A Little F'd Up

Why Feminism Is Not a Dirty Word


By Julie Zeilinger

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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around April 17, 2012. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Young women today have a bad reputation, and for good reason: They’re sexting their classmates, they spend more time on FaceBook than they do in class, and their appetite for material possessions and reality TV is matched only by their overwhelming apathy about important social and political issues. Right?


FBomb blog creator Julie Zeilinger debunks these (and other) myths about modern youth in A Little F’d Up, the first book about feminism for young women in their teens and twenties to actually be written by one of their peers. In this accessible handbook, Zeilinger takes a critical, honest, and humorous look at where young feminists are as a generation, and where they’re going—and she does so from the perspective of someone who’s in the trenches right alongside her readers.

Fun, funny, and engaging, A Little F’d Up is a must-read for the growing number of intelligent, informed young women out there who are ready to start finding their voice—and changing the world.


For Cathy, Scott, and Brian Zeilinger, the most incredible and supportive family in the entire world.

I can tell a lot about a person based on what they do when I first tell them I'm a feminist.
Some people will give you a skeptical look and say something along the lines of, "But you don't look like a feminist." These are the folks you can maybe talk some sense to, if they're open to hearing why anti-feminist stereotypes are so old school and ridiculous. Then there are the people (mostly men) who will feign fear and say, "Oooh, are you going to hit me?" or some other such nonsense that suggests you're too angry for your own good. These are people to avoid at all costs. Then there are the keepers—the folks who say, "Tell me more," or, "What's that like?" Those are the people that make my day. My year!
But stereotypes are damaging all around—and making judgments about people's reaction to the word or idea of feminism can be a mistake, too. Sometimes people will surprise you.
A young Australian man I met while I was traveling responded to my telling him I was a feminist by actually lifting my arm and looking underneath for armpit hair. Not a good sign; I thought for sure he was an irredeemable asshole. But, after some time getting to know each other outside of bizarre first impressions, we ended up becoming great friends and still keep in touch almost ten years later. The truth is, for a lot of people—even good, smart, well-intentioned people—feminism is a dirty word. Or a funny word. Or a scary one.
This isn't just the case for younger people, either (despite the stereotypes that it's young women who don't call themselves feminists). People who are wary of "feminism" come in all ages. Often these folks don't really know what feminism is about. They've maybe heard the bra-burning myth or seen mainstream media portrayals of feminists and have been put off. Or they're nervous about seeming uninformed about gender issues so they become defensive. Sometimes people have really good reasons for reacting negatively to the label feminism. The movement's focus on white, cis, middle-class issues has left a lot of people, rightfully, skeptical or hurt. It's a reality we can't ignore.
Feminists and people who care about gender justice need to take a close look why feminism is still so disparaged, no matter what the reason. In large part, it's because there's been a well-organized social and political antifeminist movement dedicated to making sure that people, women especially, eschew the feminism and the ideas behind it. Whether it's conservative radio hosts calling feminists "feminazis" or right-wing women's organizations suggesting that equality actually hurts women, there's a reason that so many people think so little of a movement that has done so much good.
The newest form of feminist-bashing is a bit more insidious than just straight up calling us frigid manhaters. In the last couple of years, instead of completely dismissing feminism, antifeminist groups have started calling themselves the "real" feminists. Groups like the Independent Women's Forum—who try to ban "The Vagina Monologues" on college campuses and argue that pay inequity doesn't exist—have figured out that the feminist label has power, and they're trying to co-opt it.
This is why I'm so glad that Julie has written this book. In a time when the very definition of feminism is up for grabs, when people who are feminists won't identify as such and people who are most definitely not feminists are trying to steal the language of the movement, we need a voice that gets past the bullshit. A clear, strong, young voice that lets people know what feminism is actually about. We have a lot of those voices online, so it's great to start to see some in print as well!
At the end of the day, whatever someone's reason for giving feminism the side-eye, what gives me hope is the knowledge that there's space for conversation, for listening, and for making connections with other people that can lead to a better, more just world. No matter what someone's initial reaction is to "feminism," there's room for growth and action—what more could we want?

