduction to modern feminism that might suit younger readers and newcomers to feminist thought wanting to know more about feminism in society today. The popular culture references and surveys are bang up-to-date, and perhaps most refreshingly of all, this is a British-focussed book, so most of the statistics and feminist activities mentioned are British-based. There is an extensive 'notes' section listing all sources used for the book, and a condensed bibliography for each chapter, pointing the reader in the direction of more specialised books on each issue, which might come in especially handy for students. The verdict? Some interesting ideas - but I've read better.

Note: I received this book for review from Zed Books, through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers scheme.

  • "The high rates of body dissatisfaction among readers of women's magazines may explain why readers in the Grazia and New Woman surveys had such a distorted view of women's bodies: generally, reading women's magazines is bad for your self-esteem.  Perhaps, like cigarettes, they should come with health messages: 'Warning: reading this magazine could seriously damage your health.'"
  • "Individual actions make a difference.  Take the multiplying acts of self-perfection we're engaging in that are raising the bar on female beauty.  The more women opt for Botox, the older women with wrinkles look.  The more women remove 'unsightly' birthmarks or moles, the uglier women who don't remove them are made to feel.  We have to question whether striving to fit the ideal is doing anything but harming other women."
  • "'Women have tried to enter politics trying to look like men.  This will not work.  We have to bring our differences, our emotions, our way of seeing things, even our tears to the process.'  Many women feel that by entering politics they would be forced to 'play act' at being tough and macho.  Moreover, this excludes men who are also put off by the macho style.  Do we really want politics run by the side that can make farmyard noises the loudest?"


  1. Oh no, this IS disappointing. I was hoping this was going to be good. Caitlin Moran has a book coming out about feminism, and I'm REALLY looking forward to that! I love her. Have you tried Natasha Walter? She wrote a really thought provoking book which is all about how 'empowerment' has been taken over to mean 'taking your clothes off'. Really interesting.

  2. I haven't read that Natasha Walter book, nope. It's called 'Living Dolls' I think? It's on my wishlist now! I did love 'The Beauty Myth' by Naomi Wolf, which is sort of a classic in its area really.


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