Reviewed by Dr. George Simons at diversophy.com
If an old white man reviews this book and tells you that it’s important, would you take him seriously? If so, grab a coffee, and let’s talk!
We live at a time when the subjective fabricates the objective, and this has become blatantly obvious in two areas. The first is entertainment – film, theater, popular music, and their penetration of social media. The second is populist political rhetoric where identity discourse, often based on survival fears, determines the issues, the actions, and the outcomes of legal and social structuring, likewise, exacerbating social media.
Fortunately, Kim Hong Nguyen’s book is not just another academic thesis about the roots and nature of feminism. It is far more than that. Nguyen has dared to do what most cultural, researchers, and diversity gurus avoid, namely, looking at how pop culture penetrates lives in so many ways and do so because we imagine that we can circumvent it. While not at all avoiding traditional and serious academic research into the issues of feminism, she brings them to life by copiously citing illustrations and expressions of them in the realms of popular culture, and how they illustrate the personhood of women who give substance to the questions and perspectives on feminism that Nguyen offers.
Normally we take academic citations for granted or do a little research about them. In this case, it could take you quite a bit of time to read the book because now, in the 2020s you can access the referenced old films, serials, and entertainers on the Internet. This doesn’t make it an easy read. It can amount to a copious reeducation, particularly for those who sidestepped the pop dimension in their work, and even their leisure. Mean Girl Feminism could be a substantial academic course in its own right, and I for one would be quick to sign up for it.
So, what are the critical points she makes? Feminism is stalled because it does not know where it is going. This lack of satisfactory direction results in multi-directional meanness. This is not to say that feminism does not have objectives and reasons for achieving them. Rather it means that its supporters are not fully cognizant of what drives them at the deepest levels and cannot perhaps dare, to articulate it.
Back in the 1970s, when feminism was catching fire, my colleagues and I in the men’s movement created and conducted weekend workshops entitled For Men Only: How to Love an Angry Woman to give guys perspectives and strategies that would prevent them from becoming too badly scorched at home and at work. When describing their decision to attend this workshop the familiar story was that their women partners were telling them in loud and shrill tones, “You’re NOT going to this workshop! …and, I AM NOT ANGRY!!!”
While research and practice in the field of intersectional diversity is at a relatively early stage, this book raises strong questions about the unexamined nature of the conscious and unconscious attitudes of white feminists regarding women of color. While appropriating the victim nature of racial subordination, there is little desire to bond with it, but rather denial and disconnection. While directing meanness at white patriarchalism might look like deconstructing its privileges, paradoxically feminists are likely to have a subliminal need to embrace its privileges for themselves as white women. Their meanness may also be directed at women who appear less skilled or motivated toward achieving their privileges.
This book is packed with thoroughly documented and provocative thought that goes beneath the surface of the familiar feminist story and its current impact. It is an excellent study of the importance of intersectional perspectives, dealing with the challenges of diversity concerning, in this case, gender and race, a powerful starting point. Reading it is worth the effort to struggle through the complexities to get a fresh and insightful perspective on how feminism can go forward in more productive ways, escaping from the snares that currently hinder progress and impede the potential benefit of feminism for all genders in our society. The author concludes her reflections in the terminal line of the book saying, “Feminism in the future – a decolonial feminism – might not be recognizable as feminism at all.”
Title: Mean Girl Feminism: How White Feminists Gaslight, Gatekeep, and Girlboss
Author: Kim Hong Nguyen
Publisher: University of Illinois Press
Release Date: January 9, 2024