Moxie

35445532Moxie

Author: Jennifer Mathieu

Genre: Young Adult  |  Contemporary  | Feminism

Amazon   |    Book Depository   |   Goodreads 


2.5star2.5 out of 5 stars – Fundamentally, the message that Moxie preaches bothers me. Not because I dislike the basic ideas presented here, nor because I think that there is anything wrong with the small rebellions that the girls make. I love that they are fighting against the system. But I hate that it is presented as a fight that only women will ever understand and can ever be a part of, and I have a hatred for the main character who I don’t think is really a developed role model at all.


Synopsis

Moxie takes place within the incredibly sexist community of East Rockport, where the football stars instruct girls to make them sandwiches, dress code checks are used to control male hormones, with the girls blamed for the effects of their dress, and the ‘bump and grab’ game, a game of groping in the hallways, is an annual event. In response to this deplorable behaviour, one girl sends out a zine, a call to action for the girls in her school to stand up and be heard, because ‘Moxie girls fight back’.


Least Favourite Quote

“I guess I do just want it for the girls”

“Seth wanting to have sex with me. Seth and me having sex. Condoms, sex, Seth, sex, sex, and sex. That’s essentially what runs through my mind in the seconds after Seth speaks.”


Review

Where to start with this novel?!

I will begin by making a note of what is good in this book. There is some character development at the end, and I appreciated this. I felt that the main character was incredibly naïve and flawed, and so this development was necessary to make this story work. There were some mentions of diversity here and it is touched upon in an interesting way, noting that there isn’t just an inequality within the sexes, but also an inequality through race. I love that this novel seems to be inspiring and enthusing people. It is encouraging young girls to engage with the debate about feminism and a role that they can have in changing sexist attitudes. And I liked the ending. I think the solidarity that is shown within the school is vitally important, and the relationships between the female characters do grow and become stronger – this was a really good thing to show, and ended in a nice way.

What I didn’t like about this book, however, is plentiful.

The main character

The main character, Viv, starts a feminist zine anonymously. I am okay with this. I think the idea that she didn’t want it to be ‘hers’ but wanted it to belong to everyone makes sense, however, I’m not buying that she did this nobly to encourage all the girls to band together. I think she was just a coward. Okay, Okay, stick with me here. It is okay to distribute this magazine anonymously but put the damn stars and hearts on your hand without having to see if others have done it first. It is okay not to stand up and say ‘I did it’ but when you watch a close friend being punished for something you’ve done, stand up and have a backbone. It is okay to want everyone to own it, but then why can’t you take your own advice and support another girl.

I give you an example that really annoyed me. Viv watches Lucy be bullied in class, repeatedly. The first time, which takes place in the first chapter, she does nothing about it, blaming Lucy for having bothered to speak up in the first place. The second time, she does nothing, going so far as to disdain inviting Lucy to have lunch with her – why? Because she cannot be bothered – “talking to someone new seems exhausting somehow.” Really? This is a new girl that you can see is being picked on and could use a friend and that is your excuse for not being kind to her. Finally, once Lucy and Viv have become friends, and Viv has, apparently, begun to grow up and gain a little bit more courage, she comes to Lucy’s rescue in class. But it is not to actually defend Lucy. She is still unwilling to speak up, instead, she changes the topic, and it is all brushed under the carpet. And this is apparently the role model we are supposed to aspire to?

What makes Viv worse is that she has very black and white, arbitrary views on how she believes things should be done. She believes that she shouldn’t speak up for others, or speak out against this sexist behaviour – because she is a good girl. I mean seriously? Because she does her homework on time, and is punctual, and doesn’t generally cause a problem in school, is not an excuse for not standing up for what you believe in, and for others. But according to Viv, it is a perfectly logical reason to not rock the boat. In fact, she only gets angry about the events, and starts to cause a fuss, after she is called ‘dutiful’ and decides that she doesn’t like the sound of that, she’d rather be a bit of a rebel. I feel like Viv is the ultimate poser – rebelling, secretly, because she can. Only joining the rebellion when she is sure others will accept her, and that it is somehow a legitimised view, and caring far too much about what other people think of her.

That is the final point I want to make about Vivian. She cares so much about what people think of her! Now I know that this is a hard thing for any young adult girl to contend with – we all feel the need to fit in, we all want to belong and feel valued and loved, preferably for who we are but if we have to fold a little, I’m sure that we will. It is really hard at an age when you’re still discovering yourself. But Viv’s desperate need to be liked, to be right, to be a rebel with a cause, and a girl that fits in otherwise, is just exhaustingly irritating. I despised her obsession with Seth – who she needs, desperately, who she must wait to kiss because she has never been kissed, and who oh sex, yes, sex sex sex sex sex. It made me want to vomit. The girl needs some priorities, and they need to not be boys and her image.

