Full Frontal Feminism

A Young Woman's Guide to Why Feminism Matters


By Jessica Valenti

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Newly revised and updated, the #1 must-read book for a new generation of feminists who refuse to accept anything less than equality and justice for all women

Now in its updated second edition, Full Frontal Feminism embodies the forward-looking messages that bestselling author Jessica Valenti propagated as founder of the popular website, Feministing.com. Smart and relatable, the book serves as a complete guide to the issues that matter to today’s young women, including health, equal pay, reproductive rights, violence, education, relationships, sexual independence and safety, the influence of pop culture, and more.

Chapters include:

You’re a Hardcore Feminist. I Swear.
Feminists Do It Better (and Other Sex Tips)
Pop Culture Gone Wild
The Blame (and Shame) Game
If These Uterine Walls Could Talk
Material World
My Big Fat Unnecessary Wedding and Other Dating Diseases
“Real” Women Have Babies
I Promise I Won’t Say “Herstory”
Boys Do Cry
Beauty Cult

Sex and the City Voters, My Ass
A Quick Academic Aside

Get to It

Since its original publication, Full Frontal Feminism has informed, inspired, and assured readers with the ultimate message of truth: You a feminist, and that’s pretty cool.



When I wrote Full Frontal Feminism over five years ago, I couldn’t have imagined the response it would get. It’s the best-selling book I’ve written, the one I get the most emails about and the one that seems to have had the most impact. Young women still come up to me and tell me that FFF is the book that made them realize they were a feminist. That’s a wonderful feeling.

FFF is also a book that’s received a lot of criticism—a lot of it fair, some of it not (in my humble opinion!). And while five years is a relatively short amount of time to have passed after writing a book, in feminist years—considering how much has happened in politics, society, and the movement—it feels like forever. That’s why I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to republish the book with this new introduction. It gives me the chance to check in with readers, address some of the gaps in the book, and add updates to various issue areas. Because, let’s face it, a lot has happened!

But first things first: You may have noticed that the cover of the book is different than the original.

We’ve changed it because the original cover doesn’t reflect the kind of feminism I believe in or would like for the world. The original art—featuring a toned white stomach with book’s title scrawled across it—centered a particular kind of woman as “feminist” and perpetuated the idea that feminism is largely for white women. At the time, I looked at the cover image and thought of Kathleen Hanna writing the word “SLUT” on her stomach. I thought of it as reclaiming the female body. Thanks to the privilege I enjoy as a white person, I could look at that stomach, at the cover, and feel it spoke to me—because most images look like me, are relatable, and address who I am because of the culture we live in that centers “white” as “normal.” I’m sorry that the book’s cover made some women feel that FFF—or feminism—wasn’t for them. It’s a hurt I can’t undo, but I’m thankful that future editions of the book will have a new cover.

Another glaring gap in the book was the absence of trans issues and activism. When I wrote the book, trans issues were—for the most part, and wrongly—not seen as an integral part of feminism. Transfeminism was largely absent from women’s studies classes, feminist texts, and widely fought feminist issues. Even discussions of intersectionality—fighting racism, classism, and homophobia along with sexism—often didn’t include discussions of trans issues. For me, it was reading Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl—released the same year as FFF—that changed my feminist world. I’m so glad that today—thanks in large part to people like Julia and trans feminists online—trans issues and the discrimination and structural violence against trans people has become such a central part of feminism. There’s still much work to be done—by me included—but I believe we’re on the right track.

FFF was also criticized for its informal tone and, let’s face it, my penchant for dropping the f-bomb and other assorted curses and colloquialisms. I admit, while re-reading the book I cringed a bit at my language—but hey, I’m in my mid-thirties now and have a different perspective than I did in my late twenties. I can understand why a more conversational tone might not be for everyone, but I actually think this was one of the reasons why the book resonated with so many young women. That’s how I talked when I wrote the book! One of my hopes for FFF was that it would be accessible, that it would feel like listening to a friend. And though I do have a graduate degree in Women’s and Gender Studies, I reject the idea that feminism needs to be couched in academic language in order to make it relevant or important. So long live f-bombs!

