Manifesta

Jennifer Baumgardner, Author, Amy Richards, Author, Amy Richards, Joint Author
Jennifer Baumgardner, Author, Amy Richards, Author, Amy Richards, Joint Author Farrar Straus Giroux $16 (448p) ISBN 978-0-374-52622-1
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Two youthful alumnae of Ms. magazine present not a manifesto, but a talky defense of contemporary feminism, directed in part at disappointed Second Wave foremothers. Arguing that feminism is already all around us, the heart of the book is a long, unbridled paean to tough and sexy ""girlie culture,"" as represented by Xena, Ally McBeal, the Spice Girls and little girls wearing Mia Hamm jerseys. Sporting green nail polish and Hello Kitty lunchboxes isn't infantile, the authors declare, but a ""nod to our joyous youth."" At the same time, they caution young women not to stop and rest on the success of cultural feminism, but to develop political lives and awareness. The book suffers mightily from its determined evenhandedness; Baumgardner and Richards typically temper any negative comments with an immediate positive note, and vice versa. Whether this feminist duo's ambivalence reflects schisms in the movement, their own fear of offending other feminists or simply the awkwardness of joint authorship, the result is shallow, both as a critique and a call to arms. Analysis of the few Third Wavers who are already visible in the media ought to have been surefire; instead, the chapter ""Who's Afraid of Katie Roiphe?"" comes too late (after 200-odd pages) and is too tame and indecisive--the authors pointedly clamp down on their own irritation with Roiphe, referring to her simply as a ""controversial"" figure among left-wing feminists. Fewer history lessons and more pique might have given this book more force. (Oct.)
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