Laurie Penny reviews Andi Zeisler's ‘We Were Feminists Once’ and considers the progressive dilemma of popularity: how do you turn new popularity into change, when the idea of change is so easily turned into an ersatz commercial product?
As a founding editor of Bitch Magazine, which was first published as a zine in 1996, Zeisler understands the fraught relationship between feminism and pop culture. It’s a relationship of toxic codependency. Activists need the media to help spread the word, even as it pumps out sexist stereotypes; the media, meanwhile, cannot risk losing touch with the zeitgeist. In her introduction, Zeisler describes her book as “an exploration of how the new embrace of marketplace feminism — mediated, decoupled from politics, staunchly focused on individual experience and actualization — dovetails with entrenched beliefs about power, about activism, about who feminists are and what they do.”
However, Penny writes that things have become more nuanced, less monolithic, and that feminists are one again engaging the in the "time-honored tradition" of being too hard on their own movement -- and especially on grassroots creativity that's succeeded despite media indifference.
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Granted, as she points out, this newfound feminist populism hasn’t stopped the relentless conservative assault on abortion rights in the United States. Given the tireless work of abortion rights activists, however, perhaps it’s time we stopped blaming feminists for that and started blaming Republicans. The women’s movement has always been good at rebuking itself for every imperfection. The “confidence” promised by Dove body lotion may not be the revolution we have waited for — but feminism could use a little more faith in itself.