Probably the most amazing thing that has happened since FFF was first published is the absolute explosion of online feminism. When I was writing FFF, I was just two years into having founded Feministing.com. More feminist blogs were cropping up every day, but the feminist blogosphere was still a relatively small place. And social media hadn’t taken off yet—Twitter had just been founded, Facebook was still a closed network, and Tumblr didn’t exist. The rise of these mediums in the last few years has meant that feminism and feminist voices have been amplified in a way we never could have imagined. We’ve seen President Barack Obama elected (twice!), watched as the “war on women” dominated the media, and seen young feminist activists take the helm online and off.

The rise of insurgent feminist voices combined with a political climate that has become increasingly centered around women’s issues has made for a very interesting few years for feminists! For every chapter I wrote, every issue I addressed, there have been setbacks and successes, new thoughts and actions. I’ve included some (because there’s certainly not enough room for all!) at the beginning of each chapter. I’d like to think of these as a bit of a catch-up on individual issues.

Broadly speaking, however, I have to say that the years since FFF came out have been some of the most exciting I’ve experienced as a feminist. My hope and vision for more young women calling themselves feminists has become more of a reality every day. And my fears of a feminist movement controlled by a few elite powerful folks at the heads of mainstream organizations have become more and more quelled as online feminists and individual feminist activists and voices gain more traction in feminist spaces and the mainstream world. While we’ve suffered setbacks, feminism has come an incredibly long way in a short amount of time. I’m so grateful that I got to be a part of that through blogging and writing, and I’m hopeful that I’ll continue to be able to do this work—alongside all of you—for years to come.


This is what a feminist looks like




One of the most incredible things about the last few years is the increase of young women publicly identifying as feminists. Yes, the anti-feminist stereotypes still exist, but with the advent of online feminism, those myths have become much easier to debunk. One of my favorite stories to tell when I speak on college campuses is of a teenage girl who emailed Feministing and told us how she came to become a regular reader. She had done a Google search on Jessica Simpson—she was a fan—and ended up on Feministing because we had written a few posts on how creepy Simpson’s dad was (virginity pledges, talking about her breasts, etc). She ended up sticking around because she liked what she saw.

And this is what’s amazing about online feminism—ten years ago, if a woman was reading a feminist publication it was because she already identified as a feminist. Now, young people find feminism accidentally or randomly—through online searches and social media—all the time. This doesn’t mean that feminism has become accepted by the mainstream, of course. Too many people—public figures and regular folks alike—still don’t call themselves feminists even though they have feminist values and believe in feminist issues. But the tide is slowly turning. And the more blogs, tweets, Tumblr posts, and Facebook shares that tell young women that they are, in fact, hardcore feminists, the closer we’ll get to creating the change we need to make all women’s lives better.

What’s the worst possible thing you can call a woman? Don’t hold back, now.

You’re probably thinking of words like slut, whore, bitch, cunt (I told you not to hold back!), skank.

Okay, now, what are the worst things you can call a guy? Fag, girl, bitch, pussy. I’ve even heard the term “mangina.”

Notice anything? The worst thing you can call a girl is a girl. The worst thing you can call a guy is a girl. Being a woman is the ultimate insult. Now tell me that’s not royally fucked up. Recognizing the screwed nature of this little exercise doesn’t necessarily make you a feminist. But it should. Most young women know that something is off. And even if we know that some things are sexist, we’re certainly not ready to say we’re feminists. It’s high time we get past the “I’m not a feminist, but . . .” stuff. You know what I’m talking about: “I’m not a feminist or anything, but it is total bullshit that Wal-Mart won’t fill my birth control prescription.”

Do you think it’s fair that a guy will make more money doing the same job as you? Does it piss you off and scare you when you find out about your friends getting raped? Do you ever feel like shit about your body? Do you ever feel like something is wrong with you because you don’t fit into this bizarre ideal of what girls are supposed to be like?

Well, my friend, I hate to break it to you, but you’re a hardcore feminist. I swear.

Feel-Good Feminism

For some reason, feminism is seen as super anti: anti-men, anti-sex, anti-sexism, anti-everything. And while some of those antis aren’t bad things, it’s not exactly exciting to get involved in something that’s seen as so consistently negative.

