The Decline of Stuffy Feminism

24th May 2013

The Decline of Stuffy Feminism

It is fair to say that until the last couple of years feminist theory was generally considered to be either stuffy academia or angry rants about how women are better than men.

Which we needed about as much as a woman needs a man needs a bicycle needs a fish needs a wait…

Although works by Mohanty, Greer and de Beauvoir have all rightly been initiated into the feminist canon, they can sometimes appear inaccessible to the modern feminist.

Either because of their highly academic style, their subjective point of view (in terms of era and opinion – must of us no longer subscribe to political lesbianism, for example) or their overreaching universal philosophies.

Feminists these days want something down to earth and relatable; something like How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran.

So why the change?

Feminism is changing all the time, and so is its public image. We’ve moved on from bra burning (never actually a thing; fuck you the patriarchy and your hysterical hand-wringing) and militant man-hating, and into a new era of camaraderie and an overriding desire for equality.

Their use of humour also makes them much more likeable and relatable, and makes the books appealing and easy to read.More and more men are calling themselves feminists and women are embracing the fact that you can still be a feminist if you like clothes, make up, housework and sewing. (Ed note: because, contrary to popular belief, traditionally feminine pursuits are not less worthy just because they are associated with women).

The term ‘feminist’ is expanding its definition. And so, we need a different kind of feminist literature, and new feminist icons.

Caitlin Moran

How To Be A Woman was and still is so successful partly due to the popularity of Moran’s column in The Times, but also because she told her story and explained her views about feminism in a chatty, relaxed way that made us laugh as well as learn.

Reading that book, it’s clear that she is an ordinary woman full of contradictions and feelings, just like the rest of us.

Moran is a feminist who loves men and clothes and goes on about her hair a lot, and she meets the needs of the current feminist community by being normal, relatable, and entirely positive and encouraging about the struggle for gender equality.

Hadley Freeman

Similarly Hadley Freeman’s new book Be Awesome: Modern Life for Modern Ladies encourages young women to be themselves, and celebrate who they are. This of course involves seeing oneself as equal to everyone else, male or female.

Like Moran she is a feminist but is quite relaxed about the whole thing, with a simple desire for equality and acceptance, rather than anger and hate.

Neither author urges young women to rise up and fight, or march on Parliament to get their way; instead the approach is more gentle and focuses on maintaining and promoting positive attitudes and trying to be a good person.

Their use of humour also makes them much more likeable and relatable, and makes the books appealing and easy to read.

You never feel you are being preached to, or that by reading these books you are subscribing to a certain way of thinking or way of life.

Instead, Moran and Freeman are sharing their experiences and their points of view, and hoping that their contributions will help to make the world a better place.

Stuffy Feminism

Stuffy feminism still exists, and the treatment of women is still a global, socioeconomic, political, post-colonial issue, but these grandiose, ponderous ideas are not always the best way for women to approach the issue of feminism in their own lives.

On a domestic, national scale, feminism has become less about ground-down housewives and more about women of all ages asking for better treatment in their everyday lives and the end of ignorance about the ‘second class citizen’ approach to women in many different areas of society.

Now, we look back at the waves of feminism throughout the twentieth century and ask that our fellow citizens remember how far we’ve come, and how important it is to keep going and keep making things better.

Our modern approach to gender equality is continually changing and evolving, and our feminist literature is keeping up.

Women everywhere need support and guidance, and hope that things can get better. There is so much doom and gloom in the world that sometimes it is great to read a funny, engaging book that hopes for a better world and shows us how we can work towards it.

Writers like Hadley Freeman and Caitlin Moran are changing the face of feminism for the twenty-first century and opening up the idea of what a feminist can be.

Which feminist texts are important to you? What do you think about Freeman and Moran’s books? Is this an end to inaccessible feminist theory or just a pleasant interlude?

Lizzi Thomasson


  • Dan Holloway says:

    Luce Irigaray’s Ethics of Sexual Difference was a life-changing book for me.

  • Jess says:

    I just can’t get past Caitlin Moran saying that size 14 women and over look like pigs, I’m sorry. I find her writing hilarious and funny, but for me she cannot represent a political movement that aims for equality with sentiments that exclude like that one. Yes, get more women talking about feminism and its aims, but there is nothing wrong with reading academic books and Caitlin Moran’s work is still inaccessible to anyone who has a reading level of Level 2 or below, a good 5 million women in the UK.

    • Beulah Devaney says:

      Such a fantastic point about literacy levels in this country; I know you’re not a Moran fan but she does have a new sitcom coming out which is probably not going to be overtly feminist but it might reach a few of the non-readers you mentioned. Incidentally we want more coverage of literacy levels among women on the site so if you want to pitch anything…

  • Sarah says:

    I find the anti-intellectual rhetoric of this post really disturbing. The books you condemn as ‘stuffy’ have made a huge impact in the feminist movement and feminist academic criticism continues to shed light on the ways that women still receive unequal treatment in society. Telling personal stories is an important of explaining the necessity of the movement towards gender equality, but it is not enough on its own. Without people willing and able to examine the complex social mechanisms by which unequal treatment of men and women is perpetuated, it is not going to be dealt with. Biographical books might help shift perceptions, but they aren’t enough to change government policy.

    • Beulah Devaney says:

      I hardly think that mitigating phrases like “[academic feminism] can sometimes appear inaccessible” or “not always the best way for women to approach the issue of feminism in their own lives” are anti-intellectual rhetoric. Unless I missed a seminar on how “stuffy” is code for “burn the books! burn the books!”.

      The writer is examining the way in which normal women, as opposed to the privileged few, can interact with feminist theory and use it in their own lives. She is not dismissing academic texts, she is simply, and rightly, saying they do not have the reach or relevance to the modern day women that contemporary “funny feminism” does.

      If you had read any of these books you would know that aside from How to Be… they are not biographical. Levy in particular barely references her own experiences at all – the reader can find out more about her from the 3 line author bio than from reading the whole book. How to Be… is biographical but she also engages with problems facing women that traditional academia has not concerned itself with. As do all the books referenced by the writer.

      Apologies if you are still “disturbed”, maybe reading Moranthology will give you some pointers on where to channel these frustrations.