I am a feminist on the fence, with only a hazy idea of what the term really means. According to Ellie Levenson’s The Noughtie Girl’s Guide to Feminism (£9.99, Oneworld), I’m a definite noughtie’s girl–part of a generation of “women who were children or not even born when the UK had its first female Prime Minister”, and a prime candidate to read her book.
In her Guide, Levenson aims to set out a workable brand of feminism for today and, whisper it, convert readers. Sometimes, it stopped me in my tracks. This was usually when Levenson made a censorious statement (“Sometimes I think about those people who change their names [when they get married] and how much they must hate themselves, their families and their identities”). But more often than not, within the next page or so there would be a retraction, an acknowledgement that not everyone would feel as she does.
Feminism, like any cause or belief system, can suddenly seem to step on quicksand in the space where traditions, manners and personality meet; I riled against her anti-asking-father-for-permission-to-pop-the-question stance, but I’m sure many others would strongly agree with her. Above all, Levenson stressed that feminism in the noughties is flexible and all about choice: “We choose the bits of feminism we feel comfortable with and reject other bits.”
I liked how she incorporated contemporary journalism, bouncing off the thoughts of writers such as Polly Toynbee, to make you examine the views of those around you. Suddenly everything, from a giant billboard to a little girl playing with a toy car, and especially your own opinion, seems relevant.
The way the book is divided, into themes such as “Work” “Sex” and “Play”, means it would be easy to dip in and out of, though there was some overlapping of content. I found Levenson’s constant referral to her own situation, to her husband with his “real men are feminists” badge, made me a bit queasy. Her bright but decided style de-stigmatised, if not totally de-mystified, the subject.
After reading the book, I am still on the fence. The Guide itself also straddles a divide, part a scrapbook of ideas and part a manifesto.
Levenson’s writing casts feminism as something current, portable and valuable, like shiny coins jangling in your pocket. I didn’t always agree with her, but the ideas have lodged in my brain; she has got me jangling some shiny new thoughts.