When you infuriate misogynists around the world with your beliefs, you know you’re doing something right. Jessica Valenti, author of feminist theory cornerstones such as Full Frontal Feminism and Yes Means Yes, has been angering sexists since 2004 when she founded the website Feministing. With her accessible, to-the-point arguments about the necessity of an updated feminism in a new age of rebranded sexism, Valenti changed the game. Much of her work has popularized feminist struggles into the mainstream conversation. For example, affirmative consent (yes means yes) is now a widespread idea on many college campuses and in debates around rape culture. Though many of Valenti’s books were published before certain landmark feminist movements like #MeToo, they are all still relevant and applicable to modern-day feminist discourse. Sharpen your critical thinking skills with these fantastic, informative reads.
Valenti's first book was published in 2009, as feminism began to resurge into the spotlight. This book is up there on the list of recommended feminist primers, and it is perfect for those who have yet to fully plunge into feminist theory. Geared toward younger readers (but applicable for anyone), Full Frontal Feminism encompasses a range of topics and arguments. From issues surrounding reproductive justice to the struggle to end violence against women, Valenti succinctly explains why a feminist mindset benefits not only women but everyone on Earth. This book is especially suited for those who might feel nervous about identifying as a feminist and being seen as an angry, hysterical woman. But have no fear, Valenti proves feminism is cool–maybe even one of the coolest practices you can dive into.
For so long, the "no means no" model of consent dominated the discussion and law involving rape. Unless the victim explicitly said "no" to the perpetrator, the act was rarely considered illegal. This muddied the waters around certain types of sex, such as sex while intoxicated where those involved are unable to say "no." This collection of essays by feminist writers (and co-edited by Valenti), argues for a shift toward affirmative consent. "Yes Means Yes" instead of "No Means No" represents the future that many feminists dream we can one day aspire to: one where everyone may safely explore their sexuality and enjoy sexual encounters if they want to. With a foreword by Margaret Cho, this is a must-read for anyone regardless of gender, as everyone is affected by the status of rape culture around us.
Ever been to the movies and wondered why aging men are seen as attractive and aging women end up playing spinsters or witches? Ever seen an angry man be hailed as "passionate" but an angry woman deemed "hysterical?" If you're curious about more of these infuriating double standards that pervade our society, He's a Stud, She's a Slut is perfect for you. While you might have heard these standards being pointed out before, Valenti offers enough snark and wit to make her critique singularly unique. The double standards in this book range from linguistic ones (women's emotions downplayed to PMS, for example) to structural issues (the lack of equal pay in the workplace), each treated with nuance and fervor.
Speaking of double standards, The Purity Myth takes down one of the most rampant. On one hand, girls are expected to be chaste until marriage in many parts of the United States (and around the world). On the other, porn is a billion-dollar industry based on reducing women's bodies to their sexual functions. So, are women supposed to be virginal or full of lust for men? Where are the women's choices in all this? And moreover, why is a woman's sexuality such a strong point of worth, and not how she treats other people and makes changes in the world? Valenti goes in-depth here to the hows and whys female bodies are policed so heavily and destructively, providing historical and cultural context to our current situation.
Last but certainly not least, we have Valenti's co-edited upcoming anthology of essays. This work comes to us in the wake of the #MeToo movement's unprecedented effects at the highest levels of Hollywood, government, and more. This collection, available in January 2020, explores a central, startling question: what would happen if we believed women? Featuring work by well-known activists and feminist figures, this book is sure to influence a crucial year in feminist politics.
No matter where you start with Jessica Valenti, you can’t go wrong. As sexism rears its head again in the upcoming elections, here’s a chance to brush up on your feminist theory to fight the good fight.
Jessica Valenti is the author of multiple books on feminism, politics, and culture. Jessica is also the founder of Feministing.com. Her writing has appeared in publications like the New York Times, the Washington Post, Nation, and Ms. magazine. She is currently a columnist at the Guardian US. Jessica lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter.
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Mya Nunnally is a reader, poet, and writer in New York City who lives with their kitten, Ramen. You can find them and their work @literallymya on Twitter.