Stick the kettle on, this is going to be a long post. Here are my thoughts on the controversial Hot Feminist by Polly Vernon.
Hot Feminist by Polly Vernon
Hot (adj.) : (Of a person) Attractive ‘a hot chick’
Fem-i-n-ist (n.) : A person who supports feminism, the movement that advocates equal rights for women.
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. When part of your brain is constantly monologuing on fashion. When you check out your own reflection in every reflective surface. When your depilation practices are pretty much out of control. When you just really want to be fancied.
Hot Feminist is based on a principle of non-judgment (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 judgment.
After witnessing the Twitter storm that accompanied the launch of Hot Feminist, I didn’t particularly have any ambitions to read it. However, *big sigh* after reading some reviews curiosity got the better of me and I begrudgingly borrowed it from my local library (albeit with some death glares from the male librarian #lol).
Before we get started I want to emphasis that this post is not, nor is it intended, to be a personal attack on Ms Vernon. This post is simply my thoughts on the book – nothing else.
Hot Feminist is part memoir, part ‘musings’ on feminism. Let’s talk about the title first. I have a sneaky suspicion that this was dreamt up as a deliberate way to anger the masses and get people talking. I personally don’t like the title as it has negative connotations. To me, it’s immediately drawing up two camps; the “ugly feminists” and the “super hot manic pixie dream girls who are definitely NOT feminists omg we love men so much!!!“. That isn’t very feminist at all. Being feminine and indulging in things such as lipstick or nice clothes doesn’t mean you can’t support a movement for the equality of men and women. You can wear red lipstick and fight the patriarchy. You can shave your legs and fight for your right to abortion. The two are not mutually exclusive. You can be a feminist without an adjective to justify it. Anyway, let’s continue.
In terms of the actual feminist content of the book, there is very little. It is far from being “brave” or a “new” perspective. In fact, Ms Vernon doesn’t particularly bring anything new to the table. Whilst I have had my issues with Caitlin Moran in the past, I have to admit that “How To Be a Woman” and it’s “be in charge of your vagina!” message (problematic by today’s standards…) definitely had a positive impact on feminism. I can’t imagine this book having a similar effect as I find Ms Vernon’s beliefs to be rather outdated.
In modern feminism, one of the biggest issues we face is intersectionality. This is the concept that, put simply, “recognises that women experience oppression in varying configurations and intensity”. To be put even more simply, my experiences as a white, heterosexual, cisgendered female woman will vary differently to a woman of colour or a trans woman. For example, a trans woman faces a higher risk of sexual violence compared to a cisgendered woman. Feminism is no longer purely for the interests and benefit of white, heterosexual cisgendered women. We must recognise ALL women. We will never make progress in the movement with this prehistoric view.
Sadly, Ms Vernon doesn’t seem to address intersectionality at all. Instead she talks about fashion, fancying men…. and body hair. *sighs again* I am of the view that women can do whatever they like with their body hair. Shave it, grow it, dye it, make purses out of it – do whatever you want to do. It grows on your body. Whilst Ms Vernon’s hair removal routine had me raising my eyebrows, I cannot criticize her for what she chooses to do. However, it is very disappointing to see that Ms Vernon believes that “there is no way that hair removal can make its peace with feminist leanings” as she “doesn’t buy the feminism is all about the right to choose argument“. Umm, that is what feminism is; the choice to choose what to do with YOUR body in the same way men can. I don’t hear of men begging their mum at 12 years old to shave their legs as they know they will be teased, or of using Veet to dissolve the hair (and smelling like a rotten egg for a hour or two). I wouldn’t go as far as saying that men love their body hair, but they are certainly not shamed for it in the same way women are. Newsflash: we are all covered in hair. IT IS A NATURAL THING THAT BODIES GROW. If any of your partners, either man or woman, makes you feel ashamed of your body hair, dump them. There are plenty of nice people out there who WON’T CARE and will love you regardless. I promise. Anyway, I’m going off topic again…
I will hold my hands up and admit there were parts of Hot Feminist that I did like. I admire how she spoke frankly of her experience with abortion, and admitted that she did not regret them nor did she feel “guilty” or “ashamed”. Of course, this new found admiration did not last long when I realised that she had failed to talk about the issue of body autonomy in a broader sense. One example that she could have spoke about is the current situation in Ireland where abortion is illegal. Ireland, a modern country that is about one hour away on a plane, does not let women decide what they can do with their bodies. As the campaign to challenge this law is gaining momentum, there is no excuse for Ms Vernon to be unaware of this topic, I can only hope that since publication Ms Vernon has added her support to the cause in whatever way she can. I’m going off topic again!
I also agreed with her coining of the term “feminist fear of getting it wrong“, as it is something I struggle with myself(!). Again, this new found admiration melted away when she ranted about “Twitter feminists”. If it wasn’t for these pesky Twitter feminists, I would still have rather problematic beliefs of my own. Instead of slamming those who disagree with her, perhaps Ms Vernon could listen to what they had to say and consider their arguments. Just a suggestion…
It is sad to see that Ms Vernon has the “well I am doing just fine!” mentality when it comes to feminism. It seems that if something does not affect her personally, she doesn’t care. Want a hard hitting book that talks about patriarchy, internalised misogyny, rape culture and other issues? This isn’t it. This is a book mostly about how much Ms Vernon likes men and just wants them to fancy her. I’m not kidding. There are several chapters devoted to how much Ms Vernon wants to be fancied and her tips on how to get men to fancy you. It is a shame, as Ms Vernon obviously is well known enough to warrant a book deal with a large publisher, and she could have used this opportunity to make a real difference… *sighs heavily*
I didn’t hate Hot Feminist as much as I thought I would, but I didn’t like it either. I gave this book two stars on GoodReads as this book was fairly easy to read, and witty in parts. Ms Vernon does seem rather nice, even if I don’t agree with her views.
On one hand, I would recommend Hot Feminist for young girls who need a gentle push in the direction of feminism, but on the other hand I wouldn’t recommend it for those wanting a more substantial read. Now if you will excuse me, I am going to braid my leg hair whilst getting into a Twitter fight…