SMC Review: The Vagenda: A Zero Tolerance Guide To The Media

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I have so far loved every second of reading this book, the experience of which was enhanced by dual reading it alongside Caitlin Moran’s ‘How To Be A Woman’. 

Earlier this year, I started up ‘Champagne Style on a Shandy Budget‘ which, in its original brief, was supposed to provide a demonstration to women of my age and wage bracket (and below) that it was possible to be stylish and in control of your own appearance without pandering to the whims and demands of the fashion industry, which included (but was not limited to) women’s magazines. At its inception it was just my voice, but now my ears are open to anyone who wants to contribute their own thoughts.

As soon as I heard about this book being released, I had to have it, and it’s one of the very few books (Harry Potter aside) that I have purchased on publication day and started reading immediately.

I found myself wanting to punch the air roughly every other paragraph – this book touched on the vast majority of topics that I had gotten distracted about in CSSB’s ‘Sunday Rant’ section, which was dedicated to exposing and ripping to shreds all of the cons, tricks and blatant manipulation that the fashion industry uses to part women from their self esteem and subsequently their money. 

It also discussed several distasteful patterns in the fashion industry which are dangerously close to being accepted as ‘normal’ rather than critically challenged. Such as how ‘nude’ in the fashion industry is only one type of nude. Or how the preoccupation with being ‘thin’ is not classic or timeless and is definitely unhealthy. Or how the provision of pornography is not just slanted towards the male, heterosexual interest but positively tipped in a way which makes it difficult for anyone else to walk up the slope. And finally, how the industry is infantilising women and sexualising children to the point where the boundary line has almost disappeared. 

This book says much of what I have tried to say and does everything that I have tried to do and far more, it has confirmed some of my deepest fears and suspicions about the industries that are devoted to making women feel bad about themselves. It has also, on reflection, made me relieved. There have been times when I have written CSSB that I have worried about being the lone voice in the cloud. Not any more. It’s clear there’s big conversations happening out there to be part of and link into. True, at first, I felt discouraged from writing about my own experiences on my blog, but the truth is that these things need to be said, by as many people as possible and as loudly and often as possible. Women as a demographic have blindly accepted too much of this nonsense – perhaps not falling in with it willingly, but by being unwilling to challenge it and declare that it is not acceptable. 

I am still reading the book, it must be admitted, but I was compelled to write this review after seeing this Huffington Post review, which was largely dismissing and negative. Three days into the market and Vagenda are being told that they haven’t done a good enough job by people who are, oddly enough, part of  the problems they are discussing. One might even take their review with a pinch of salt given that within the week prior to The Vagenda being published, the site published an article defending magazines against the ‘unfair’ backlash they are currently experiencing, from women such as Holly and Rhiannon, the authors of ‘The Vagenda’. 

There is a fourth wave of feminism at the moment, and while this book might not be the sole or prominent call to arms, it is certainly one of the keystone texts, alongside the Everyday Sexism Project (from which Laura Bates wrote the book Everyday Sexism, another priority on my reading list) and Project Unbreakable. Women are finding their voice and speaking up about all of the things they have ‘put up with’ in order to gain equality, having realised that they don’t add up to equality at all. We might be able to work any job of our choosing and make our own decisions about childcare and our partners in life, but what are those ‘freedoms’ of choice worth if we are ground down by consistent ‘low level’ harassment, attempts at embarrassment, negative commentary and judgement from the rest of the world? Not a great deal it would seem, and it’s time for us all to say so. 

Rhiannon and Holly don’t hold back on their language, which at times is crude and at times hilariously funny, but always down to earth and straight to the point. I found this a refreshing change from the academic style texts which have often felt like they were pitched towards people who were more intellectual and intelligent than me, as if feminism should only apply to women who can decipher literary and theoretical terms rather than everyone who counts herself as female. I studied feminist theory, literary theory, queer theory and cultural theory at University, yet I still struggle with some of the expressions in those classic and defining texts. Here, however, were two women who had comparable experiences to me, talking about things that I had experienced and highlighting the same issues that I was seeing in the world around me. This was a book that really spoke to me because it was written by and aimed at people from my demographic. 

While I did find the book a little low on citations (share it with us girlies, I’d love to go check out where you got your inspiration and quotes) I was so busy agreeing with them that I didn’t really stop to complain about that. And while the book was predominantly talking about white, heterosexual women – this only reflects the fashion industry’s own preferences and biased leanings, not to mention the fact that it was written by two white, heterosexual women who are drawing on their own experiences for material. The absence of women of colour and lgbtq+ women is as much a comment on the source material as the book itself. 

This book is not the be all and end all of the issues. There is more to be said. Much more to be said. People should be encouraged to read this book, especially young women, but they shouldn’t be taught to think that it is the end of the story. It should be a conversation starter. A challenge. A spur to write and speak up and protest for more all women, about their own experiences of this biased and drastically unfair world. The choice to be anything you want in the face of consistent ridicule and the threat of personal danger is not an acceptable option for liberated young women and the people who continue to propose that it is need to be challenged.

I look forward to reading more books on this subject, written from experiences that I do not have. Books by women from all nations, all colours, all religions and all sexualities. This has been an excellent starting point for me. But please, please, feminists across the board – let’s not stop walking here. Keep talking, keep ranting, keep reading, keep writing and keep GOING until the battle is actually won. You are right, Victoria Sadler. We do deserve much more than this. But it can’t all come from one single source. 

I write CSSB. I commission guest articles from women who have similar problems, issues and things to say. Vagenda have written this book. Laura Bates has written hers. Project Unbreakable marches onwards. So come on Victoria Sadler – what are you going to write to join the fourth wave? Or are you just going to tell the rest of us, like Holly and Rhiannon, that we aren’t trying hard enough? You have a platform on one of the most highly read blogs of the current age. What else do you have to say? Let’s hear it. 

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