Reclaiming the F Word
Redfern, Catherine and Aune, Kristin
Zed Books, London
It was in 2010 that Catherine Redfern and Kristin Aune first published Reclaiming the F Word, then subtitled The New Feminist Movement. They loudly and proudly sought to oppose the misconception that feminism is dead, irrelevant and unfashionable. Written in an epoch where feminism and its relevance was under constant and considerable critique, questioning and dismissal by a plenitude of academic, media and lay discourses Reclaiming the F Word was an articulate illustration for the need of the modern women to reclaim feminism. Fast-forward three years and whilst the feminist landscape is no longer in a state of quiescence but instead marked by the plethora of feminist publishing, campaigns and activism, the notion of gender equality, remains nevertheless to be a myth. Redfern and Aune begin this new edition, Reclaiming the F Word: Feminism Today (2013) by echoing their earlier assertion ‘that there are serious gender inequalities in the world today and feminists are acting to challenge them’ (p. xiii).
Redfern and Aune draw upon survey results generated from 1,265 UK feminists to inform their all-encompassing analysis of the ‘what, why and how of today’s feminism’ whilst simultaneously sketching out actions for a feminist revival. What is unique about Reclaiming the F Word is its focus upon novel forms of feminist activism whilst also paying homage to the advances of 2nd and 3rd wave feminism. Global in its perspective, a core strength derives from the books whistle-stop tour of feminist activism within and beyond the UK’s borders, addressing prominent global issues such as: the gender pay gap in the USA; the diminishing participation of women in politics in public life within the USA and Egypt as well as the Arab Spring revolutions and its effects upon women.
Borrowing its structure from the 1970 Women's Liberation conference manifesto and its seven feminist demands, Reclaiming the F Word (2013) is divided into seven chapters and the main strength of the book is the breadth of topics covered. Chapters 1 and 2 (Liberated Bodies and Sexual Freedom and Choice) grapple with Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth (1990) addressing issues of contraception, abortion, menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, homophobia, sexual double standards and sex education. Chapter 3 (An End to Violence Against Women) addresses the way in which economic inequality and global poverty increases the risk of violence against women. Chapter 4 (Equality at Work and Home) discusses the way education determines employment, the increase in global economic divisions and calls for a fairer distribution of the domestic burden, equal pay, and introduces Hochschild's (2000) global care chain and Hakim's (2003) preference theory alongside the concept of the 'feminist dad'. Chapters 5 and 6 explore how contemporary feminists are fighting for change in politics and religion alongside the way in which sexism is embedded in popular culture.
The authors acknowledge feminism's 'conscious struggle to be more attentive of intersectionality' (p. xxx). Yet I am troubled by Redfern and Aune's proclamation that Reclaiming the F Word discloses the 'what, why and how' of today's feminists. As a fleeting examination of its respondents demonstrates that it is the 'what, why and how' of the white educated feminist with over 90% of respondents self-identifying as white and 91.5% having, at minimal, undergraduate level education. Reclaiming the F Word sidelines issues of class and ethnicity, largely ignoring the ways in which such variables intersect to further exacerbate gender inequality. Take chapter 6 for instance:
Chapter 6 argues that there is a pressing need to 'make people more accepting and less judgmental' (p 171). Cultural attitudes, jokes and myths the authors argue 'have knock on effects for how women are treated in society …[attitudes held up by the media] exacerbate economic or power inequalities' (p 172). Yet absent was the discussion of one of the most pervasive 'cultural jokes' and illustrations of 'power inequality' permeating the soul of feminism today, that of the female 'chav' . Specifically, a figure who 'embodies historically familiar and contemporary anxieties about sexuality, reproduction and fertility and "racial mixing"' (Tyler 2008: 18) has become a politically useful symbolic tool utilized to justify current social security cuts, of which women bear the brunt. Thus, it would have been valuable if Redfern and Aune had reflected on this issue.
Reclaiming the F Word is a creative and passionate contribution to discussions of gender inequalities both within the UK and further afield. Written in a way that is clear and accessible I would recommend this book to undergraduate students and tentative new feminists. The final chapter, 'Reclaiming Feminism'provides the reader with five handbook-like actions, and serves as a powerful reminder that feminism is only ever as loud as its activists.
University of Warwick
BibliographyHAKIM, C. (2003) ‘A new approach to explaining fertility patters: preference theory’, Population and Development Review, 29 (3), p. 349-374.
HOCHSCHILD, A.R. (2000) Global care chains and emotional surplus value in A Giddens and W Hutton (Eds.) On The Edge: Globalizations and The New Millennium. pp.: 130-146, London: Sage Publications.
TYLER, I (2008) ‘Chav mum, chav scum’, Feminist Media Studies, 8(1) p. 17-34.
TYLER, I, and BENNETT, B, (2010) ‘Celebrity chav: fame, femininity and social class’, European Journal of Cultural Studies, 13 (3), p. 375-393.
WOLF, N, (1990) The Beauty Myth: How Images of Women are Used Against Women, London: Vintage.