The good news is, feminism isn’t all about antis. It’s progressive and—as cheesy as this sounds—it’s about making your life better. As different as we all are, there’s one thing most young women have in common: We’re all brought up to feel like there’s something wrong with us. We’re too fat. We’re dumb. We’re too smart. We’re not ladylike enough—stop cursing, chewing with your mouth open, speaking your mind. We’re too slutty. We’re not slutty enough.

Fuck that.

You’re not too fat. You’re not too loud. You’re not too smart. You’re not unladylike. There is nothing wrong with you.

I know it sounds simple, but it took me a long time to understand this. And once I did, damn, did it feel good. Why go through your life believing you’re not good enough and that you have to change?

Feminism not only allows you to see through the bullshit that would make you think there’s something wrong with you, but also offers ways to make you feel good about yourself and to have self-respect without utilizing any mom-popular sayings, like “Keep your legs together,” or boy-popular screamings, like “Show me your tits!”

Really, imagine how nice it would be to realize that all the stuff you’ve been taught that makes you feel crappy just isn’t true. It’s like self-help times one hundred.

But all that said, I really do understand the hesitancy surrounding the f-word. My own experience with the exercise that kicked off this chapter—“What’s the worst possible thing you can call a woman?”—was presented by a professor on the first day of a women’s literature class after she asked how many of us were feminists. Not one person raised a hand. Not even me. My excuse-ridden thinking was, Oh, there’s so many kinds of feminism, how can I say I know what they’re all about? Blah, blah, blah, I’m a humanist, blah, blah, blah. Bullshit. When I think back on it, I knew I was a feminist. I was just too freaked out to be the only one raising her hand.

Most young women are feminists, but we’re too afraid to say it—or even to recognize it. And why not? Feminists are supposed to be ugly. And fat. And hairy! Is it fucked up that people are so concerned about dumb, superficial stuff like this? Of course. Is there anything wrong with being ugly, fat, or hairy? Of course not. But let’s be honest: No one wants to be associated with something that is seen as uncool and unattractive. But the thing is, feminists are pretty cool (and attractive!) women.

So let’s just get all the bullshit stereotypes and excuses out of the way.

But Feminists Are Ugly!

Yawn. Honestly, this is the most tired stereotype ever. But it’s supersmart in its own way. Think about it, ladies. What’s the one thing that will undoubtedly make you feel like shit? Someone calling you ugly.

Back in fifth grade, the love of my life was Douglas MacIntyre, who told me I’d be pretty if only I didn’t have such a big, ugly nose. I shit you not when I say that for months, every day after school I would stand in front of the three-way mirror in my bathroom, staring at the offending body part and trying to figure out how a nose could go so horribly, horribly wrong.

Ugly stays with you. It’s powerful, and that’s why the stereotype is so perfect. The easiest way to keep women—especially young women—away from feminism is to threaten them with the ugly stick. It’s also the easiest way to dismiss someone and her opinions. (“Oh, don’t listen to her—she’s just pissed ’cause she’s ugly.”)

Seems stupid, right? I mean, really, what’s with this na-na-na-boo-boo kind of argument? Have you ever heard of a Republican saying, “Oh, don’t be a Democrat; they’re all ugly”? Of course not, because that would be ridiculous. But for some reason, ridiculous is commonplace when it comes to the f-word.

For example, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh says that feminism was established “to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society.” Okay—have you ever seen Rush Limbaugh? Yeah, enough said. Oh, and by the way—I think I’m pretty hot now. So screw you, Douglas MacIntyre.

But Things Are Fine the Way They Are!

What do I know? Maybe things are fine for you. Maybe you’re lucky and superprivileged and you wake up in the morning to birds chirping and breakfast in bed and all that good stuff. But chances are, that’s not the case.

There are plenty of folks who argue that feminism has achieved its goal. The 1998 Time magazine article “Is Feminism Dead?” said, “If the women’s movement were still useful, it would have something to say; it’s dead because it has won.”1

There’s no doubt that women have made progress, but just because we get to vote and have the “right” to work doesn’t mean things are peachy keen. Anyone who thinks women have “won,” that all is well and good now, should ask why the president of Harvard can say that maybe women are naturally worse at math and then have people actually take him seriously.2 Or why a teacher can still get fired for being pregnant and unmarried.3

Seriously, are things really cool the way they are when so many of us are puking up our meals and getting raped and beat up and being paid less money than men? And being denied birth control, and being told not to have sex but be sexy, and a hundred other things that make us feel shitty?

