Jennifer Mathieu's 'Moxie' Is A Call To Arms For Young Feminists Everywhere
Well, those words, and the endless sexist and misogynistic actions of a vast swath of boys in her school, and an administration that will do nothing to stop it. It's a sadly familiar jumping off point for Jennifer Mathieu's new YA novel Moxie, one that we have seen play out in school's across the country, in workplaces, and in the government.
"I think I always identified as a feminist even though I didn’t always use that word. Even as a young child, I had a very strong sense of what felt just or unjust, fair or unfair," Mathieu tells Bustle. "But I didn’t identify as a feminist until I got to Northwestern University in the late '90s. I was quickly all in after taking certain women’s studies courses and meeting other young feminists. My experiences with feminist punk rock — listening to that music and going to shows — cemented my passion for fighting for gender equality."
That '90s wave of punk-rock feminism, often referred to as Riot Grrrl, is the inspiration for both Moxie the book, and Vivian's Moxie zine. Fed up with sexist dress codes, and male classmates who yell out "Make me a sandwich!" anytime a girl speaks up in class, Vivian digs into her mom's old box filled with 90s girl power memorabilia and decides to take a page from her mother's past and create a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. As other girls respond, Viv realizes that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution.
But as that revolution continues to gain momentum, the sexist incidents in the school just keep going from bad to worse; a progression that leads from seemingly innocuous banter to a hallway game in which the boys physically accost the girls to much more. It's an obvious take on the real world progression of patriarchal attitudes we're surrounding with, and how "harmless" sexism can quickly turn into violent misogyny.
"Everything that happens at East Rockport High either happened to me, to a friend, or I witnessed it as a teacher. And yes, there is a definite connection between the 'boys will be boys' garbage that people think is normal and violence against women," Mathieu says. "I always say rapists don’t grow out of a swamp. We as a culture create them in many ways, and that was something I was trying to reveal in Moxie."
"I always say rapists don’t grow out of a swamp. We as a culture create them in many ways."
Other revelations in Moxie include crucial discussion of race within the feminist movement. Throughout the novel there are subtle discussions of race relations within the community, and the school, starting with Vivian's realization that all of the girls in her class sit in the cafeteria according to race: white girls together, black girls together, Spanish-speaking Latinas separate from non-Spanish speaking Latinas. And as Moxie grows to include more girls, from new student Lucy Hernandez to Vivian's childhood best friend, Keira Daniels, we start to see the girls tackle the problems that have come in feminist movements before them.
"I knew I didn’t want to write a book about white feminism. The world doesn’t need white feminism; the world needs an intersectional movement of women. Frankly, I would argue that white women need to step back and follow the lead of women of color, who have been doing the work for decades in ways white women could learn from," Mathieu says. "The issue I ran into was that Riot Grrrl was a primarily white movement; I wanted to find ways to not only reveal the problems within Riot Grrrl, but also create storylines and characters that would challenge the idea of white feminism."
"Before I even sat down to write this book and it was just an idea, I knew I didn’t want to write a book about white feminism. The world doesn’t need white feminism; the world needs an intersectional movement of women."
"Moxie, the movement, succeeds because of Lucy and Kiera. Moxie succeeds because Viv as a white girl slowly starts to realize the privileges afforded to her and learns from those realizations. I’m not saying I did this perfectly... But it was something I really wanted to try and tackle because I want young readers to know that if your feminism is not intersectional, then it is nothing."
And while Moxie has this message for women, the book doesn't leave men out, either. Though some criticism has been lobbed against Moxie for excluding boys from the feminist movement, it is in fact, Vivian's burgeoning romance with new kid Seth Acosta, that brings young men into the crucial discussion about becoming feminist allies. Though Seth is billed as one of the the only feminist-leaning guys in the narrative, many of his comments err toward the familiar side of the "Not All Men" trope; and the way Mathieu tackles this is pitch perfect.
"I want young readers to know that if your feminism is not intersectional, then it is nothing."
"I wanted to show young female readers that being a feminist doesn’t mean you can’t love boys or have crushes on boys or have boyfriends. But even the most feminist of men struggle with fully understanding life as a girl or woman, and I wanted to reveal how boys and men are always having to learn if they want to be good allies," Mathieu says.
And so, ultimately, Moxie is primarily a lesson in modern feminism for those who are coming to it for the first time; and perhaps, more importantly, for those who have shunned it. And the time couldn't be more ripe for recruiting new members to the cause.
"I began working on Moxie before the last presidential election, but that certainly cemented for me once again that we are a culture that is too comfortable with treating women like garbage," Mathieu says. "It’s my sincere hope that Moxie will motivate young women to embrace feminism and engage with other like-minded girls. The revolution is waiting for them!"