Matthew Lloyd's Reviews > We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl®, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement

We Were Feminists Once by Andi Zeisler
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Feminism as a product, as a discrete measure of worthiness or unworthiness, as a selling point for products that have no animate capabilities, is a deeply unfortunate way to assess whether feminism is ‘working’ or not because it’s less about feminism than about capitalism.
(pp. 255-56)

Andi Zeisler's We Were Feminists Once has one core resonating message: that feminism is not about individuals claiming an identity, but about dismantling systems of oppression; put another way, feminism is something that you do, not something that you are. In the book Zeisler traces the ways in which feminism has been used to sell things, as a marker of quality, and as an identity, with a much broader historical time frame than the subtitle "From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl" suggests. While the book is divided into two parts, the first focused on the shaping of popular culture and the latter on 'unfinished projects', both come right up to the present and cover shaping forces as much as difficulty of approach. In some ways, the book serves as a history text in which Zeisler is largely explaining and outlining the problem rather than proposing solutions, but it is not difficult to see what the solution is: go beyond the underpants and do some feminist actions.

Given the current political climate, I have two reactions to this book. My optimistic take is that with marketplace feminism having been popular right before a misogynistic fascist took over the USA, many people are in exactly the right place to be converted from individualistic, 'choice' or marketplace feminists into activists fighting for their everyday rights to be acknowledged, maintaining enough democratic power that a much more progressive government can follow the forthcoming one. My pessimistic take is that the persistence of marketplace feminism over the past few years will mean that many people will believe that they are being feminists by claiming the identity, wearing the branded underpants, or seeing the latest Star Wars film as somehow an act of resistance, rather than a parable telling you that you should be resisting. That the erasure of the rights of the marginalized will be ignored by the mainstream, by the masses, who will still think that they are feminist for choosing their choice. I think that those who read Zeisler's book will be more likely to be in the former camp.

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Reading Progress

December 2, 2016 – Shelved
December 2, 2016 – Shelved as: feminism
December 2, 2016 – Shelved as: oxford-county-library
December 2, 2016 – Shelved as: published-2016
December 2, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
December 2, 2016 – Shelved as: non-fiction
December 22, 2016 – Started Reading
December 30, 2016 – Finished Reading
March 18, 2017 – Shelved as: do-not-own-but-would-like

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