So. I'm a teenager and I wrote a book. And not just any book. A book about feminism.
What kind of obviously pretentious and generally ridiculous teen does that?
Well, I'm actually pretty typical. I grew up in Pepper Pike, Ohio, (seriously) and went to a small school that worshiped football, but if we had actually won a game, I think I would've immediately begun to collect canned goods and survival gear in preparation for the clearly imminent rapture. I have a hilarious older brother, two loving and supportive parents, and a dog who thinks he's a cat. I also started the FBomb: a loud, proud, snarky blog for young feminists that is read by hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world.
So how could a (relatively) normal young girl from Ohio (who, as we all know, should really be obsessed with boys, clothes, and ABC Family original programming) be both a regular teen and a prominent teenage feminist?
It all started in the eighth grade. For decades, my middle school has upheld the tradition of requiring all eighth graders to write a speech on a topic of their choice and deliver it to the entire school.
Now, to a bunch of fourteen-year-olds who just want to look cute in their skin-tight Abercrombie jeans, and who are constantly worried there's food stuck in their blue-and-magenta braces, standing in front of every single one of their peers and speaking publicly for ten minutes is terrifying, to say the least.
In sixth and seventh grade, kids are already starting to worry about the chapel talk. They mention it in hushed tones, quickly spat out, before changing the subject so as to not linger on its imminent reality. The school's obviously satanic teachers refer to it as a "public-speaking opportunity." But to 99.9 percent of eighth graders, it's really more like an opportunity to confirm our worst suspicions: that everybody is judging us, and only us. Anyway, at that point in our young lives, we are all planning on becoming things like Rihanna's backup dancers or professional dirt bikers, so obviously public speaking is a completely superfluous skill.
I tried to think positively about my speech. Despite the feeling of imminent doom, I realized that as a fourteen-year-old, it is incredibly difficult to get anyone to listen to you talk about anything serious for more than thirty seconds. And here I was, being handed a full ten minutes. I may have been terrified, but dammit, I was going to use those precious minutes. I was going to enlighten my audience of tweens and move them to greater social action. Local news organizations were going to be called to the scene after my talk, which was going to incite my prepubescent peers to riot against the newly revealed injustices of the world. I was going to give the best speech ever—that is, if I did not spontaneously throw up midspeech, which was also a real possibility.
Around the same time, my mom handed me an article she found in a copy of Glamour magazine while in the dentist's waiting room. (Yeah, she stole it. So sue her. You made her wait forty minutes to get her teeth cleaned. Call it even.) It was titled "A Generation of Women Wiped Out?"1 The article was about women in South Asia, particularly in India, who were killing their own baby girls just because of their disappointing gender.
Needless to say, I was deeply disturbed—not only by the horrific facts I'd been presented with, but also by the fact that neither I, nor anybody I knew, had even been aware that thousands of baby girls die every year because of this. And so I decided to write my speech about female feticide and infanticide, and I started pouring over the research. As it often happens, my research led me to all kinds of related issues, and I soon realized there were many more atrocities being committed against women all over the world—and even in my own country. And I kept thinking, This can't be happening. If this were happening, everybody would be talking about it. I would have heard of it before. Everybody would be horrified. It would be on the news. But when I checked the news, I saw only that Paris Hilton had bought her forty-seventh Chihuahua and that another married politician was wrapped up in a sex scandal.
This only added fuel to my internal fire. People had to learn what was happening. And I was going to tell them. So I proudly gave my impassioned speech to my entire school . . . to glazed eyes. For months, I was remembered as "the girl who gave the speech about dead babies."
Not quite the reaction I'd been hoping for.
But it was worth it, because it was around this time that I realized I was a feminist.
It wasn't that becoming a feminist was a predestined mission embedded deep in my genetic coding. There wasn't a moment when a light bulb flashed over my head and a hallelujah chorus of angels descended from feminist heaven to gently wrap me in a wreath woven from PLANNED PARENTHOOD bumper stickers. I didn't transition from nonfeminist to überfeminist overnight. Rather, the term speech spurred my awareness of feminism as a movement, and helped me realize that feminism accurately described my beliefs.
I don't remember the first time I told somebody I was a feminist. I don't remember when I first internally referred to myself as a feminist. I just know that after my speech, I was one. And it seemed like I was the only one.
Thankfully, when I got to high school, my advisor (a recent Harvard grad whose office wall boasted FEMINISTS FOR CHOICE and REPUBLICANS FOR VOLDEMORT bumper stickers) introduced me to the writing of third-wave feminists like Jessica Valenti and Courtney Martin. She also sent me the link to Feministing, one of the most-visited feminist blogs out there in the big, wide interwebs. I was hooked from day one. Here were intelligent women writing about things that actually mattered. It was entertaining, and I was actually learning. What a concept!
The only problem with Feministing and the other feminist blogs I began to read regularly was that, despite the overwhelming awesomeness of intelligent and relatively young female voices, teens and teen issues were virtually absent from the discussions. Yes, conversations about, say, work–life balance and whether or not to take your husband's last name are interesting, but they weren't exactly the foremost topics on my mind. I craved a place specifically for young feminists.
The problem was, I had no idea where to find that place. I resorted to Google searches. Like diving into the middle of the Pacific Ocean in search of a single, specific shell, or like scouring the plateaus of Iceland for elves (look it up), searching Google for something you're not sure even exists can be arduous and endlessly frustrating. Every once in a while, I'd find an online news site or a mainstream blog that covered the topic of sexting or teen pregnancy (always something alarmist—pregnancy pacts!—and usually focused on the threat to our one and only virtue: purity, of course). In these instances, teens would show up in the comments sections, rearing to add their two cents. But where did we have a chance to write our own posts? Did we have an opportunity to offer our own perspectives, not just respond to someone else's? Did our insights ever get a chance to temper the statistics that adults love to point to, and which are, more often than not, faulty and biased? (Aside: I think Fox News straight up pulls them out of their asses.) Did a forum exist for teenagers to share their general observations and to be interviewed?
No, in fact, it didn't. So I decided to create that place.
I'll admit it: When I first started blogging, I had no idea what the hell I was doing. But I definitely had a vision. I had a goal. I wanted to create a place where teens who identified as feminist—or who at least cared about feminist issues—could not only gather and find each other, but could also tell the world our own stories. I wanted to give every teen—feminist or not—the opportunity to speak out and have her (or his) voice heard.
Thus, the FBomb was born, and a few months later, tens of thousands of people were reading the very words I had written on caffeine-fueled late-night word-vomit binges and after fury-inducing high school/life experiences. And soon readers started to submit rants of their very own.
But more than any post about birth control, more than any feminist's personal "coming out" story, the most feminist aspect of the FBomb is its function as a platform for teen voices to be heard. In response to a culture that encourages us to be shallow drones, the FBomb is about empowering teens to use their voices, letting them know that their voices matter, and showing them that they're not alone in their feminist ideals. It's about elevating the voices of a generation—and hopefully, the continuation of a movement. It's about showing the world that feminism doesn't have to be discovered when we first face discrimination or violence or what have you. It's about showing the world that feminism is for life—from the womb to the grave. (Yes, I said "womb." I have always advocated for pregnant mothers to read feminist texts to their children while they are in utero. It's far superior to playing classical music, no matter what your ob-gyn says. Trust me: I'm a teen feminist, I know this stuff.)
It can be hard to really explain feminism to our peers. The FBomb is a way to show them. On the FBomb, teen girls wittily write about their lives. They offer each other advice in the comments. They therapeutically rant, they write short stories and contemplate current events. They're brilliant and wonderful. Feminism, for the FBomb generation, is not scary or intimidating. It's personal. Sometimes it's funny, sometimes it's depressing, sometimes it's enraging. But it's always interesting.
The FBomb is ultimately about showing young women and girls that they too can choose feminism—and that if they do, they will never be alone. It's about showing teens how being a feminist can help them, in plentiful and unexpected ways. After all, it helped me.
In addition to everything the FBomb does for its readers and contributors, it does something else. It serves as evidence (to adults, to the media, to the world at large) that teen girls want equality. That we don't want to be limited to stereotypes. That we want a real, productive way to talk about our life experiences—everything from our bodies, to hooking up, to the injustices happening in the world around us that make us feel powerless. We want all of these things, whether or not we even recognize that this is feminism or not.
For all that, the FBomb has been great.
But we need something more. Something like a book. A book written by a young feminist for other young feminists, and for young men and women who don't yet know that they are feminists. A book that is brutally honest and that captures our feelings, frustrations, and opinions about the real world we are living in, right now—a world that is more than a little f'd up. We need something like this book.
My hope is that A Little F'd Up contributes to the start of a new movement. Our movement. Feminism that is relevant to us, the youth of today. My hope is that it brings us a step closer to truly addressing, combating, and changing all of the crap in our lives and in the lives of others that we're really freaking sick of.
This is our feminism, and there's nothing f'd up about it.

