(Long piece. Excerpts below.)


The phrase “the personal is political” has been entwined with the feminist movement since the 1970s. The idea that every individual woman’s experience speaks to broader social and political structures that affect women has encouraged feminist writers to disclose something of themselves as they have agitated for gender equality.


The renewed visibility of feminists in the popular media has supported a recent wave of memoirs. This year’s releases by Ford, West, and Valenti, as well as Penny’s 2014 book, are representative of the direction of popular feminism, which is far more intimately tied to the celebrity feminist’s personal life and even her own body, than earlier touchstones such as The Feminine Mystique and The Beauty Myth.

Most of all, they express the challenges of being a woman in a world where it only takes a mere scratch of the surface to reveal hostility and deep discomfort about women’s ever-strengthening public voice.


Penny observes that “how much anger you get to express without the threat of expulsion, arrest, or social exclusion” is “a sure test of social privilege”.

Silencing and Harassment

A consistent theme across feminist memoirs is the need to focus on the act of speaking up and overcoming the cultural forces that silence women. West’s book is entitled Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, Penny’s is called Unspeakable Things, and crime writer Tara Moss’s handbook for women and girls is called Speaking Out.

Indeed Moss’s book is a literal how-to guide, encouraging women to speak and write their opinions. It contains practical advice on topics such as how to physically use your voice to best effect, researching a subject, and writing well. Tellingly, half of the book is devoted to coping with the repercussions of speaking out, including handling diversions, criticism, and “cyberhate”.


Read as a corpus of contemporary feminism, these books show there is still a concerted effort to silence women who have something to say. And the bigger a woman’s platform, the larger and more hostile is the response from men. In addition, there is still an insidious undermining of women’s worth based on their appearance, which often works to deprive them of a sense of enough value in order to be able to speak at all.

Michelle Smith, Research fellow in English Literature, Deakin University (originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

#feministslives: talking, writing and fighting like girls: speaking out as feminists - @ConversationUK