lefaquin’s #CBR4Review #24: Manifesta: young women, feminism, and the future by Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards
As contemporaries of Lisa Jervis and Andi Zeisler, Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards have written a book that is in many ways similar to one of the first books I reviewed for CBR this year, bitchfest. Both books target young feminists and hope to invigorate young women everywhere to be revolutionary in their everyday lives. While bitchfest was an extremely varied collection of pieces from the magazine, celebrating women and feminism, Manifesta has a more coherent message and felt more organized as a whole (a fact definitely related to the clear structure of Manifesta and to the cohesive vision of the two authors who penned all of the chapters therein). Bitchfest was better at pushing the envelope on feminism, and brought a lot of new ideas into play for me (and, I presume, for other readers). While Manifesta is jam packed with information and ideas, Baumgardner and Richards don’t set out to really push the boundaries of contemporary feminism as much as they try to include everyone in their quest for equality.
Manifesta has a much more didactic feel than bitchfest, but even as a relatively well read feminist, I had a lot to learn from this book. Baumgardner and Richards were both big activists and writers in the early 1990’s, and they offer great firsthand narratives of young activists around that time. Additionally, Manifesta has a great look at the history of feminism while encouraging young women to be inspired by their feminist foremothers. I really enjoyed their discussions of motherhood and raising young girls to be feminists. Those were partially couched in discussions of barbies, the mainstream media, and looking at how to introduce positive female role models and healthy ideas about sexuality into the lives of young teens.
It was also really interesting to hear their take on feminist writers like Naomi Wolfe and Elizabeth Wurtzel, two writers who I feel have been criticized very harshly by the media – there was a pretty hilarious review of Naomi Wolfe’s book in The New Yorker earlier this year (Wolfe goes to a lot of tantric sex workshops, and start calling her vagina her yoni). However, Manifesta was originally written around 1999, and this reprint has some updates, but much of the content remains unchanged. I also liked Baumgardner and Richards take on Katie Roiphe and her theories on college campus date rape, and the take back the night scene. For the most part, the authors pretty clearly explain feminist history, contemporary feminist thought, and reason their arguments. The appendices are also pretty amazing – there is a huge set of fantastic footnotes, a great timeline of feminist history (which focuses more on recent events, but is still pretty comprehensive), lists of great feminist organizations to volunteer with, work with, or to simply use their services. However, I love that at the very end, they put a huge call to young women to get active in their communities, and pretty clearly spell out the ways in which everyone can donate their time or money to worthwhile causes. Although it’s not as necessary for me anymore, I think this would be a great resource for teenagers and young college aged women who are looking for a call to action, or aren’t quite sure how to put their feminist values into action (or even why they should).