Look who’s BACK.
TW sexual assault, harassment
Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with sexist dress codes. Fed up with gross comments from guys during class. Fed up with her high school teachers who let it happen! But most of all, Viv is fed up with always following the rules.
Viv’s mum was a punk rock Riot Grrrl, inspiring Viv to create Moxie, a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her class mates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond and begin to spread the Moxie message: Moxie girls fight back!
And before Viv knows it, she has started a girl revolution.
Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu is a delightful but fierce feminist call to arms for teenage girls everywhere. I loved it. It reminded me of being sixteen and reading The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks for the first time. Like it was formative, somehow.
Much like Frankie, in Viv we meet a girl who is torn between desperately wanting to fit in, and dying to disrupt the status quo. She attends what might actually be the Worst High School Ever (reading this book made me weirdly grateful for my own high school for the first time. Growing up in a place where teachers included feminist and gender theory in nearly everything and where posters that said things like ‘Some people are gay. Get over it.’ hung in hallways and classrooms was something I for sure took for granted as the norm at the time). Her school is completely ruled by the boys’ football team. The boys on the team are allowed to behave with impunity – whether they harass and bully girls or defy school rules, their actions never seem to come with any consequences. It doesn’t help that the captain’s dad also happens to be the principal.
All of this is to say that the patriarchy is in operation in full force in Viv’s school. When girls speak in class boys often respond with ‘make me a sandwich’, and should the girl stand up for herself it is often she who is punished for her ‘bad behaviour’. Similarly, girls are targeted by the school for dress code violations (which sometimes boil down to simply: having breasts), while boys are allowed to come to school wearing shirts bearing sexist slogans with no repercussions.
There was so much to love in the multiple feminist awakenings that happen in this book. For Viv, creating Moxie came from the values she’d grown up around but suppressed because, in the words of Bridget Jones, there is nothing quite so unattractive as loud feminist ranting. Seeing the combined forces of her own brewing anger and her friendship with Lucy, a new girl at the school and loud and proud feminist push Viv out of the teenage girl zone of wanting to be liked and into feminist activism – albeit secret feminist activism – made me so god damn happy.
There was something deeply authentic about the various reactions to the brewing feminist activism at Viv’s high school. One of the most potent storylines for me was how Viv’s best friend Claudia responded to the cause. Claudia is not into it. She feels weird about taking on the boys, and alienated from her best friend who has suddenly embraced a cause, and a new friendship that she doesn’t understand. It’d be really easy to hate Claudia, but Mathieu’s skillful storytelling uses her journey to illustrate the resistance to the idea of feminism that so many girls experience – the but I like men group, if you like.
While Moxie wasn’t perfect – I don’t think the perfect feminist novel exists – Mathieu did a really fantastic job of introducing the concepts of feminism to a teen audience. While she doesn’t expand on it as much as I would have liked, she introduces the concept of intersectional feminism – when Moxie first starts, Keira, a black girl in Viv’s class asks her whether or not it’s just a white girl thing, and it is mentioned on several occasions that the school has a race issue – though it doesn’t really go into it in a particularly deep or interesting way. In a book about a white girl though, the concept of intersectionality is present and something she and the other women in her life – at one point her mother criticises the overwhelming whiteness of the Riot Grrrls – are conscious of and learning about, so my final impression of the book was an inclusive and positive one. Also there’s a feminist reading list in the author’s note, for which Jennifer receives full points from me.
This was one of my favourite YA reads of 2017. I’ve never read a Jennifer Mathieu book before, but I intend to read all of them now.