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Chelsea Literary Fete a Feministing Affair

June 9, 2009

Originally published in ChelseaNow

As Miranda Mammen and Shira Engel sat at the periphery of the noisy, cheerful crowd in the back room of the Black Door on W. 26th St. last Friday, both 16-year-old high school students seemed a little in awe of the party going on around them.

“It’s awesome, a total privilege to be here,” exclaimed Mammen, a student at the nearby NYC Lab School for Collaborative Studies in Chelsea. “We are totally into feminism. We are starting a feminist club at our school!”

Echoing her friend, fellow Lab School student Engel added: “We are, like, avid readers of Feministing.com.”

Those words were exactly what Jessica Valenti, executive editor of the well-known feminist blog, wanted to hear four years after launching Feministing.com. But Friday’s party in Chelsea wasn’t just a celebration of the blog’s fourth anniversary; the event also unveiled Valenti’s new book, “He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut, and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know.”

With the site’s core editors Ann Friedman, Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Valenti’s younger sister Vanessa, the site she co-founded takes a critical look at news stories, public policy and the media, and analyzes their impact on women’s rights and social attitudes toward women. Posts like the “Friday Feminist F-You,” a skewering mockery of sexist attitudes, resonate with the same pithy, barbed humor as Jessica’s two books. Her first book, “Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters,” was published last year.

Once the party got into full swing at about 9 p.m., the spacious, high-ceilinged back room of the bar welcomed the whole Feministing.com community: bloggers, readers, family and friends. Some attendees ran their own feminist organizations, including Chelsea resident Gwynn Cassidy, executive director of Girls in Government, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing women’s civic involvement.

*

The event, like Feministing.com, brought a virtual community into one room. News of the party had also spread to other blogs and social networking sites, from Facebook to the fast-growing Twitter chat system. Throughout the night, laughter and conversation swelled over the lively, rhythmic music from Vanessa’s iPod, punctuated occasionally by joyous cries of “You made it! You’re here!” or “I’m so glad to see you!” Feministing editor Samhita Mukhopadhyay came all the way from California to attend.

Valenti has taken part in many celebrations in the back room at the Black Door. A friend’s wedding reception, years ago, sparked her interest in the space. Her mentor, and former boss, Bill Scher (executive editor of LiberalOasis.com) had a book signing here. And Jessica’s boyfriend Andrew works in the neighborhood as well, at TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Valenti said on Friday she wanted her second book to act as a resource for women to navigate their everyday lives. She called this collection of 50 essays “a sexism handbook of sorts,” reflecting women’s daily realities of double standards. The book uses juxtapositions such as “He’s Angry, She’s PMSing,” or “He’s a Politician, She’s a Fashion Plate” to focus questions about women’s health, politics, gender roles, activism and even body hair removal. She scrutinizes media portrayals of women and the way casual, friendly conversation can reinforce harmful gender stereotypes.

At the end of each essay, Valenti—a graduate of Rutgers University’s masters program in Womens and Gender Studies—shifts the focus to the reader, asking “So, what to do?” and offering practical ways to react to these everyday situations.

On Friday, Valenti credited Feministing readers with shaping her book, which offers insights from both Valenti’s co-workers and other friends and colleagues in cyberspace.

“That’s the wonderful thing about the blogosphere.” Valenti told Chelsea Now. “There’s such a diversity of voices that are around. It’s really one of those things where anyone can just start up a blog. You can have your voice out there, and I think it’s a very powerful tool, and I think it’s an important feminist tool. And the structure of a blog, as a constantly moving discourse, is also a very feminist structure.”

Valenti touched on some of the book’s themes, starting with her own most hated double standard: the sexual stud versus the slut. “That’s the one that affected me most as I was growing up,” she said. “No matter how cogent the argument I made to my male friends, they would still insist that someone was a slut, no matter how much you question the logic. It’s more dangerous than we give it credit. It feeds into sexual violence, the rolling back of reproductive rights, the implication that women shouldn’t even have sex or be enjoying sex.”

Most of the other 49 double standards her book addresses, Valenti pointed out, extend from these central issues: questions of women’s sexuality, legislation and power. Sharing some anecdotes of her own experiences, she added stories from e-mails she has received, demonstrating the reach of the book throughout the global online community. “And that’s why the book is dedicated to them,” she said. “The book definitely becomes an extension of Feministing.”

By 10:30, Valenit climbed the stairs to a small stage at one side of the room. She thanked everyone for coming, and read aloud an e-mail from a 13 year-old girl named Charlotte, whose praise of the Feministing.com community was greeted with a chorus of awws.

Then she announced the winning numbers for the grand prize, a gift bag from Toys in Babeland, a female-friendly sex-toy shop. A man’s voice rang out: “That’s my ticket!” Blushing, and grinning, he came forward to claim his prize. “The patriarchy gets everything!” quipped a woman in the crowd, which erupted in laughter.

Mammen and Engel also got prizes of their own, including a Feministing.com T-shirt and sarcastically humorous business cards. Grinning as she held the shirt up, Miranda added, “I am so, so happy right now.”

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