We keep marching, our feet trampling over Principal Wilson’s threats and our teachers’ warnings. We are marching because these words deserve to be run over. Steamrolled. Flattened to dust. We are marching in our Converse and our candy-colored flip-flops and our kitten heels, too. Our legs are moving, our arms are swinging, our mouths are set in lines so straight and so sharp you could cut yourself on them.
Maybe we hope you do.
—Moxie, by Jennifer Mathieu
Vivian Carter is nothing like her mother was as a teenager. Her mother was into the Riot Grrrl movement, punk rock and bright hair dye and loud gender politics. Vivian is quiet, polite, responsible, and, controlled.
But that doesn’t mean she isn’t angry. Angry about the institutionalized sexism at her school, at how she and other girls are made, every day, to feel less important, less heard, less human than their male peers. And so, after one too many “Make me a sandwich”-es, Vivian uses her mother’s past as inspiration, makes an anonymous feminist zine called Moxie, distributes it in the Girls’ bathrooms, and everything begins to change.
Moxie is excellent. Period.
Viv’s journey is an intellectual one and an emotional one, one that makes her think deeply about herself and her place in the world, one that touches on history and power and politics and justice. But Moxie isn’t just about Viv’s journey. Every single one of the main characters—Viv, her best friend Claudia, the new girl Lucy, her childhood friend Kiera, her crush Seth, the school’s Golden Girl, Emma, even Viv’s mother—has a related journey.
And it’s not “just” a story about feminism and equality and justice—it’s not “just” a rallying cry. It’s also a friendship story, a family story, a school story, and a romance. And all of those threads are complex, nuanced, and emotionally honest.
It’s honest about how white the Riot Grrrl movement was; it’s honest about the blinders that so many white women have in regards to the intersections of racism and sexism; and it’s honest about the racism that has festered within every wave of the feminist movement.
Moxie shows how all the “little stuff”—the things that adults tell kids to “just ignore” or to “laugh off”—builds into the kind of weight that can break a person, can result in the insidious internalization of those messages, can make them snap.
It shows how and why that sort of weight can lead to a member of a marginalized group selling out the rest of the group in an attempt to achieve personal safety or gain a little more power.
It shows how sexism hurts men and boys.
It shows the importance of open discussions around inequality.
It shows that we are stronger together.
It celebrates the power of teenage girls.
It is, absolutely, a must-read of 2017.
So that’s my take: Read it, share it, gift it.
And now, there are a couple of points in the official Kirkus review that I’d like to push back on.
The Kirkus review states: But there are troubling moments when Vivian excludes willing male participants, seemingly suggesting that achieving female empowerment requires gender separation. … Designed to empower, the novel occasionally fails to consider that changing a culture of misogyny requires educating and embracing support from members of all genders.
My response: I’m not sure if these comments were referring to Girls-Only Spaces here, to the moments in which Viv is irritated with her well-meaning boyfriend, or to the fact that she doesn’t want Moxie distributed in the Boys’ bathrooms. So I’ll respond to all three!
Through showing AND telling—through Viv’s introspection and through the storyline itself—Moxie makes the importance of Girls-Only Spaces clear. Which is OBVIOUS—when a marginalized group is working for social change, it’s important for them to have a safe space where they know that they can speak in shorthand, where everybody Gets It, where they can plan and reflect and heal and learn and empower one another. (While the story itself doesn’t touch on trans issues, Mathieu is explicit in her Author’s Note: Girls-Only Spaces must include transgender girls, full stop.)
Second, Viv’s boyfriend IS well-meaning. He’s into consent, visibly signals his support for her campaign, and breaks up with his old girlfriend before moving forward with her: He’s a Nice Guy™. But he, like so many Nice Guys™, is uncomfortable with a lot of the conversation about and around sexism; he gets defensive and does some #NotAllMen-ing; and sometimes, he just Doesn’t Get It. And so Viv, who is still working on putting her own feelings about all of this into words for the very first time—none of these high schoolers are Gender Studies majors, after all—understandably gets IRRITATED with him sometimes.
Which is normal and natural and okay—and because he really IS a Nice Guy™, he reflects and does some learning on his own, and he works towards getting to the place where he DOES Get It. What the review overlooks here is that it’s not Viv’s job to coddle him until he understands, or, for that matter, to teach him in the first place—the internet exists, as do libraries—and Viv is allowed to choose where to expend her own energy. She’s allowed to put herself, and her own journey, first.
Third, Moxie is Viv’s baby. In writing and distributing it, she’s putting herself out there in a way that she never has before. She does it anonymously, yes, but she’s still scared and nervous and embarrassed and worried about backlash. And so it is ENTIRELY understandable—and in keeping with her character—that she’d want to start small, by reaching out to the people she knows will be most likely to feeling the same way. Distributing the zines in the Boys’ bathroom would have felt like going straight to the lion’s den for her, and wouldn’t have been in character—Lucy would have done it, maybe, but not Viv.
Finally, and more generally, this What About The Boys? argument is particularly maddening when you consider what it does—it pulls the focus away from the marginalized group and re-centers it on the dominant one. (See all of the post-Weinstein Hot Takes about how hard it is being a man in the workplace for more “fun” there.)
The Kirkus review states: And Moxie moves dangerously toward vigilante justice when it’s used to accuse a student of attempted rape.
My response: I’m honestly baffled by this statement, because that doesn’t happen in the book.
The assault accusation is made—via a flyer calling for a walkout—and the perpetrator is named, by the student who was assaulted… after she tried going to the administration, who told her she’d “imagined” it. The accusation doesn’t appear in the zine itself. If that’s vigilante justice—going public when going through “proper” channels isn’t an option—then I guess I’m here for it. Because what’s the alternative?
After that rant, I’ll leave you with a more joyful and hopeful image, a thought Viv has after a long, sweaty, wonderful evening:
...as I slide into sleep, my mind is full of images of girls dancing together and smiling and holding hands, taking up all the space they want.
In addition to running a library in rural Maine, Leila Roy blogs at Bookshelves of Doom and The Backlist, is currently serving on the Amelia Bloomer Project committee, is a contributor at Book Riot, hangs out on Twitter a lot—possibly too much—and watches a shocking amount of television. Her cat is a murderer.