The Feminism

Now I know this is going to be controversial, but I’m going to say it anyway. I don’t like this kind of feminism. There are characters in this book who I loved – they were clever, proactive, supportive and definitely good role models – they were Lucy and Keira, but there are things about how this rebellion is portrayed that is inherently troubling. For me, it is the fact that Viv outright states that it’s ‘a girl thing’ and that boys just wouldn’t understand. This is so troublingly black and white, that I would never recommend this novel for that reason alone. Boys do understand how it feels to judged for what they look like, for what they wear, and for what culture has decided their role in life should be. Boys should be masculine, strong, like women and sports. They should not care about fashion, or be weak, they should not cry, share their feelings, be fat or spotty. I know that this book doesn’t focus on those issues, and that is okay – but it did not have to exclude these issues completely. When Seth asks if he can show his support for the girls, when he tells Viv that there are other boys out there who hate the sexist behaviour too, he shouldn’t just be dismissed.

The Diversity

Okay, I know I said parts of this are good, and it is. A dialogue is opened up about race, very briefly, in this novel. However, the fact that the characters are sectioned by their races, and described in such a manner throughout, is very problematic. Similarly, and perhaps even worse than this, the lesbian romance is brushed over in a second. It felt like it shouldn’t even be in the book at all. I felt like Mathieu simply included the black girls and the lesbian couple to tick some boxes. Especially the lesbian couple who are so inconsequential. They are mentioned in literally a paragraph, and it never matters again that they even existed, so why bother mentioning them at all? This is a novel about female solidarity and bonding, you didn’t need a lesbian couple, but since you had one anyway, you could have made it a little more central.

The only girls who ever really were powerful in this text, and who made a difference, where the diverse characters. Kiera and Lucy both take a very visible, active role in organising events that bring the woman together. Marisela is the most vocal girl to stand up to any of the guys who grab her. I don’t know if this is because they were just passing characters for Mathieu and she wanted someone to do these things but didn’t feel it could be Viv, or if it is because they are doubly hindered, woman of colour or part of the LGBT community, or what, but they are strong, when Viv is weak. I can’t help thinking that if one of them had been the protagonist, I would have rated this novel higher.

The Romance

Okay, this really made me despair. I think it is genuinely the worst part of the book, and it is also completely unnecessary. A novel about female friends, a novel about girls finding their voice in a patriarchal world, a coming of age story, all of this, I was looking forward to, but what I got was a feminist tract with some extremely troubling traditional romantic notions that were, inherently, flawed and sexist.

Viv obsesses over her first kiss. Viv obsesses over a guy getting back in touch with her but never makes the first move to contact him. Viv lets him decide whether they have broken up or not, rather than thinking for herself and making an informed and grown-up decision. Viv waits for him to kiss her. Viv is desperate and part of her identity is completely informed by whether or not she is involved with a man… How does this fit with the feminist message?  And she expects the same of her mother. By the end of the novel, Viv seems to have decided that the only way for her mother to be happy and really dedicate some time to herself, is for her to date someone and let a man make her happy. Geez, at some point in this novel I time travelled back to the 1950’s.

At one point, in class, Seth makes a comment about a short story they are reading, and she says “I bite my bottom lip. I never talk about these things. But I want Seth to know I’m smart, too.” Because every feminist needs a man to validate their intelligence.

The Sexism

Finally, this is not going to be what you expect. I disliked the sexist portrayal of women in the novel. No, not the sexism employed by the males in the book, but the sexism employed by the girls! Honestly! We need some kind of rebellion so we are going to draw the most stereotypical symbols on our hands to show our solidarity? Oh, we need to raise money for the soccer team – let’s all go into the kitchen and bake? Really?! It’s like the author puts these extremely odd juxtapositions in there as if no one is going to notice. Well, I noticed, and I didn’t get it. The girls do arts and crafts, they bake, they draw little stars and hearts, they flip their hair, are too weak to speak up and draw attention to themselves in class and they giggle about boys. It was a really sexist portrayal of women that I ultimately, really disliked.


If you liked this…

I beg you to please read anything else.

Seriously though, pick up either How to be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis, for a really fun look at the literary heroines who influenced Ellis as she grew up, and who could be some great heroines for you; or, try The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan, this is a book of short essays written by a young girl in her twenties who died too soon. It shows optimism, hope, and an interesting view of life, from a young and talented writer.