Cover Image: Mean Girl Feminism

Mean Girl Feminism

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If you are white please please read this, it is so beneficial. I got very sick of, especially white women (I am biracial and mexican), speaking over my opinions or feeling entitled to discount me when it came to feminism. ESPECIALLY online.

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I think it's really important that informative and educational books like these are written and published.

I found it difficult to connect to the subject matter as I'm not North American.

Book has major spoilers for Gossip Girl TV series if you haven't finished it yet.

Thank you to NetGalley for this ARC

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this book is so relevant to me. I'm practically sobbing right now. This is why:

In exploring how meanness is seen as antipatriarchal, this book considers the ways in which white mean girls are empowered by strict gender analysis to express their rage as a form of feminism. Mean girl feminism makes white meanness palatable by constructing patriarchal ills as aggression inducing and by recirculating that intraracial tension as an innocent pleasure. My hope is that by showing how mean girl feminism optimizes the performativity of white womanhood, this book demonstrates the contemporary problems and intersectional shortcomings of white feminism.

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Kim Hong Nguyen, Mean Girl Feminism How White Feminists Gaslight, Gatekeep, and Girlboss, University of Illinois Press, Jan 2024.

Thank you, NetGalley, for this uncorrected proof for review.

I was drawn to this book because I have always been aware of the shortcomings of feminism in action because of its strong relationship to white, middle-class women, historically and even now. As Kim Hong Nguyen has pointed out, women who are part of our feminist history have been racist and classist: we recognise that. However, these shortcomings are not everything about those women. Hong Nguyen is also critical of modern feminist theorists and theory, seeking to redress the lack of interest in intersectional issues (most importantly race) that she believes has been endemic in feminist behaviour and theory. Wedded as I am to the need to thoughtfully analyse the faults of the past and present with a view to finding answers to where we have failed I have read her ideas with interest.

The arguments that feminism has not done enough, and has often been destructive rather than supportive, particularly as it applies to race are made in a detailed Introduction, five chapters and Conclusion - Feminist Civility and the Right to Be Mean; Bitch Feminism and Blackfaced Girlboss in Feminist Performative/Performativity Politics; Mean Girl Feminism : Gatekeeping as Illegible Rage; Power Couple Feminism: Gaslighting and Re-Empowering Hetronormative Aggression; Global Mother Feminism: Gatekeeping Biopower and Sovereignty; and Abolishing Mean Girl Feminism. As can be seen from these titles Hong Nguyen’s approach is academic, employs language that may not be universally understood and covers negative aspects of political practice, that are familiar, such as gaslighting and gatekeeping.

A feature that is absorbing is the material associated with familiar aspects of social interaction: popular culture and political endeavour. Questions are raised about the way in which seemingly feminist depiction of women may be false. There is room for more detailed argument here. Hong Nguyen is examining popular culture that has been seen as giving women agency and denying that it has done so in a positive manner, suggesting that it undermines many women and gives emphasis to negative rather than positive features of women’s action.
Similarly, the power couple chapter would benefit from more examples, particularly those outside the political sphere. Where a political couple is used, how much more interesting and demanding would have been a section on Melania and Donald Trump than the well-worn discussion of the Clinton marriage. Add in the question of why has the media continually queried Hillary Rodham Clinton and her commitment to her marriage, and not placed the same scrutiny of the Trump marriage on its agenda? There is surely a question related to feminism there – Hillary Rodham Clinton is seen as a feminist; Melania Trump is not. What is it about being seen as a feminist that makes a woman ‘fair game’?

Where the political example of Laura Bush is used in the chapter on Global Mother Feminism, together with popular culture examples, the ground is less shaky. Laura Bush is featured alongside the implications of Mother Feminism for the War on Terror, giving the argument a wider context than that about the Power Couple. The discussion of the war and its implication for Afghan women is valuable, as are the ramifications of Sarah Palin’s ‘meanness’ in what Hong Nguyen sees as her presentation of global motherhood.

I see no answers in this book, and often where Hong Nguyen says that she has shown something to be the case I suggest that she has made only an argument, sometimes valuable, sometimes not. Her suggestion that feminism is yet to be defined along with whom it represents and what it advocates is particularly dispiriting. In contrast, I suggest that initially and maintaining its predominance, feminism has advocated for women, represents women and is defined as aiming to do so. Unrecognised by Hong Nguyen is that this simple, clear definition was rightly expanded, as recognition was given to discrimination based on class and race. Yes, there have been shortcomings in the way feminism has approached some women's rightful demands, and the questions raised by some of the arguments Hong Nguyen presents in Mean Girl Feminism How White Feminists Gaslight, Gatekeep, and Girlboss may be valid. However, whether there are lessons to be learnt from this book I wonder. I remain looking for a thoughtful analysis of where we have gone wrong and what we can do about it.

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***4.5 Stars****

I really quite enjoyed reading this latest addition to the feminist theory literature. In this much needed critique of white feminism (that also adds its own theory to the annals of feminist theory), Nguyen shows how insidiously white feminists co-opt feminism to uphold white sovereignty. With her theory of Mean Girl Feminism, Nguyen asks us to ask ourselves 'do we do this? are we upholding white sovereignty by being a Mean Girl?;. This is a question that may surprise us, since a large part of Mean Girl Feminism is unquestioned as part of 'being female' and seen as a natural way to act by women in society. We don't see the insidious ways it upholds white sovereignty and asks women to co-opt into the cis-heteropatriachy.

