Hot Feminist by Polly Vernon, published May 2015 by Hodder & Stoughton.
Read: March 2016
Get It Now: Wordery
Goodreads Synopsis: Polly Vernon, Grazia columnist, Times feature writer (hair-flicker, Brazilian-waxer, jeans obsessive, outrageous flirt) presents a brave new perspective on feminism.
Drawing on her dedicated, life-long pursuit of hotness – having dismissed many of the rules on ‘good’ feminism at some point in the early 90s – she’ll teach you everything you ever wanted to know about being a feminist when you care about how you look. Hot Feminist is based on a principle of non-judgement (because there’s enough already), honesty about how often we mess this up, and empowerment through looks. Part memoir, part road map, it’s a rolling, raucous rejection of all those things we’re convinced we shouldn’t think/wear/feel/say/buy/want – and a celebration of all the things we can. It is modern feminism, with style, without judgement.
Well. Isn’t this the most controversial read of 2016?!
For my review to have context, let me begin with a little explanation of sorts. For a long time, I didn’t identify with the word “feminist”. This was mostly due to a general lack of awareness, my own ignorance of the concept, and the many, many negative connotations that younger-me didn’t want to be associated with – hairy armpits, man-hating, and bra burning, anyone? Of course, I’m now very aware that none of those are prerequisites to waving your feminist flag, or beating your feminist drum. Peer opinion mattered much more to teenage-me than to present-me. Present-me doesn’t much mind if you think I don’t own a Gillette, or that I burn my Ann Summer’s specials in a fiery pit of protest in my back garden.
As I got older (early 20’s?), and learned more about feminism, particularly the modern wave (I think it’s the 4th we’re on now?), I realised that many of my ideals, opinions and ethics actually aligned with this movement perfectly. Following this wake-up call, I decided to start digging, I wanted to know more, I wanted to become an active member of this movement, I had opinions to share, damn it! After reading (and loving) Bad Feminist last year, I intentionally went out of my way to integrate more feminist texts into my regular reading routine. Obviously, when I spotted Hot Feminist I immediately requested a copy from the publisher.
So, what was it that appealed to me about this book? Having feminist beliefs is all well and good, but honestly, modern woman lives in such an oxymoronic society (is that a word? I’m making it a word), that sometimes it’s difficult to know if you’re coming or going. Before, the status-quo was to be virginal and pure, now we’re embracing all aspects of our sexuality, which is fab… Except now you’re viewed as the “odd one” when you don’t believe in one-night-stands or being promiscuous simply for the sake of promiscuity. We’re battling Photoshop and media-perpetrated unrealistic beauty ideals for women, but we also want to “look nice” by removing unwanted body hair, and taming our frizzy mop with straighteners, and sometimes going the whole hog and throwing make-up on while we’re at it. Are we giving in to the societal perception of beauty by doing these things, and being anti-feminist when we paint our nails? Are we part of the problem?! Some of us want to have careers, and some of us want to have families, and some of us want to have both, but where do we stand on that now? Do we want to “have it all”, or do we want a work life balance? WHAT ARE THE RULES?!
I think the point Vernon illustrates particularly well with this book, is that there are no rules. Once-upon-a-time, feminism as a movement might have needed a Guidebook as a helping hand to get kick-started, but it has become such a complex and all-encompassing movement in today’s society, that it has had to change and adapt, and with that the “rules” have gone out the window. You can be a feminist and care about your physical appearance, you can be a feminist and find the fashion industry inspiring, you can be a feminist and decide to bow out of the rat race to raise your rug rats instead, you can be a feminist and be many other things at the same time!
Hot Feminist is Vernon’s gift to women everywhere – yes, be a feminist, but lets take the insane pressure off – stop trying to be the “perfect feminist”. This movement can be intimidating, with it seemingly breaking off into various sub-groups, and there being occasional elitist attitudes, where women are in competition with each other over just how “good” a feminist they are, and how much they know about the movement’s history. The Patriarchy don’t need to keep women down, we can bicker enough among ourselves to prevent progress. Vernon’s approach, while maybe not conventional and overtly “serious”, is to stop trying to take on each and every single equality issue down to whether or not it’s acceptable to graciously receive a compliment about your physical appearance, in case that somehow undermines your intellectual abilities at the same time…
Vernon has received some major shade for this book, and while I can’t say I agreed with all of her views (honestly, do you ever 100% agree with someone’s opinions?), I could at least accept her position, occasionally finding merit in her views, even when they were not my own. This isn’t an entirely glowing review – there were times when I felt Vernon contradicted herself (don’t judge others, but I’m going to judge those who do x, y and z), and I personally don’t agree that we shouldn’t be sweating the “small stuff” e.g. Page 3, wide-spread use of PhotoShop, etc., as I believe the “smaller” issues are highly influential to, and interconnected with, the “bigger” issues Vernon deems worthy of fighting. I did appreciate Vernon’s stance that fighting all of the causes, all of the time, can turn people off Feminism, and almost dilute the power behind, and significance of, the bigger issues, but I don’t think we can escape the interconnectivity of those issues, and therefore all of them are worthy for discussion.
It has to be said that I really enjoyed Vernon’s tone and sense of humour throughout this entire read. I have a very dry and sarcastic sense of humour, and I rarely find myself laughing out loud while reading books, because lets be honest, it is very difficult to convey sarcastic humour in the written form. This is especially true if you don’t know the writer personally (my sister also has a very dry and sarcastic sense of humour, we know each other incredibly well, and there are still times when our humour falls flat by text). I actually think this is part of the reason why the book hasn’t been so well received, because some readers just aren’t getting the tongue-in-cheek vibe in places, or are insulted by someone being tongue-in-cheek in the first place about Feminism. Lets be real – there are times when Feminism can use a humour-injection, so consider this Feminist-lite.
When I started this read, I was expecting a heavy, serious and researched opinion piece. If that is what you’re after I suggest you pick up something else. When I quickly learned that wasn’t what this book was about, and read it for what it was – part memoir, part Feminist essay, full entertainment (with educational value), I enjoyed it so much more.
Have you read Hot Feminist? Any feminist reads you would recommend to me? Let me know in the comments!