Feminasty: The Complicated Woman’s Guide to Surviving the Patriarchy Without Drinking Herself to Death
Grand Central Publishing
September 4, 2018
You know that old adage – if I don’t laugh, I’ll cry? Being a woman is hard; often-times unbearable. You have to laugh off the daily horrors or you won’t get through another day. But, Erin Gibson is tired of laughing it off and staying silent. She is done caring about what the patriarchy wants. She is here to be the nasty feminist who empowers women with knowledge about how the patriarchy runs and how we can collectively take it down with her collection of essays in Feminasty.
Gibson tackles a host of issues in this book – from United States Vice-President Mike Pence, to periods, women in STEM (or lack thereof), the cosmetic industry, abortions, STDs, rape – a lot for a book that isn’t even 300 pages long. Her conversational and humorous tone makes the book feel even shorter; one races through the pages despite the amount of information contained within.
Feminasty opens with a doozy of an essay – ‘The Terrifying Prospect of Mike “Vaginas are the Devil’s Mouth Flaps” Pence. Here, Gibson outlines everything that Pence has done and said during his long career in politics that has had a detrimental impact on the women of the U.S. She highlights Pence, because according to Gibson: “Impeaching Trump is not the answer, because the next bozo in line is a guy who thinks The Handmaid’s Tale is a wish-fulfillment fantasy, like Field of Dreams, but with more state-sanctioned rape.”
Gibson follows her diatribe against Pence with an essay about #MeToo and how to shut down people who stand against it. In her firing line are several female journalists who have either fought against the campaign or stood by the accused men who have finally been caught out because of it. As Gibson reiterates, #MeToo takes nothing away from men and masculinity, instead, it is all about ensuring that “women are not operating out of sheer terror for their own safety.” We need those words emblazoned on every subway, honestly.
Female journalists aren’t the only ones under fire in Feminasty. Gibson also takes aim at female politicians who have stood in the path of women’s progress, like Phyllis Schlafly, who scuppered the Equal Rights Amendment from being passed, and Renee Ellmer who stood against an abortion bill for rape victims. Her most scathing retort is against Ivanka Trump, who Gibson calls a ‘Terminator’ because she feels nothing for the people her father publicly denigrates. These are not the women we need in politics, but the situation is so bad right now that it is bound to lead to some good women taking up cudgels on behalf of the marginalised, the only silver lining of this political fiasco.
But, where Gibson’s essay really shines is when she makes the personal political. Her descriptions of debilitating period pain will resonate with millions of women. Her experiences with male gynecologists, who are incredibly suspect in her eyes for their chosen profession, will make you gasp in horror even while you nod in recognition.
The stand-out essay in Feminasty is undoubtedly ‘Bankrupting the Makeup Men.’ You don’t need to know about makeup to appreciate the amount of research that has gone into this essay. In it, Gibson makes the horrifying discovery that an industry primarily begun by women for women is now almost entirely owned and profited off by men. The only way to make a stand against this is to not buy from them and Gibson lists all the female-owned companies that women can turn to for each product. Plus, Gibson has tested the products out on herself and swears by them, so there’s that legitimate endorsement.
However, Gibson’s strongest, and best-researched essays are, surprisingly, found at the end of the book. Her essay on women’s exclusion from STEM fields is hard reading, not purely because of the statistics but for the experiences of the women included in it. It’s no wonder that women steer clear of the sciences!
Her piece on breast cancer awareness, an illness her family is intimately acquainted with, is shocking. Did you know how little money from breast cancer awareness programmes actually reach organisations raising awareness about breast cancer — “$12.50 of every $100.” Corporations are taking good money and making profits from it and we are none the wiser.
Like many feminist texts, Feminasty also includes a chapter about abortion. It may seem like preaching to the converted, but the way Gibson presents her facts, statistics and calculations lay bare the hard truths about the procedure and why it is so important for women to have access to safe abortion facilities. For anyone still dithering on the fence about abortion, one read of this essay will set your mind straight. There is only one way forward – instead of worrying about the yet-to-be-born, let’s focus on the women already here who have the right to make choices about their bodies. Why is this even up for debate?
There is much to love about Feminasty –– it’s irreverent tone will definitely appeal to many but, for me, it was sometimes a bit too much. This is, after all, a book of essays about serious topics, and Gibson’s flippancy can sometimes be jarring to read.
I also feel like the order of the essays should have been changed. The first few essays seem to take aim almost exclusively at women, which is incongruous to Gibson’s dedication in the book – “To women. You are not my competition.” This is especially odd with regards to the #MeToo essay, where Gibson solely calls out women for misunderstanding #MeToo, instead of attacking the men who gave rise to the campaign in the first place. It would have been better to put this essay nearer the end so it didn’t feel like she was excusing men and attacking women.
In the same vein, Gibson’s strongest essays, on STEM, abortion, and rape should have been the openers for this book. They are extremely well-researched and very well-written. They made for gripping, albeit uncomfortable, reading. If I wasn’t reviewing this book, I may very well have missed these excellent pieces of writing because I would have given up after the first two essays. For everyone reading this book, please keep reading, Gibson saves the best for last.
When Gibson gives readers minor insights into her personal life, the essays become richer for it. Her takedown of May/December romances and their proliferation in Hollywood is intriguing because of the effect such relationships have had on her own life. The book needed more Gibson in it! If she ever writes a full-on autobiography, it is going to be a riveting read because the personal really is political.
With all the topics that are covered in Feminasty, it actually is surprising how many subjects didn’t make the cut. Gibson’s ability to hold the reader’s attention makes me wonder why the book wasn’t longer. She clearly has so much more to say, and has a fascinating way to say it, so why curb her enthusiasm? There needs to be a sequel to this, and soon, because women around the world will need to know how else they can be loud, nasty feminists.