You Go, Girl!: Feminist Speaks at UMW
By Lauren Jurgensen
Jessica Valenti thinks that feminism is the hippest accessory a young woman can have today – it’s never going to go out of fashion.
The feministing.com blogger, who came to Great Hall last Wednesday, March 26, as the keynote speaker for Women’s History Month, said that she wants young women to realize that not only is feminism still relevant in today’s culture, but it’s also really cool.
“Telling women that only ugly man-haters are feminists is a really strategic way to keep young women away from feminism,” Valenti said. “Most young women do hold feminist values but are afraid of the word ‘feminist’ because of those connotations.”
Valenti added that there is a mounting population of self-identifying feminists who are young, trendy, intellectual and witty.
Her speech, “Full Frontal Feminism (Or, Why Feminism is a Lot Damn Cooler Than You Think)” also covered the roadblocks Valenti thinks prevent young women from assuming more active roles in women’s rights. These roadblocks include everything from the aforementioned negative stereotypes of feminism, to sexist notions of women as the property of men, to the belief that you can only be a feminist if you’re a political activist.
“You don’t have to be an activist to be a feminist,” Valenti said. “Use feminism as a lens to view the world.”
But she wasn’t just speaking to the females in the audience – Valenti believes that men can and should be feminists, too. Young men made up about 1/3 of the audience that night.
Dr. Helen Housley, Assistant Professor of Theatre and Chair of the Women’s History Month committee, said that the committee’s goal is to bring UMW a wide variety of speakers who can highlight the multitude of issues impacting women’s experience.
“The committee believed a speaker who specifically focused on the issue of Feminism from a 21st-century perspective would interest the students at UMW and that they would respond well to Ms. Valenti’s youthful message,” Dr. Housley said. “Furthermore, the various topics Valenti addresses in her book are matters of concern for many women and hearing her speak about these issues might provide a unique perspective for today’s college student.”
Professors weren’t the only ones who appreciated Valenti’s message.
“I was glad I got to see Valenti speak because I consider myself a third wave feminist and Valenti is one of the spokespersons for the modern feminist movement,” said Jenny Stout, a senior anthropology major. “I really admire what she does and how down to earth and open she is.”
In addition to being executive editor of feministing.com, Valenti holds a masters degree in women’s and gender studies from Rutgers University. She has worked for NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood, and has written for Ms., The Guardian, Bitch, Guernica and Alternet.
Valenti is also responsible for the creation of The Real Hot 100 List, a response to Maxim’s Hot 100 that honors women for their achievements rather than their looks. This past spring she published her first book, Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters, which she later discussed on an episode of The Colbert Report.
Her next book, He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut, and 49 Other Double-Standards Every Woman Should Know, is set for release this May.
Stout hopes that Valenti’s upcoming projects will widen her audience.
“I think if more girls and guys our age knew about Valenti and what her brand of feminism is all about, they’d be more interested in being active in the feminist movement,” Stout said. “They should not be afraid of the word ‘feminist’.”