Review: Feminist Fight Club, or Jessica Bennett’s Lean In for Millennials

To start, I only recently discovered publishers catalogues, the literal Scholastic Book Fair for adults. Why it never occurred to me that these would exist — just catalogues of upcoming titles from publishing houses — I have no idea. But now I do know, and that knowledge is glorious.

So. While browsing Penguin’s list of titles released in September, this book from former Tumblr Executive Editor Jessica Bennett caught my eye. It looked… well, it looked awful. It was being billed as “Lean In for the Buzzfeed generation” (not by Penguin, it should be said), and frankly given that Lean In was published only 3 years ago and aimed pretty heavily at new graduates, I wasn’t even sure what horrors a description like that might be trying to convey. I already feel fatigued by the sheer number of ladyboss girlboss women at work feminism in capitalism books that have flown through bookstores in the years since Lean In was published.

But this looked like something special.

The truth is that Feminist Fight Club is just okay. Its Buzzfeediness is represented in numerous Roald Dahl-esque doodles in the margins and paragraph breaks that constantly try to convince you that this book is as fun as it is serious, along with a couple of jokey quizzes to determine your lady bossness or something, a number of “pledge sheets” in which you promise to support yourself and your sisters in the workplace, and the endless stream of tiny chapters with easy to read headlines and quick blurb-y examples.

And in doing this, Jessica rather fascinatingly undermines many of her own points — most of which revolve around how to be taken more seriously in the workplace, how to negotiate raises and starting salaries, and how to contend with interrupting co-workers. In reality, this is a pretty boiler plate guide to navigating a lot of office micro- and macroaggressions. And while Jessica’s arguments and facts are good, they’re not groundbreaking and her presentation style harms a lot of her efforts.

It should also be said that her hamfisted efforts at inclusion and intersectionality are often… horribly misguided. She advises women to bring their vaginas to work, talks quite a bit about women’s natural physiology, and then awkwardly tosses in a quick footnote about all people who identify female can still participate in these vagina potlucks. She has a chapter on the struggles of black women to combat an “angry” stereotype, but then condescendingly supposes that actor and activist Amandla Stanberg doesn’t understand her own rhetoric and argumentation style, and just why it’s so good.

So… it’s not quite as bad as you might imagine, it just fails to really deliver on any of its stated goals — it’s not fresh, fun, and exciting for a new generation (the title is based on a 20 year old movie); it’s not genuinely intersectional; and there’s a whole lot of lists, doodles, quizzes, and sick refs padding out the page count.

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