book review: We Were Feminists Once


We Were Feminists Once by Andi Zeisler. Public Affairs| May 2016| 285 pages | $26.99| ISBN: 9781610395892

RATING: ****/5*

Andi Zeisler, founding editor of Bitch Media, provides a history of feminism in mainstream pop culture and whether or not it benefits the feminist movement. She writes: “This increasingly looks not like a world that has finally emerged into fully realized feminism, but like a world in which we are letting a glossy, feel-good feminism pull focus away from deeply entrenched forms of inequality.” In the past few years, legislators in various states have decreased women’s health care and threatened women’s right to make choices about their own bodies, sexuality and chose whether or not to give birth. Women do not have pay equity. Must I even mention this country’s prevalent rape culture? I list feminist on my social media bios and my dating profiles. So there are questions such as: “what type of feminist are you?” and “do you shave your legs/armpits etc?” and comments such as “no wonder you can’t get/keep a man.” I could go on but won’t. Zeisler delves into advertising, film, television, music. Meticulously researched, analyzed and thoughtfully presented, this is a must-read.

On film: “If there’s any silver lining here, it’s that more people than ever are talking about Hollywood’s woman problem as pattern behavior, rather than movie-by-movie shortcomings.”

On “this is what a feminist looks like” t-shirts: “The appeal of the slogan was easy to interpret: after all, too many people find the biggest roadblock to embracing feminism is in its unflattering optic legacy. Hags, dykes, ugly, unshaven, angry, finger-pointing, furious women—such adjectives and images have been encoded as the truth of what ‘feminism’ represented for so long that it’s begun, sadly to feel natural.

On celebrity feminism: “The fascination with Beyonce’s feminism, the urge to either claim her in sisterhood or discount her eligibility for it, speaks to the way that a focus on individuals and their choices quickly obscures the larger role that systems of sexism, racism, and capitalism play in defining and constraining those choices.”

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Public Affairs.

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