I know what you're thinking: History is boring.
Actually, I have no idea if that's what you're thinking. Maybe you opened this book to this page and thought, You mean I get another opportunity to explore the interconnecting relationships and themes of the people and events of years past and relate them to my current state, both personal and political? And outside of the confines of an academic classroom no less? Well aren't I the luckiest!? Somehow, though, I think not. At least, I know that's not what I would've thought had this book been authored by somebody else and I were a reader. But hear me out.
There are three major reasons I think it's really important to understand the history of the women who came before us before we delve into all the shit we're dealing with right now (let alone tackling the inevitable crapstorm that's yet to come).
Reason #1:
Our generation desperately needs some perspective.
No, seriously. If I hear one more girl wonder aloud if Roe v. Wade was a boxing match that was recently televised by ESPN, I'm going to freakin' rip my hair out. Our ignorance is embarrassing and insulting and will only hurt us in the long run. We need to get our shit together.
Reason #2: History repeats itself and all that jazz.
I don't know if this was just my experience, but every first day of school of my entire high school career, my history teacher would saunter into class and ask us, "So, why do we need to learn about history?" Some smartass always retorted, "We don't," then probably mentally high-fived himself (it was always a "him") for his ridiculously witty response. Then, somebody would raise their hand and appease the teacher by saying, "So we don't repeat our mistakes."
Stock answer to first-day of history class or not, I really think this is true. If we don't truly understand the feminist movement—if we don't really understand what it used to be like to be a woman in this world up until not so long ago—I honestly feel like we're going to get complacent. We will be lazy about enforcing our rights, and I fear history truly will repeat itself... and, frankly, as women, we'll be fucked.
Reason #3: It makes sense to start at the beginning.
Yeah, this one is pretty self-explanatory. So without further ado, let's talk about the history of feminism!



