Frisky Q&A: Authors Jennifer Armstrong & Heather Wood Rudulph Discuss “Sexy Feminism”

It’s no big secret that one of the many battles the feminist movement fights against is its own poor PR. Many see feminism as the other “F-word” due to  stereotypes that paint feminists as mean harpies with no sense of humor who hate men, makeup, bras, and shaving their legs. Despite the majority of feminists falling way outside these parameters, there are still many people — women in particular — who write off feminism as “not for them,” without bothering to dig a little deeper and explore if that’s truly the case.

Enter: Sexy Feminism: A Girl’s Guide to Love, Success and Style by Jennifer Armstrong and Heather Wood Rudúlph. Their book, out this month, acts as a guide to help young women understand how feminism is not only great for the world, but for all aspects of their own lives as well.

The book itself is an easy read, shifting between personal stories, quick dips into relevant feminist history, and examples of famous women who embody the notion of sexy feminism. Each chapter tackles a different aspect in the life of a 20-something woman from her body (“Our Poor Vaginas” and “Plastic Surgery: Can you?”), to feminism in the workplace to relationships (“Feminism In The Bedroom”).

As I read through Sexy Feminism, I felt like each chapter could have been an entire book on its own. Just as Armstrong and Wood Rudúlph get into the meat of the subject — bam! — we’re already on to the next chapter. Yet, as a primer for those just dipping their toes into the feminist waters, Sexy Feminism does a good job of providing the basics to get them started. Despite being a little heavy on the magazine lingo you’d encounter between the pages of Cosmopolitan, Sexy Feminism does have an important message at its core: Feminism is still important, necessary, and yes … can be sexy as well.

I spoke with Armstrong and Wood Rudúlph in hopes of hearing their thoughts on some current feminist debates:

Why do you think young women in particular are shying away from claiming the “F-word” as part of their identities?

The primary culprit is misinformation. Feminism and “feminist” are still discussed in popular culture as either not relevant today (because, the assumption goes, we’re totally good on the gender equality front), or as part of radical subculture. The truth is young women need it more than ever to solidify the progress that we’ve made in job opportunities; to continue to press for fair labor practices for working mothers; to demand better from entertainment and media in terms of representing women (maybe fewer murdered prostitutes and dating reality shows, for starters); and to raise awareness for how women are treated around the world.

Feminism also a means to living a happier life, which is what our book is all about. We want to rebrand “feminist” as something that is cool, sexy and relevant to every woman — because it is!

What are your thoughts on the PBS special, “MAKERS” (which focused on the history of feminism), and specifically the ending, which provided a rather grim outlook on the current status and future of feminism?

First of all, three cheers for that series. It has sparked so many important conversations and taught us things we didn’t even know about women’s history (and we know quite a bit). How amazing was that opening story about the first female marathoner? But, yes, the ending was a bit anticlimactic. It almost begged for a fourth chapter that chronicles all the amazing work young feminists are doing today. And there is some inspiring stuff going on, particularly online. Feminists have infiltrated the Internet with blogs, forums, alternative magazines and social media circles. They’re out there reporting on issues that matter, critiquing sexist politics and taking anyone and everyone to task for bad (anti-feminist) behavior. We’ve collectively sent a strong, fast message picked up by mainstream media about everything from Susan G. Komen pulling its Planned Parenthood funding to Seth MacFarlane hosting a crazy-misogynistic Oscars. And the cavalry is not just young women, but teenage girls too. (Yay, F-Bomb and Rookie Mag!)

There was a recent piece on the Guardian in which blogger Jill Filopivic suggested that men should take their wives’ last names instead of women continuing to change their names. Can you share your thoughts on this age-old topic?

Here’s how we see it: We have progressed over the centuries to the point where name changes mean so many different things. Women are changing their last names to share a familial name with their husbands, sure, but husbands are also changing their names (hello, Sean Carter Knowles and Beyonce Knowles Carter!). Gay couples have changed their names legally even when they can’t marry legally. It’s a decision a couple makes out of love and commitment for each other and perhaps to symbolize a new family. That doesn’t seem too antifeminist to us. Plus, sometimes a new name just sounds better, makes a better byline, or comes from an unexpected place. Jennifer, for example, recently added “Keishin” to her name when she got what’s called a “Dharma name” as part of officially becoming a Buddhist. She wanted to make this new phase of her life part of her official identity, so she embraced the second name. We should all — men included — be more supported and encouraged to change or not change our names in whatever way we wish to express ourselves.

What are your top three reasons that feminism is “sexy”?

It works to make sex safe in every sense of the word, through fighting for reproductive rights and against sexual violence. It sees the beauty in all body types and faces. And it encourages mutual love and consensual sex of all kinds and orientations.

Read more from Armstrong and Wood Rudúlph on their blog, Sexy Feminist. You can buy Sexy Feminism here.