Wednesday, 16 December 2009

What is a Feminista?

I still puzzle over this blogging phenomenon; why we feel the need to publish our thoughts and share opinions with strangers. However, blogging has brought me some unique experiences, things I would have never tried if I wasn’t in the virtual world meeting new people.

For example, last week I reviewed a book on-line with someone I “met” through blogging. And it was great fun. My virtual book club was with Carolyn of Black and (A)broad. She had contacted me to suggest we read Feminista by Erica Kennedy. Carolyn had read my posts Happy Housewives and Slummy Mummy and the Feminists where I discuss modern feminism being about choice. She had read an interview with Erica Kennedy and been reminded of my comments, so thought we might like to review the book.

Erica Kennedy caused a furore of response on her blog when she defined Feminista using photos of celebrities to illustrate her points. In interviews she seemed eloquent “I never felt comfortable calling myself a feminist because that word has so many negative connotations. The stereotype of the hairy, man-hating woman...Feminista is...the modern woman who is making her own choices... Being a feminista is about tapping into our unique female attributes and living authentically instead of defining ourselves by male standards of success.”

With this as background, Carolyn and I were excited about reading the book, looking forward to a new perspective on feminism for the modern woman. Sadly we were disappointed. Feminista is more chick lit than thought provoking; too much name-dropping Fashionista and, despite what EK had said, too much anti-male aggression to appeal to me.

So what’s it about? Sydney Zamora, who writes for a celebrity magazine and is very dismissive of all her friends who have deserted her by getting married and becoming obsessed with their children, decides she needs to get married. The novel is her quest for a husband.

EK does raise a lot of issues of interest to women – salary inequality; the meaning of marriage - but sadly she deals with them through extended rants by Sydney, angry soliloquies which alienated me and thus lost any impact. I felt the author was pressing points that bug her in life, overtly using her heroine as a voice. That became distracting.

Sydney for us was too judgemental of everyone around her; too negative a character to be a positive role model for today’s women. She’s supposed to be “smart as hell” but spent too much time drifting through her life and moaning, not taking control. The Feminista image didn’t work for us; too abrasive - and too much high fashion. I cannot get excited about $795 “Lanvin flats” worn by Elle Macpherson like Sydney does. To me that is not empowering. But high fashion is not my thing and I’m sure there are many women who would relate to this definition.

We agreed that a new label is needed. Carolyn said “I think the time for "feminism" to be used to describe our situation has come to a close. We need to think of a new word or concept to talk about women like you and me, for example. For me it's about support. I may not agree with your CHOICE to give up your career to stay at home and care for your children but that doesn't matter. I'm not here to judge your choices. As a "feminist" I'm here to give you the support your need to help you execute your choice. I'm not into the judgement thing, and if there's one thing that turned me off of the main character, it's that she was so judgemental... Anger. That's what got the movements started so many decades ago. I'm not sure if anger is driving women today. Maybe it is. But my guess is that we're looking for support. Anger is an outdated notion, in my opinion.”

There were some things we liked; it’s an interesting insight into New York celebrity/society life. There’s a fun story in there which picks up pace – despite the twee ending. I liked the cover! Some readers do get the Feminista message. “Sydney is trying to work out her politics in a messy world which doesn't always cooperate with her...I think Kennedy does an excellent job of portraying Sydney's struggles to figure it all out.” (Amazon reviewer). Others don’t. A comment on EK’s blog was critical of the misconceived marketing pitch EK is using, which indeed drew us in with false expectations. “How you even attempt to link this book to a pseudo-intellectual debate on feminism is offensive. Honestly Sydney a new order feminist? What?!? She isn't even a good character in a bad chick lit novel. And this is a bad chick lit novel & nothing more.”

For Carolyn and I, Feminista is New York Fashionista chick lit. Read it if you enjoy hearing about clothes, shoes, bags, trendy restaurants and celebrity parties. But if you want a read to challenge your mind on what makes the modern, thinking woman, it’s not necessarily for you.

Click here to read Carolyn’s review

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