We tend to dehumanize people who lived a long time ago, viewing their faceless, nameless existence the same way we might contemplate the Big Bang theory. It's hard to see them as anything more than an abstract concept. But we must remember: It was their lives and their actions that led to our current reality.
And actually, there is less separating us from the past than we might think. Sure, Babylonians lived almost two thousand years before Jesus came along, but, as you'll see below, their treatment of women was pretty enduring. So enduring, in fact, that women's right to own property was not won in America until the first wave of feminism, thousands of years later. Though honor, virginity, and purity are no longer intrinsic to a woman's survival, as they were in ancient times, those concepts are still deeply woven into our society's perception of women, and still deeply affect our lives. And, like in ancient times, women are still sold into slavery, via human and sex trafficking. It's happening at this very moment.
It's true: We have made strides that women before us could never have comprehended. But just because we have Facebook, frozen yogurt, and, you know, the ability to vote doesn't mean we're done.

Prehistoric Gender Equality (Yes, It's a Thing)

If we go back—before Freud, before Shakespeare, even before Plato—we can get a glimpse of gender equality. But we have to go way back. Like, get your clubs out and try to hone your cave-painting skills, because we're going back to the very beginning.
It's believed that up until about 10,000 BC, men and women were considered equal in status. Men were primarily hunters and women primarily gatherers, but inferiority didn't factor into these roles, and women could be hunters if they were capable.1 And then along came the Neolithic Revolution, when humans gave up the nomadic lifestyle, settled down into homes and communities, and started to develop civilizations. Only then did women get the bump.2
So what happened? Well, this new settled lifestyle resulted in that pesky division of labor: men as hunters, women as gatherers. In addition to cultivating crops, women were responsible for childbearing. Fair enough. After all, women were the ones with the uteruses and breast milk, and foraging allowed them to stay close to their responsibilities at home. Men—because of their better eyesight in dim light and their sharper hearing—stuck to hunting and, once we started domesticating animals, to herding and husbandry. It was an essentially equitable division of labor that was based on each gender's specific physical capacities.3
But somehow things took a sinister turn, and the division of labor came to be understood as the demarcation of a social hierarchy. Women were kept busy with numerous domestic responsibilities while their male counterparts' sole duty was tending to the flocks. Men had time to think critically, form political infrastructures, and ultimately, network with other men. Meanwhile, women were kept too busy to notice that somewhere along the line, they had become inferior.4
This is approximately when shit hit the fan.

