A Little F’d Up: Why Feminism Is Not A Dirty Word, Julie Zeilinger

In this entertaining book, 18-year-old Julie Zeilinger sets out to demystify feminism for her teen and young adult readers. Considering how ambitious a goal this inevitably must be, A Little F’d Up is surprisingly upbeat, fun, and funny. Zeilinger seeks to engage with and contribute to youth culture by writing in a non-threatening, conversational style. She uses words like “bullshit” and makes references to Justin Bieber and Michael Cera. The book urges readers to see feminism as an ideology and way of life they can both understand and benefit from.

Beyond what it says, however, A Little F’d Up serves as a revolutionary force, simply by being (as the jacket reads) “the first book about feminism for young women in their teens and twenties to actually be written by one of their peers.” Zeilinger wants her readers to understand feminism as a lens and lifestyle, not as a theory or a cult. She creates a playful rapport with her reader, presenting feminism almost as a form of self-help. The book is divided into sections with titles like “Feminism Helped Me, And it Can Help You Too” and “Teenage Problem #1: Girls With Fangs.”

I can’t stress enough how Zeilinger’s humor counteracts her often weighty subject matter. As an example of how this humor makes historical and dry topics seem less…well, dry, here is an excerpt about the New York’s Married Women’s Property Act:

Here’s the deal. Up until 1848, a woman did not legally exist once she was married. (I might add that an unmarried woman didn’t really exist back then either, in the sense that she was pretty much a social leper who was forced into hermithood and encouraged to get hundreds–nay, thousands–of cats.) (34)

Zeilinger is wise to provide a brief history of feminism (beginning in 10,000 BC!) before going on to connect it to the lived experience of young adults. She also helpfully provides short bios on significant historical and contemporary figures in separated boxed text. Perhaps the most important thing Zeilinger does in this text is provide a working definition of the word “feminism.” She writes,

Feminism is as much an individual pursuit as it is a national and global effort. It’s the ability to live your life to the fullest, no matter who you are. Whether that means that a young woman from Greenwich, Connecticut should earn as much as a male counterpart who went to the same boarding school and top-tier college and who has a nearly identical resume, or that a young bride in Africa does not have to suffer from genital mutilation, the feminism of our generation is about the pursuit of the life you want to live, and the creation of a reality in which that goal is possible for everybody. (101)

Once she provides a foundation, both historical and contemporary, she eventually gets to the meat of gender roles in high school, dating, and hooking up. Zeilinger focuses on dehumanization as a way to understand how strict, polarized gender roles restrict personal development. “When you become your gender stereotype, you never have to question who you actually are as an individual human being” (85). Zeilinger also writes about bullying in a way that is particularly relevant to this moment in time, when school and cyberbullying have become ubiquitous. “I believe that bullying is a feminist issue and should be treated as such,” writes Zeilinger. “A movement that seeks to achieve equality should, by its nature, combat any actions that promote inequality” (152). Here, here.

One of my favorite parts of this book comes in Part 2, entitled “Please Stop Calling me a Feminazi,” when Zeilinger openly admits that “finding” feminism can be alienating. This is something I rarely see discussed in feminist texts or in the feminist blogosphere. It’s the other side of waking up to a new way of viewing the universe: “It can feel like you’ve seen the real state of the world, and realized that it’s downright repulsive” (114). I think it’s extremely important to include potential feelings of isolation and depression into any discussion of finding feminism. That Zeilinger does so in an honest and clear way is refreshing and hopefully indicative of a trend. When we exclude discourse about the negatives (even of feminism), we are missing a great opportunity for growth.

I would absolutely recommend this book, particularly to young people, for whom it should be required high school reading. Zeilinger articulates a form of feminism that is current, relevant, and rooted in self-expression. Who can argue with that?

Julie Zeilinger is the creator of The FBomb, a feminist blog and community for teens and young adults who care about their rights and want to be heard.

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About Madeleine Gyory

Madeleine is a social media butterfly who tweets (and does some other things) for the Women's Media Center, a media advocacy non-profit based in NY. She loves reading, particularly stories by and about women. She graduated from Barnard College, and has spent time teaching English in Ecuador. Her favorite writers are Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, and Jonathan Safran Foer.
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