Methinks not. It can be better. It has to be.

Feminism Is for Old White Ladies

This one didn’t come out of nowhere. The part of the feminist movement that has been most talked about it, most written about, and most paid attention to is the rich-whitey part. For example, back in the ’60s and ’70s, white middle-class feminists were fighting for the right to work outside the home, despite the fact that plenty of not-so-privileged women were already doing exactly that. Because they had to (more on this later).

Even now, issues of race and class come up in feminism pretty often. But unlike in days of yore, now they’re being addressed (not always well, but still). Besides, feminism isn’t just about the organizations you see at protests, or what you hear about in the news. Feminist actions—particularly the kind spearheaded by younger women—are as diverse as we are. You’ll see what I mean when you get to the end of this chapter: Young women are working their asses off for causes they believe in. Which is why this next stereotype is so annoying.

Feminism Is So Last Week

Every once in a while, there’s some big article about feminism being dead—the most famous of which is the aforementioned Time piece. And if feminism isn’t dead, it’s equally often accused of being outdated. Or a failure. Or unnecessary.

But if feminism is dead, then why do people have to keep on trying to kill it? Whether it’s in the media, politics, or conservative organizations, there’s a big trend of trying to convince the world that feminism is long gone.

The argument is either that women don’t need feminism anymore, or that those crazy radical feminists don’t speak for most women. Never mind that recent polls show that most women support feminist goals, like equal pay for equal work, ending violence against women, childcare, women’s healthcare, and getting more women in political office. Here comes that “I’m not a feminist, but . . .” stuff again!

The obsession with feminism’s demise is laughable. And if the powers that be can’t convince you that it’s dead, that’s when the blame game starts. Feminism is the media’s favorite punching bag.

The horrors that feminism is supposedly responsible for range from silly contradictions to plainly ludicrous examples. In recent articles, feminism has been blamed for promoting promiscuity;4 promoting man-hating; the torture at Abu Ghraib; ruining “the family”; the feminization of men; the “failures” of Amnesty International; and even unfairness to Michael Jackson.5 I’m not kidding. You name it, feminism is the cause.

My all-time favorite accusation: Feminism is responsible for an increase in the number of women criminals. You’re going to love this. Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America—a conservative anti-feminist organization—is quoted in a 2005 article, “Rising Crime Among Women Linked to Feminist Agenda,” as saying it’s pesky feminists who are to blame for the increase of women in prison.6

Wright claims that women are committing crimes because feminism has taught them that “women should not be dependent on others” and that “they don’t need to be dependent on a husband,” which inevitably forces them to “fend for themselves.”7

Got that, girls? Without a husband to depend on, you’ll be a murderer in no time!

For something that is so tired and outdated, feminism certainly seems to be doing a lot of damage, huh?

Obviously there’s an awful lot of effort being put into discrediting the f-word—but why all the fuss? If folks didn’t see feminism as a threat—and a powerful one—they wouldn’t spend so much time putting it down, which is part of what attracted me to feminism in the first place. I wanted to know what all the brouhaha was about.

It’s important to remember that all of these stereotypes and scare tactics serve a specific purpose—to keep you away from feminism.

’Cause don’t forget—there are a lot of people benefiting from your feeling like shit about yourself. Think about it: If you don’t feel fat, you won’t buy firming lotions and diet pills and the like. If you don’t feel stupid, you might speak out against all the screwy laws that adversely affect women. It pays—literally—to keep women half there. And god forbid you get involved in anything that would make you wonder why in the world women are having surgery to make their vaginas “prettier.”8 (Sorry, I couldn’t help but mention it; it’s too freaky not to.)

The solution? Don’t fall for it. If feminism isn’t for you, fine. But find that out for yourself. I’m betting that you’re more likely to be into something that encourages you to recognize that you’re already pretty badass than something that insists you’re a fat, dumb chick.


