Shannon Kelley

Shannon Kelley
Santa Barbara, California, USA
June 11
Shannon Kelley and her mother Barbara Kelley are both journalists, and have just written a book called "Undecided". Together. (...Right??) This blog is a taste of what you'll find in "Undecided", a book about choice overload, analysis paralysis, grass is greener syndrome, longing for the road not traveled, and how the success of the women’s movement has left women stumped in the face of limitless options — and how to get over it. The book comes out on May 3: if you like what you're reading here, get the book here: And subscribe to our blog here:


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FEBRUARY 23, 2012 1:43PM

Reclaiming the F-Word

Rate: 11 Flag

You run into feminists in the unlikeliest of places.  To wit:  the newest pitch for the rebirth of the F-word comes from none other than Louise Court, the editor of Cosmo’s UK edition.  In an interview with The Guardian, Court talked about the magazine’s upcoming launch of a campaign to ride a new wave of feminism:

“We’ve had these T-shirts printed: ‘I use the F word, do you?’ I still think there are some young women who don’t particularly like the word “feminism”. They obviously believe they should have equal pay and the same freedoms as a man, but that’s why we thought it was a really good time to get it on the agenda and girls talking about it.

“A lot of young women were brought up with that whole thing – you’re the girls who can have it all, if you want that job you can have it. A lot of those opportunities were fought for by feminists in the first place. They’ve worked hard at school and university, done all the things they were meant to do and the rug has been pulled out from under their feet. I think young women are thinking about feminism again.”

And hooray for that.  I was originally intrigued by the interview — one of our fans had sent us the link — because of the have-it-all reference, which is one of the themes of Undecided, after all.  But it was the feminist message, something we write about all the time, that had me hooked.  A magazine devoted to hot sex (the Cosmosutra, anyone?) and skimpy clothing is putting feminism front and center?  Will this encourage more women to proudly adopt the F-word as their own?  Will feminism finally begin to go mainstream?

One can only hope.

A couple of years ago, I was being interviewed by a journalism class  when a student asked me if I was a feminist. “Of course,” I shot back. “Aren’t you?” She looked at me, somewhat quizzically. “Well,” she said, “how do you define feminist?” To which I replied, perhaps too glib and maybe even borderline cranky, “A human being.”  Beat.  I continued, something along the lines of: It means you’re in favor of equality. Equal rights. Equal pay. Equal opportunity. Blowing up gender stereotypes. My turn to be quizzical: “How can anyone NOT be a feminist?” I asked.

Of course, I knew the answer. A few years earlier, I had interviewed some kick-ass college seniors for a story on feminism for a local magazine.  These were edgy, take-no-prisoners young women who were considerably more independent than I was, back in the day, when I was letting my own F-flag fly. But they refused to call themselves feminists.

It’s a spectrum issue, they said first. They’d be more likely to call themselves feminists if they could explain where on the scale they fell. “I think a lot of people perceive feminists as being so hard-core – men-haters, almost masculine,” one of them said.  They said they’d never experienced gender discrimination, never been told they couldn’t do something – or had to do something – because of their sex. Never – yet – faced discrimination on the job. Battles fought, battles won, they said. “I’ve grown up and had every opportunity,” said another woman, who conceded that without the benefit of privilege this might have been a different conversation. “Therefore, it’s hard to identify with the word feminist because, for me, it’s the norm. Now it seems radical to say feminist. It’s hard to get passionate about a cause when you haven’t faced the consequences of what you’re fighting for.”

You will, I thought.  But she had me at “radical.”  Because what I realized then — and now – is that the very word “feminism” has been appropriated by a bunch of nutjobs who fear everything but the status quo.  (Go no further than some of the comments posted on this page, and you find that any post that advocates gender equality is likely to unleash a barrage of hate-rants that cast the writers of said posts as angry, bitter and ugly and/or fat.)

And that’s actually pretty funny when you think about it:  To advocate for equal pay?  Equal opportunity? Equal representation in government and the arts?  Equal treatment in the workplace?  The end of the second shift?  If you were to ask me, I’d have to say that the radicals are the ones who fight against the above.

But back to Cosmo:  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the great irony in the fact that a magazine that sells sex is now selling a feminist agenda. But then again, if that’s what it takes to get more of us to proudly reclaim the F-word, I’m all in favor.

Back when I was in grad school, I had a classmate who had just moved from Washington D.C. and whose car boasted a tattered bumper sticker that read:  “I’m pro-choice and I vote.”  I can’t help wondering if those of us in favor of women’s rights (read: all of us?) shouldn’t make our own bumper stickers with a similar message:

“I’m a feminist. How about you?”

Tagged: Cosmopolitan, feminism, Louise Court

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I am a feminist. Proudly.

