When asked what she did for a living on night in a bar, Jessica Valenti replied honestly —professional feminist. The man standing next to her responded somewhat typically. He lifted her elbow and inspected her underarm, searching for the stereotypical trademark of feminism.
“It’s just kind of amazing and hilarious to me that these stereotypes still exist, because they’ve been around for a really long time,” she said. “Stereotypes like these serve a very specific purpose. Telling women that only ugly, man-haters are feminists is really strategic, and it’s really smart — it’s a great way to keep young women away from feminism.
That’s what Valenti is out to prevent. She described her efforts in Elon University’s Whitley Auditorium Oct. 24, finishing the semester’s Liberal Arts Forum.
As the founder of the world’s most popular feminism blog and a leader in online activism, Valenti has the opportunity to motivate a new generation of feminists.
“The blog shows feminism for what it really is,” she said. “It’s political activism of course, but it’s also funny, cool and edgy because that’s something that feminism is that people don’t necessarily know about.”
Pairing comedy with social change is what Valenti said she thinks makes Feministing.com so successful. It’s a way to show the world what the movement really entails, and to help change the face of a campaign.
“I never tire of writing about abstinence-only education because the jokes just really write themselves,” she said. “Being funny, being informal really does reach out to readers in a unique way.”
But this didn’t happen over night. When Valenti Google searched ‘young feminist’ in in 2004, she was displeased. The single page of results her inquiry yielded did not capture the importance of the growing movement. Today, there are 34 million results.
Valenti thanks the Internet for her success.
“There was a lot of activism happening, but it wasn’t necessary being represented online,” she said. “It shows how incredible new media is that a blog could get that such great readership in so little time.”
Since creating the site, Valenti has focused on a major issue in the feminist movement: the virginity myth.
Valenti said America’s obsession with sexual purity is responsible for two extreme attitudes.
“There is a moral panic in America over young women’s sexuality,” she said. “A woman’s worth lies in her ability or her refusal to be sexual.”
According to Valenti, “fetishizing youth and virginity” is responsible for the polarized sex trends among young women, or the belief that they’re all that exist. Valenti said for many Americans, young women are either pure virgins, attending purity balls with their fathers, or girls gone wild. There is no middle ground, and that’s one thing she’d like to change.
Despite this battle for women’s rights, Valenti said she remains hopeful. According to her, what the feminist movement needs is the ability to be proactive.
“We’re so busy trying to hold our ground that we don’t have any time, money or energy to think proactively,” she said. “I do think that it’s going to take more.”