Review: Manifesta

Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the FutureManifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future by Jennifer Baumgardner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

actual rating: 3.5 / 5 stars

When I went back to my hometown over Thanksgiving, I found my copy of Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future in a box of my old books in my parents’ attic. A smile crept onto my face as I vaguely recalled adding this book to my collection of feminist materials around the time I decided to double major in Women’s Studies. I never got around to reading it.

Lately I’ve been trying to connect my life, my ideologies, and current events (read: the election results) to the ideologies of the women who came before me. It’s easy to have a disconnect of Now vs. Then, but I think it’s so important to understand how others have affected change, what issues previous generations were struggling to overcome, and why. What I’ve found is that we really aren’t so different, when it comes down to it.

Back in 2000, young women often called themselves “not a feminist but…” while the media declared that feminism was dead and that young people in general were politically apathetic. In Manifesta, Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards unpack this, from the public’s misunderstanding of what feminism is about, to the media’s proposal that the movement is dead in the water. In reality, young women are feminist, even when they don’t claim the label; young feminists are out there, but the media doesn’t show them.

Manifesta didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t know, but it did give me a solid perspective on aspects of early-2000s feminism, a time when I, personally, was still grappling with whether or not I would ever grow noticeable breasts. The best part of this book, for me, was the chapter titled “Thou Shalt Not Become Thy Mother,” wherein the authors grapple with the generational strife between Second and Third Wave Feminism. They tie together personal stories of mother-daughter relationships with the bigger picture. They talk about the concept of Martyr Moms, those moms who are everywhere, doing everything, sacrificing their time both in the workplace and in the home, and often become bitter at the lack of recognition. This really clicked with me, as my mother is the most naturally sacrificing person I know; no matter how much I reject her way of doing things, deep down we’re not that different. Baumgardner and Richards argue the importance of repairing that mother-daughter relationship, both on a personal level and on a larger scale within the feminist movement: “the biggest conflict between the generations is a lack of communication, mutual ignorance of each other’s accomplishments, and sometimes suspicion about each other’s motivations.” As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gained more respect for my mother’s natural talents, her sacrificial nature, but I’ve also recognized that, in her own way, my mom is a feminist. While my grandmother was concerned that my mom would end up dropping out of college to support my dad, instead they supported each other through school. At a time when the idea of an egalitarian marriage was a relatively new thing, my parents crafted a partnership that’s still in existence today.

By far the most valuable part of Manifesta is the chapter on activism. As the authors point out, it’s a loosely defined idea that means different things to different people. “Activism is everyday acts of defiance,” they argue. “Activism starts with the acknowledgement of injustice, but it doesn’t stop with the rant, a declaration that something is rotten in the state of the patriarchy, or even with the manifesta.” They encourage young women to get creative, to own their own ideas and take rational, effective action, providing many examples as well as ideas about what could be done better in the future.

I’m honestly glad I read Manifesta in 2017 rather than 2010. To be honest, I’m glad I read Jessica Valenti’s Full Frontal Feminism as my first so-called Third Wave text. While Baumgardner and Richards offer some great advice on how to get out there and do activism, as well as a unique perspective on Girlie Feminism, the Girls Movement, and generational strife, Manifesta isn’t the all-encompassing “intro to feminism” book I imagined it would be. Nevertheless, a worthwhile read for anyone interested in feminism’s recent history, as well as someone wanting to boost their feminist activism.

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