Thou shalt not tell a woman what she can do with her own body.
I think you really need to take their message to heart, take what they are saying seriously. whose really got the egg on their face? they have a real point. feminism has become extremely maistream. oldschool feminists just dont wanna admit that because they identify so much with the eternal struggle. what if one has won the rights? isnt the purpose of life to try to achieve a new equilibrium that does not require pressure to maintain? try looking in the mirror sometimes....
Excellent. When did independent strong women become embarrassed to be feminists. Loud and proud, "I am a feminist."
I can't even count the number of times I've said, "How can anyone not be a feminist?"
I guess I am an odd one...I'm female and I am not a feminist. I see no need for it. I think the country had come a long way with how we treat females. Actually I go by what God's word says that I should be as a woman. My husband is head of the household(of course he would say otherwise) and in my wedding vows I did say that I would obey him.
I reclaim the F word. As it appears, alas, that some battles have to be fought more than once in order to remain victories. I hope that the overt ugliness we've seen in the last year since the Tea Party Congress took office will remind women across the age and class spectrum of what we stand to lose if we don't stand up and fight for the gains we've made since the 1970's, again. And may the Tea Party rue the day they decided the "Women's vote" could be carelessly thrown away.

Feminist is also an "F" word...
If I were to be labeled, I would be slapped with a 'conservative guy' sticker. My frustrations with many feminists are many. They want all the good stuff at the buffet but, prefer not to give the inate benefits that society has bestowed.
If the Titanic sailed out of Cambridge or Berkeley (work with me here) how many would stay on the deck requesting favorite tunes and who would be huddled on the lifeboat with the children?
WHat would you think of the man who jumped in and said "I was here first and I am saving this seat for my buddy Chuck" ?
Certainly would not sell many movie ticket, not even in Harvard Square.
Great post, Shannon! When I think of radicalism I think: feminism implies that you are more than a feminist. A feminist is not just for women's rights, but for everyone's rights, not just against sexism, but against discrimination.
I think that it is not the feminists who have made being a feminist into a "radical" position. The people who "feel" that feminism consists of a bunch of man-hating ugly fat bitter butches are the same people who could not tell you anything about the prominent feminists, the movement's literature, or the real motives (there is actually rampant inequality, it's always 'don't get raped' instead of 'don't rape'). In other words: the people who portray it as radical are the people who are afraid of feminism--the ugly, fat, bitter, fearful, women-hating men and women.

(on a related note:
When I told some of my family members that I only date men who are feminists, they looked at me like I wanted a mate who had two heads. Even in 2012, feminist is a loaded word and for many people it carries a very knee jerk reaction that may not be the same as what your or my understanding of the word is. For me it's very simple: do you think the genders should hold equal worth and value in society? Yes? Then congratulations, you are a feminist. I was raised by very socially progressive parents and my siblings are all liberal as Michael Moore and Whole Foods but for years they all equated feminists with a lesbian who hated men. Where did they ever get that idea, I wonder?
Animal activists would like to see the animal rights movement transform American society, like the civil rights movement and the women's movement transformed American society during the '60s and '70s.

There's a vegan cookbook entitled The Single Vegan, perhaps Sex and the Single Girl could be rewritten as Sex and the Single Vegan !

Sex and the Single Girl was written in 1962 by Helen Gurley Brown (she later went on to become the editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan), as an advice book that encouraged women to become financially independent and experience sexual relationships before or without marriage. The book sold two million copies in three weeks.

The original title was Sex for the Single Girl, but this was changed because “it sounded like [it] was advocating sex for all single girls.” Gurley Brown had also written a section on contraceptive methods that was omitted from the final publication.

The book was advertised through a large scale campaign created by Letty Cottin Pogrebin of Bernard Geis Associates in conjunction with Gurley Brown. The campaign involved print ads as well as television, radio and bookstore appearances; however, Gurley Brown was often barred from saying “sex” during her television appearances!

Significant chapters in the book included:

Chapter 2. The Availables: The Men in Your Life

Gurley Brown suggests that the single girl make a list of all the men in her life and then slot them into the following categories: “The Eligibles,” “The Eligibles-But-Who-Needs-Them?”, “The Don Juans,” “The Married Man,” “The Homosexual,” “The Divorcing Man” and “The Younger Man.”

She then proceeds to advise how to handle the men in each category.

Chapter 3. Where to Meet Them

The obstacles the single girl faces, and how to overcome them, when meeting men in such environments such as: “Your Job,” “Friends of Friends,” and “Alcoholics Anonymous.”

Chapter 4. How to be Sexy

Outlines the different styles of sexy and how to achieve a “sexth sense,” and also refers to Alfred Kinsey’s reports.

Chapter 7. The Apartment

Discusses decorating on a budget, hiring a decorator and do it yourself tips such as including “Gobs of Pictures” and how to achieve “A Sexy Kitchen.”

Chapter 10. The Wardrobe

A quick guide to understanding fashion, shopping and sewing.

Chapter 11. Kisses and Make-Up

Step-by-step instructions on cosmetic changes such as make-up, facial hair bleaching (includes formula to mix at home), and contact lenses.

Chapter 12. The Affair: From the Beginning to End

A step-by-step guide that should prepare a single girl for what will occur, or should occur during the beginning, middle and end stages of an affair.

Sex and the Single Girl was made into a 1964 movie starring Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood, Henry Fonda, Lauren Bacall, and Mel Ferrer: a womanizing reporter for a sleazy tabloid magazine impersonates his henpecked neighbor in order to get an expose on renowned psychologist Helen Gurley Brown.

It all seems so tame by today's standards!