Hammurabi's Uncivil Code of Conduct

Imagine you're in Babylon, a city-state in Mesopotamia. It's 1786 BC. Violence is on the rise as the leaders of your city-state are attempting to conquer everything within their reach. You can't even go to the temple to worship Shamash, the sun god, without worrying about getting shanked. It's a problem, and Hammurabi, the king, knows it. Thus, he decides to make some laws.
This is where the Code of Hammurabi comes in. A charming document, this set of 282 laws was enacted to regulate Babylonian society, and it makes the laws of most modern cultures seem like they were designed by a hippie commune. Essentially, the Code of Hammurabi decreed that there were two types of women: those who were slaves (with a master, and with absolutely no rights whatsoever), and those who were not.
Now, you might think that the nonslave women had it easy compared to the slave women—after all, they weren't bound to physical labor, right?
Okay. But that's where it ended. Because in reality, "free" women were just unofficial slaves.
Basically, the life of the "free" Babylonian woman boiled down to this:
1. You are born to your father, who owns you.
2. When you are married off, you are sold to your husband, like an animal, or a nice hat.
3. Your role in life is to have babies. Boy babies. Give birth to daughters, and you are on the express train to servitude. Why? Sons were the heirs. They carried on the family name and brought honor to their families, while girls drained their families of already limited resources, just to leave them and join another family once they were of marrying age. Son preference wasn't just based in sexism—it was also financial.
Women were also used as a way to settle accounts. (How convenient is it when the woman who has borne your children can also be used as collateral!) Yes, it's true: Selling off your female was the Babylonian answer to Your 60-Second Guide to Getting Out of Debt.5
As long as she wasn't worthless, that is. A woman's financial value and marriageability was intrinsically connected to her purity and good name. So accusing a woman of fooling around was a serious matter—one with a memorable punishment if you couldn't back up your claim. The 127th law states "If anyone point the finger at [that is, slander] a sister of a god or the wife of anyone and cannot prove it, this man shall be taken before the judges, and his brow shall be marked (by cutting the skin, or perhaps the hair)."6 Once a woman was married, however, she'd better hope her husband actually wanted to have sex with her. The mere fact of marriage did not secure a woman's honored place in Babylonian society, as the 128th law makes clear: "If a man take a woman to wife but have no intercourse with her, this woman is no wife to him."7 So as you can see, a Babylonian woman's worth and status in life depended significantly on her sex life (if you can call it that, which, no, I don't think you can).
Are you an upstanding citizen who has landed yourself in debt due to your abysmal education and the fact that you just can't live without your nightly pint of ale? (Who can blame you? Who wouldn't rather spend time with a pretty barmaid than their hag of a wife?) Or maybe you stole a goat from your neighbor (hey, you're only human), and now it's payback time?
Well you are a prime candidate for selling your wife and children into forced labor! Contact your local debt-collector to see how you can erase your debt and—BONUS!—get that irksome family out of the way!

Aristotle: Master of Politics, Astronomy, and Sexism

One can only imagine what Aristotle's mother was thinking when she first laid eyes on him. Maybe her mother's intuition allowed her to foresee the astounding contributions he would make to almost every major sphere of the Western world. Or maybe, as the wife of a physician in 384 BC, she was simply ecstatic that she gave birth to a son, which was one of the most honorable things a woman could do at the time. Either way, Aristotle did little to honor his mother's gender in return for the nine months of morning sickness, swollen feet, and mood swings, and for the endless hours of labor.
At the time of Aristotle's birth, it was understood as fact


On Sale
Apr 17, 2012
Page Count
272 pages
Seal Press

Julie Zeilinger

About the Author

Originally from Pepper Pike, Ohio, 18-year-old Julie Zeilinger is currently an undergraduate at Barnard College, Columbia University. The founder and editor of FBomb (thefbomb.org), a feminist blog and community for teens and young adults who care about their rights and want to be heard, Zeilinger has been named one of the eight most influential bloggers under the age of 21 by Woman’s Day magazine, one of More Magazine’s “New Feminists You Need To Know,” one of The Times’ “40 Bloggers Who Really Count,” and one of the Plain Dealer’s “Most Interesting People of 2011.” She has contributed to the Huffington Post, Feminist.com, Skirt! magazine, and the Cleveland Jewish News, among other publications.

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