There are so many stereotypes about feminism, and so many different definitions of it, that what feminism actually is gets insanely confusing—even for women who have been working on women’s issues for years. But I always was a fan of the dictionary definition. And I promise this is the only time I’ll be quoting the frigging dictionary:


  1   Belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.

  2   The movement organized around this belief.9

Hmm . . . don’t see anything about man-hating in there. Or hairy legs. Obviously, there are tons of different kinds of feminism and schools of thought, but I’d say the above is enough to get you started. Besides, at the end of the day, feminism is really something you define for yourself.

Sisterhood, My Ass

No matter how clear-cut (or how complex) feminism can be, not all women are feminists by virtue of having ovaries. And that’s just fine by me. I realized this in a big way recently. I was quoted in Rebecca Traister’s 2005 Salon.com article entitled “The F-Word,”10 airing my feelings about the word “feminist”—and I got a little pissy. “Part of me gets so angry at younger women who are nervous about feminism because they’re afraid that boys won’t like them. . . . Part of me wants to say, ‘Yeah, someone’s going to call you a lesbian. Someone’s going to say you’re a fat, ugly dyke. Suck it up.’”11 My attempt to strongly defend the word “feminism” didn’t go over well with a lot of people. One woman actually posted a homophobic rant of a response to Salon.com:

     I’ll call myself a feminist when the fat, mannish dykes who do run around calling themselves “Feminist” very loudly and constantly concede that my decision to groom and dress myself as a twenty-first-century professional woman is every bit as valid a choice as their decision to become stereotypical jailhouse bulldaggers. Ovaries only make you female, they do not make you woman, and I am a woman. In other words, I will call myself a feminist when those mannabees are as proud of and joyful in their womanhood as I am in mine . . . Until then, fuck off and take your hairy legs with you.12

Ok then! I didn’t need much more than this to realize that feminism isn’t for everybody. I never really bought the “We’re all sisters” thing anyway. I’ve met enough racist, classist, homophobic women to know better. Feminism’s power isn’t in how many women identify with the cause. I’ll take quality over quantity any day.

Quality Women

So who are these elusive feminists? Like I’ve said—you are, even if you don’t know it yet. Though I’m hoping by now you’re at least slightly convinced. The smartest, coolest women I know are feminists. And they’re everywhere. You don’t need to be burning bras (actually, this never happened—total myth) or standing on a picket line to be a feminist. Chances are, you’ve already done stuff that makes you a feminist. You don’t have to be a full-time activist to be an awesome feminist.

The work that young women are doing across the country is pretty goddamn impressive. Do they all consider themselves feminists? Probably not. But a lot of the work they’re doing is grounded in feminist values. Just a few examples:

A group of high school girls in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, organized a “girlcott” of Abercrombie & Fitch when the clothing company came out with a girls’ shirt that read: WHO NEEDS BRAINS WHEN YOU HAVE THESE? After the group caused quite a ruckus in the media, A&F pulled the shirt.

Two young women in Brooklyn, Consuelo Ruybal and Oraia Reid, used their own money to start an organization called RightRides after a number of young women were raped in their neighborhood. Women can call the service anytime from midnight to 4 AM on the weekends and get a free ride home. Simple, but damn effective. Their motto is: “Because getting home safe should not be a luxury.”

The documentary film The Education of Shelby Knox was inspired by a high school student in Lubbock, Texas, who took on her town’s school board to fight for comprehensive sex education. Shockingly, the abstinence-only brand they were receiving wasn’t quite cutting it.

A group of queer women, tired of seeing the art world bypass great women artists, started riffRAG magazine. The magazine features work that slips under the mainstream’s radar.

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  • "Arresting, entertaining and serious."
    New York Times
  • "If feminism is enjoying a revival among young women, much of the credit should go to women such as Jessica Valenti."
  • "Valenti's writing has a wonderful defiant quality reminiscent of the days of the movement's youth."
    Washington Post
  • "Full Frontal Feminism shows us feminism is alive and well and kicking all kinds of oppressive male ass."—Margaret Cho
  • "Full Frontal Feminism is an irreverent guide to why young women should embrace the F-word."—New York Magazine
  • "Full Frontal Feminism tackles serious feminist issues with a sense of humor and justified anger."—Bitch Magazine

On Sale
Jul 1, 2014
Page Count
288 pages
Seal Press

Jessica Valenti

About the Author

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 PostNation, and Ms. magazine. She is currently a columnist at the Guardian US. Jessica lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter.

Learn more about this author