A brilliant, much needed argument that will make readers think deeply about how their own 'feminine' behaviour that has previously been shown as feminist is actually anti-feminist and against building equality. Is meanness really helping us become equal? How does the power couple harm all people's equality? Is the Global Mother reframing politics in a harmful way? and more questions will be asked as you read this.

***Netgalley provided access to this book in return for a honest review****

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It's likely that I won't be using this in class soon as it is a little involved for my current age group, but I will 100% be buying a physical copy for my collection and likely using it in the future. It is amazing and interesting, very shrewd and looks at things with an unflinching eye. It is definitely an honest and relevant look at the need for intersectional feminism to be at the forefront of discussions of gender.

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"Mean Girl Feminism," which is a concept that encourages girls and women to adopt a sassy, sarcastic, and ironic demeanor as a form of feminist performance. The author, Kim Hong Nguyen, argues that this form of feminism often co-opts its style and substance from racialized oppression and protest, while directing meanness toward people in marginalized groups.

Nguyen delves into four types of white mean girl feminism that are prominent in North American popular culture:

The Bitch
The Mean Girl
The Power Couple
The Global Mother
According to Nguyen, white feminists often mimic the anger and resistance people of color and other marginalized groups feel. This allows them to claim a special place within established power structures and present themselves as intellectually superior. However, Nguyen argues that the racialized meanness found across pop culture can open possibilities for building more intersectional feminist politics. I want to read more on the topic and continue educating myself.
Thank you to Net Galley and the University of Illinois Press for the review copy.

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Thank you for letting me read this ARC!

I, as a white person myself, was very intrigued to read more about "mean girl feminism" and understand my unconscious biases that are contributing to how I show up in women led spaces. However, as someone who isn't in academia, I felt a bit discouraged due to the heavy academic writing and nature of the book. It felt inaccessible at most times, using larger words that sometimes took away from the context itself.

I found that the Prologue of the book as well was quite lengthy. I was reading repetitive phrases over and over before I even got to the meat of the book.

I love that there are books being published about this! However, I struggled to connect with the writing.

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In this academic text, Nguyen looks at the phenomena of Mean Girl Feminism as a white feminist performative practice. The premise is that to be a Bitch or a Girlboss utilises racialised power structures, and thus white feminism can never be inclusive (or truly feminist). It's a solid argument, backed up by some rigorous critical analysis and pop culture case studies. Mean girl feminism has always sat uncomfortably with me, and this book articulates exactly why, breaking down different aspects of the phenomena including the mean girl, power couples and the global mother.

However, I did find it to be limited by its North American focus, and I would've loved to have seen a greater awareness and critique of this lens. Nguyen makes astute links between white feminism and post-colonial capitalism, but does not address how these pressures might shape white feminism differently outside of a North American context.

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very insightful approach to this current trend of mostly white feminists, as a latina who lives in latin america it made for an interesting read, specifically how it touched on how this toxic positive feminism affects poc women

thank you to net galley for the e-Arc in exchange of my honest review

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I loved how this book broke down what it means to be “mean” in todays climate as a white woman and how this affects black and brown people (especially women) in the process. I especially loved the ways it intersected with politics and motherhood.

The fourth chapter’s section on Laura Bush was incredible and I found myself highlighting long sections at a time discussing the intersection of The First Lady as a figurehead that allows discourse to be shifted towards horrifying routes without the accountability of an actual public and political figure. Below are two of my favorite points from this section.

“[…] the First Lady can make arguments without providing the verifiable data that founds her fear, but yet her fear can in turn “become a generative principle of formation for rule.”[65]. Any factual error made by the First Lady is more or less pardonable because she is unelected, outside of party lines, and not privy to discussions on policy-making.”

“Bush mobilized global motherhood not only through her own performativity but also through her rhetoric of liberal war’s possibility in producing Afghan women as good mothers of and for their own communities.”

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Thanks to NetGalley and University of Illinois Press for this ARC.

Some professors reference classic books to illustrate human behavior. Instead of using qualitative or quantitative methods to draw her conclusions, Kim Hong Nguyen uses television shows and former presidents’ wives to illustrate hers.

Nguyen’s feminist media study identifies four types of mean girl feminism in North America. She says “If …feminism is a struggle rather than ‘a lifestyle [or] a ready-made identity or role’- then naming power’s strategies and the people and subject positions that may be performing those strategies is part of the feminist struggle.”

Nguyen deconstructs mean girl feminism in order to move beyond the politics and cliques it creates. She hopes that feminism eventually will be decolonized and lead to a feminism that will benefit the subaltern and eventually lead to mean girl feminism’s dissolution because it will no longer be relevant.

After the first and second wave of feminism, there is post-feminism. This study is an attempt to unite all eras of feminism into a world where women can treat each other as equals without the intrusion of class and color or even religion.

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This is a great book discussing modern feedback with examples everyone knows or feels a direct link to. Although parts were a bit long winded, I could see this being used in a college course

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An informative read for every white woman who is a feminist!!!!! It covers multiple topics or themes with real world examples. Very well-written!

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As a white woman who identifies as a feminist, this felt like a really important book for me to sit down with. It left a lasting impact on my thoughts regarding mainstream feminism and I will definitely be sharing with others in this demographic!

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I had noticed that there has been a shift lately in how people interact and present online so it was really interesting to see the different dynamic in this and how feminism has changed with the Mean Girl mentality.

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Such a great book for the modern women on feminism and how girls treat and socialize with o e another in society. I found it to be such an engrossing read snd I look forward to sharing more thoughts snd discussion points soon.

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