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Let's Start at the Very Beginning...

  • Dec 10, 2010
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Seeking inspiration for a novel she was writing a few years ago, J. Courtney Sullivan sent an email to several friends asking them, “What was the moment that made you a feminist? Was there one person, event, book, or idea that made it happen?” The conversation that followed was so fruitful that she decided to keep it going, and Click: When We Knew We Were Feminists was born.

In Click, editors Courtney E. Martin and J. Courtney Sullivan present twenty-nine essays by young feminists from all walks of life with the intention “to collage together a picture of contemporary young feminists…to discover what it is that still brings a diversity of young people to try on the feminist label despite the obvious risks.” The collection they’ve compiled is inspiring, insightful, and funny in all the right places, and I had to resist the urge to shout, “Preach on!” as I read it.

The voices in Click are as strong as they are varied, and the themes that emerge—the desire to break boundaries and prove men wrong; the need to create a personal feminism that is different from our mothers’; the struggle to balance sexual empowerment with feminist strength; and the tension created by identifying as feminist and as a member of another minority group—offer something for everyone.  I saw myself and every feminist I know in the pages of Click, and that speaks to how well Martin and Sullivan succeeded in fulfilling their mission with this book….even if very few of the pieces are actually about singular moments of realization. 

Rather than try to sum up twenty-nine fabulous essays in what would doubtless become a superlong review, I’ll now share some of the themes and excerpts that spoke to me, just to give you a taste of what you can find.  

Many of the women featured in Click relate their initial reluctance to take on the feminist label to the fact that their mothers were feminists, and, as Jessica Valenti puts it in “I Was An Obnoxious Teenage Feminist,”

To call myself a feminist was to identify with my mother.

In “Not My Mother’s Hose,” Courtney E. Martin recalls meeting Jennifer Baumgardner (author of Manifesta, a book that changed my life and many others) and experiencing her “click” upon realizing that modern feminism means that women can be both smart and sexy. That fishnet stockings and high heels are just as acceptable and empowering as menswear slacks and practical shoes.

This wasn’t the swishy skirt feminism that my mom had manifested at her once-a-month women’s groups. This was contemporary, witty, brash, even a little sexy. This was who I wanted to be.

While my own mother didn’t outwardly identify as a feminist (a topic that Click also touches on), she and my dad raised me with the firm belief that women can be anything they want to be and are just as strong and capable as men. I came to my click moment later than many because the feminist ideas were already there, I just didn’t label them as such. Winter Miller addresses this phenomenon in “I Was Not Aborted and Further Miscellanea,” saying:

The net result of the parents I had is that there was no aha moment when it came to being a feminist, a democrat…these values were the ones that humans were supposed to have. If you thought you should dress a girl in pink and a boy in blue you were obviously some kind of backwoods asshole.

How do you not just instantly love that?  Awesome.

Possibly because I’ve always considered myself a feminist, I’ve never thought much about how I became one. Click gave me an opportunity to think more deeply about the moments and experiences that helped me the define the feminism that I live daily, and it reminded me that women are not the only ones who suffer from constricting definitions of gender. As Jordan Berg Powers says in “Cross-Stitch and Soap Operas Following Football,”

When you put one gender into a box, you create a companion box for the other gender…men are also cheated by the boxes they have to fit into.

I’ve long been interested in the ways that our society’s strict definition of masculinity (which is something we don’t talk about often) is tied to our ideas about femininity and womanhood. In “The Women’s Center,” Olessa Pindak describes taking a course on masculinity and realizing that, “it was the first time I had thought that it was hard to be a man, too—that any time a society had prescribed roles for its people, it was unfair.”

The strict definition of masculinity is also responsible for many writers experiencing their click moments when they decided to prove the boys wrong and do something they were told they couldn’t do. For Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne, whose piece is titled “Killing in the Name Of,” it happened on her eleventh birthday, when she insisted on going hunting, an eleventh birthday tradition usually reserved for the boys in her family.

I became a gun-toting, camo-wearing eleven-year-old feminist the day I decided that I was going to do exactly what men told me I could not.

And for Collen Lutz Clemens, it happened on the football field during a marching band practice. In “The Right Pitch,” she says,

The day Ralph Ciotti said a girl couldn’t play the tuba, a feminist angel got her wings.

Other women in the collection write about click moments that were sparked by sports, abortion rights, and even Kurt Cobain’s death. Black and Latina feminists describe the struggle to take on the feminist label while maintaining their cultural identities and defending their choices to women who didn’t understand or agree. There are funny pieces in Click and sad pieces, pieces that will warm your heart and those that will fill you with what one writer calls a “righteous feminist anger,” and they are all good. Great, even, because ultimately, as Marni Grossman says in “Feminism, Warts and All,”

Feminism is not about perfection. It’s about the power of speaking one’s truth.

I’ll be recommending Click to every woman I know, whether she identifies as a feminist or not, and I’m sure I’ll be giving many copies as gifts, especially as my nieces approach their teenage years. I appreciated something about every essay in this collection, and I relished the opportunity to spend time reflecting on my personal definition of feminism and the experiences that shaped it.

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December 10, 2010
Wow, I love this concept. I definitely consider myself a feminist as well, but haven't thought of the how it developed or if there was a single determining moment. This sounds like an empowering read. Thanks so much for sharing!
More Click: When We Knew We Were Fe... reviews
review by . April 27, 2010
This is a fascinating anthology, whether you consider yourself a feminist or not, which is an important point. It would be a shame for only self-identified feminist women to read this book, or to assume that it is talking about a singular "feminism." At times, there was a sameness to the stories; many of the writers gained entrĂ©e into their feminism via books, some of which were written by fellow contributors. Where I think Click succeeds best is when the click moment happens in another form, to …
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Rebecca Joines Schinsky ()
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Panty-throwing, book-loving wild woman behind The Book Lady's Blog. Reader, critic, lover of indie bookstores, National Book Critics Circle member.
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About this book


Compiled by authors Martin (Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters) and Sullivan (Commencement), this volume looks at the catalytic moments when 28 women (and one man) found their way to feminism. Including writers, activists, and educators, contributors provide perspective and personal revelations from all stages of life. Joshunda Sanders, an Austin newspaper reporter, talks about growing up poor and black in "the least desirable place in New York" and how it led to her embrace of "womanist" thought; Indian American writer and educator Mathangi Subramanian describes years of struggle with the feminist "label," navigating the cross-currents of her grandmother's pressure to marry and her mother's enthusiasm for independence (and feminist classics like Susan Estrich's Sex & Power); Martin herself contributes a piece contrasting her own coming-of-age, involving a college visit from Manifesta authors Amy Richards and Jennifer Baumgardner, with her mother's: "This wasn't the swishy skirt feminism that my mom had manifested at her once-a-month women's groups. This was contemporary, witty, brash, even a little sexy." With this enervating collection, Martin and Sullivan help continue that modernizing trend.
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ISBN-10: 1580052851
ISBN-13: 978-1580052856
Author: J. Courtney Sullivan
Publisher: Seal Press

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