Guest post: Zoe Venditozzi on the 'F' word

With so much interest in feminism and feminist issues reflected in the publishing world at the moment, thanks to three very high proifile non-fiction titles, Kat Barnyard's The Equality Illusion, Caitlin Moran's  How To Be a Woman and Naomi Wolf's Vagina, I was interested to see if there was any fiction around that dramatised a feminist concern, or a feminist view.

I first met Zoe Venditozzi when she invited me to speak at the Literary Salon in Dundee. We had a good old feminist chat and I found out her first novel was coming out this month. Anywhere's Better Than Here (Sandstone Press) is in many ways a classic bildungsroman, in this case about a young woman called Laurie's growing self-awareness, as she looks at her meaningless job and relationship that's going nowhere and decides she wants something better for herself.

What ambitions and aspirations young women might have is very current right now - most of us are concerned that celebrity culture trivializes what women can be, and worry that too many girls aspire to it. So I asked Zoe to write about her feminism, what feminism means to her, and here is what she had to say:

"I’ve started asking women I know if they consider themselves to be feminists. Whilst doing this I’ve discovered two things. Firstly, the question causes a little flicker of embarrassment in me. It’s almost like asking, were you a virgin when you got married? Or something similar to that type of anachronistic nonsense. Secondly, most women I’ve asked seem similarly uncomfortable and are often pretty reluctant to identify themselves with Feminism.

I’ve been a feminist since my early teens. I picked up Feminism like I took up The Smiths,  a hatred of apartheid and a desire to be taken seriously. I don’t mean to diminish my blossoming fervour for equal rights – quite the opposite. I fell in love with the idea that people (yes, even women) can and should effect change. And, to be fair, I’ve never lost that passion. Even though life has inevitably piled on a mass of other responsibilities – including losing a parent, having three children, trying to find a career that doesn’t feel like it’s killing me, just- you know- being a grown-up – I’ve still held on to that idea. It's something that really motivates me in my writing. Not that I'd identify myself as a Feminist Writer (that's a whole other rant) but I write about women and the attendant issues of life from a women's perspective in these end days. I'm particularly interested in young women who don't view themselves as feminists and the main character in my book is a good example of that. Laurie has a world of choices available to her, but she still makes the same mistakes that women of previous generations would have made.

I’ll  speak up when I think someone isn’t giving someone else a fair go and I frequently have to walk away from the laptop when I see certain provoking comments lest I be drawn into a pointless and bitter rammy about something. I know that some people will never change and take great delight in winding things up. That’s fine. That’s their thing. But what totally amazes me is the huge amount of mute acceptance of our lot in life. This, of course, doesn’t apply only to the feminism issue. We all seem too harried and hassled to get involved in the politics of change. Or perhaps it’s more that we are so cynical that we feel we just know that it’s all pointless. Politicians don’t listen; big business has it all sewn up; no one cares about normal people. It just seems like such a monumental proposal to change the world.

But with regards to women’s rights (God, that sounds so Suffragette-y, doesn’t it?) there are some issues that we can and indeed must get involved with. Otherwise we’re going to end up having our rights eroded and other groups with better, cohesive organisation will influence change to the detriment of women. So many women that I’ve asked the feminism question to seem to think that feminism has had its day; it’s done its job. I mean, we can have sex with who we like; we can get really drunk; we can own businesses and vote and stuff. Is that the extent of what we’re looking for? What about the woeful, in fact, downright shameful, lack of women in government? What about the ongoing attempts at eroding our reproductive rights? What about the stunningly male-centric steering of business? What about the dazzling array of T&A on the cover of lads’ mags? What about all the rivers of vitriol against (female) celebs for being too fat? Too thin? Too sexually voracious? Too confident? Etcetera et-bloody-cetera.

A few weeks ago I managed to fall foul of a feminist group that I’d joined (online, not in the real world). The main sticking point for me were a couple of really vociferous, hectoring voices who insisted that men couldn’t be feminists. I was so completely shocked by that, that I stared mutely at my screen for half a minute before employing rage-driven sailor talk at the utter wrong-headedness of that notion.

Why can’t men be feminists? For me, feminism is about equality - the end. Naturally, I took to my Facebook page and did a quick, completely unscientific poll. Most people could see why I was bothered by this attitude and one friend suggested that perhaps we needed to “rebrand” feminism as it’s now so laden with negativity. But, to be honest, I think that’s just a waste of time and while we sit around rethinking a non-offensive name we’re missing opportunities and, before we know it, idiots like Maria Miller and Jeremy Hunt will have gotten their mitts (pun intended) all over our business and it’ll be literally too late for some women.

Personally, I’m sick of it. I’ve got kids and I don’t want them growing up thinking that women are all about looks and that men are all about action. Even as I’m typing this I’m thinking, why am I needing to do this? Why haven’t we got a society where everyone just gets on with their lives and lets everyone else get on with theirs.

But, we don’t and things won’t change unless we organise ourselves. So, as utterly ridiculous as it is me saying this in 2012 - let’s rise up, don’t be ashamed to be a feminist and let’s get shit done!"  


  1. I asked women in the US, Australia and Ireland if they know any YA fiction where the Heroine says that she's a Feminist. They say that don't know any. I wonder if women in England know of a British YA fiction with a Feminist Heroine.


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