Jessica Valenti is a feminist writer and blogger. She is the founder and editor of the popular blog and online community, Feministing.com, and the author of three books: Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters, He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut…and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know, and The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women. She is also a co-editor of the anthology Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape, which was named one of Publishers Weekly’s Top 100 Books of 2009.
Question: Who do you see as a new model for feminism?
Jessica Valenti: Oh, that's great! I've been thinking a lot about Lady Gaga and what she means for feminism. I think -- I find her completely fascinating, and I really like what she has to say. And she's kind of said in interviews, you know, spoken out against homophobia and misogyny in the music industry. And I think just her performance of sexuality, but also of power and of femininity and what is being feminine and being a woman mean, is really fascinating. I think people are going to talk about it for a long time. I don't know that it's going to inspire social change or social justice, but I do think that having these kind of moments in pop culture and people to look to in pop culture to discuss these issues can be really transformative.
Oh, when she did an interview -- I forget who it was with -- she was saying that we need to call out musicians for when they have homophobic lyrics or when they have misogynist lyrics. And she -- just the fact that someone with so much power in pop culture would use the word misogyny was like mind-blowing to me.
I do think that the model of young womanhood that's put out right now by kind of our consumer culture is really damaging. I think that the ideal of young womanhood as it's seen in pop culture specifically is a really kind of vapid, conceited, concerned with money and looks kind of thing that you'll see in a lot of reality shows. And I think that's really damaging, not just because it's a terrible role model to put forth, but that it also puts across this idea to the American public that this is what young women are like, that this is what all young women in America are like. And that's not what I see when I go to visit college campuses. It's not what I see in the young women I know. I see politically engaged and socially aware young women who are interested in making change and doing good things.
Question: Do you think new forms of misogyny are emerging?
Jessica Valenti: Oh, wow, what a great question! I do think -- I don't know if there's a new misogyny out there. I think there's the same old misogyny out there, but I do think that with what's going on online, probably misogynists are finding each other more than they used to, and there's a pretty active -- men's rights movement, they call themselves, though they don't do much on behalf of men; most of their ideas are based on the idea that feminism is bad; it's an anti-feminist movement more than it is a men's rights activist movement -- but they're pretty widely known online, and they're kind of part -- they share roots with like the pickup artists' movement and all sorts of stuff.
And actually, George Sodini, the man who shot those women at a gym in Pennsylvania not too long ago, this past year, was kind of peripherally involved with some of them online. So I do think that kind of paying attention to the misogyny and the anti-feminism that's happening online and the way that these men are bolstering each other and supporting each other in really violent views about women is something important that we need to pay attention to, because I think that, especially when it comes to people who are saying really extreme things online, we have the tendency to think that they are just kooks, or that you shouldn't pay attention to them, you shouldn't take them seriously. But I do think that there's a real danger there. It used to be if you were really hateful towards women, and perhaps if you had violent ideas about women, that maybe it was just you alone, and that was not something that you were going to express to the people in your life. But because there's no accountability on line in the same way there is in real life, all of a sudden you can say like, yeah, I hate women; I want to kill women. And you can say that online, and not only will you find a place to say it, but you'll find a place to say it where people are like, yeah, me too.
December 11, 2009