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Book Review

‘Sexy Feminism’ by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong and Heather Wood Rudúlph

Heather Wood Rudúlph (left) and Jennifer Keishin Armstrong have penned a book of style and “you go, girl” politics.

Heather Wood Rudúlph (left) and Jennifer Keishin Armstrong have penned a book of style and “you go, girl” politics.

Who knew the word “feminism” was in need of a major makeover? The fact I didn’t is probably a sign of my age and experience.

I’m a 46-year-old married, working mother of two who grew up with a single, working mom deeply involved in the ’60s feminist movement. Back then, many empowered women were fighting for civil rights and, it’s clear, also enjoying the benefits of the sexual revolution.

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But like the word “liberal,” a term that has at times been slung around like a slur, authors Jennifer Keishin Armstrong and Heather Wood Rudúlph clearly feel that “feminism” needs a public relations upgrade.

They want us to know that women can be feminists and sexy, too.

The concept doesn’t seem revolutionary. But who am I to stand in the way of a new wave of feminists, if the idea gets them involved?

“Sexy Feminism: A Girl’s Guide to Love, Success, and Style,” is a combination of folksy “you go girl talk,” straight liberal politics, and some platitudes.

The authors start by introducing themselves: Two white girls who grew up in 1970s suburban America, became writers, and later launched their own alternative women’s online magazine.

Their mission ‘. . . aims to show young women how fun, empowering, and, yes, sexy, it is to fight for women’s rights and choices.’

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In 2011, they renamed the site,, subtitled “the no-guilt guide to being a modern feminist.” Their stated mission: “to reflect our now-specific brand of feminism, one that, above all else, owns the oft-maligned word feminist and aims to show young women how fun, empowering, and, yes, sexy, it is to fight for women’s rights and choices.”

The book expands on this endeavor. Parts of it are interesting. The authors talk about waves of feminism, starting with the suffragettes; a second wave that peaked in the 1970s and was characterized by Gloria Steinem, Ms. Magazine, and the fight for reproductive rights; and a third wave, starting in the late 1980s, that built on feminism gains, advocating more diversity and identifying with the pop culture movement known as “Riot Grrrl.”

The authors clearly hope to be a key voice in what they see as the fourth wave. “This new movement within the movement may resist labels but most definitely will include even greater media awareness, cultural and sexual diversity, and lots and lots of blogs,’’ they write.

Chapters are ordered in themes where the authors opine on bikini waxing (OK, if it’s your decision); plastic surgery (bad, unless it’s for a health reason); and makeup, (rock on, if that’s what you are into). They include first-person snippets from themselves and others as well as questions for girl groups and “sexy feminist action plans.”

Generally, the authors are sending the message that women should be conscious of their decisions, whether at work, in the bedroom, with friends, or while shopping. Feminism is still about equal rights, but they believe that women’s choices in all aspects of their life — from choosing makeup to dating — can be political.

While women of the Steinem era might not have the stomach for the extensive details the authors provide about personal grooming, there’s likely ample interest among younger readers for topics covered in Chapter Two, titled “Our poor vaginas,” which covers bikini waxes, Brazilians, and something called “vajazzle,” or decorations for your “lady parts.” Chapter three, titled, “Plastic surgery: Can you,” provides information about breast augmentation, liposuction, and Botox.

Later the authors talk about dieting, sharing their own battles with food, and learning to love themselves. They discuss fashion and support ways a young woman can find her voice. And they advise women in the workplace of all ages to work together.

Sounds like sound advice. But whether Armstrong and Rudúlph will be names to remember in this new fourth wave of feminism is still open to debate.

Jenifer B. McKim is a Boston Globe social issues and business reporter. Follow her on Twitter at @jbmckim. She can be reached at
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