#ReadForChange: Girls Fight Back in Jennifer Mathieu’s Moxie, a guest post by Marie Marquardt
Teen Librarian Toolbox is excited to be partnering with Marie Marquardt for her #ReadForChange project. Hop on over to this post to learn more about the initiative. Today, she and Jennifer Mathieu join us for a conversation about feminism, taking action, and Mathieu’s powerful novel, Moxie.
We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. … We raise girls to see each other as competitors, not for jobs or accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men. We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie—We Should all be Feminists
“For All the Teenage Women Fighting the Good Fight”
It’s wonderfully fitting that Jennifer Mathieu dedicates her fourth YA novel, Moxie: “For all the teenage women fighting the good fight.” Why? because this book reads as a (punk rock) love song to the brave teenage women who walk with dignity through the halls of high schools everywhere, refusing to be defeated by casual misogyny, and fighting back in their own creative, unorthodox, and sometimes super-fun ways.
In Moxie, we follow Vivi Carter – a “good” girl who avoids attention – through a feminist awakening. When the story starts, Vivi is simply trying to make it through the school year in a Texas football town, where boys (especially those who happen to know how to throw, catch, and block pigskin balls) get away with all manner of inexcusable behavior, from wearing offensive t-shirts to hallway “bump-n-grabs”, while girls endure subtle shaming through gender-biased dress-code enforcement, as well as direct sexual harassment and (in one instance toward the end of the novel) assault.
When the story starts, Vivi and her friends are surviving as so many girls do — by shrinking themselves, making themselves smaller, putting their heads down and getting by. Fortunately for Vivi, and for all the readers of this story, she happens to have a mom who went through a gloriously rebellious stage, which Vivi’s mom refers to as her “misspent youth”. Though it’s hard for Vivi to imagine her hard-working single mom ever having been a punk-rock feminist, a bit of rummaging through her mom’s old things allows Vivi to uncover the Riot Grrrls and their fierce zines. Inspired by their music and their protest, Vivi begins a quiet, anonymous campaign inside her own school. Her brave actions slowly spark a full-on social movement, bringing girls into solidarity across differences of class and ethnicity, and creating lasting change in the school.
And: Seth! He’s a newcomer to the school who wants, from the very beginning, to act in solidarity with the girls and to support their movement, but who bumbles a bit along the way. The love story that develops between Seth and Vivi is so lovely and his character is a beautiful (and important) model for how to become a feminist man. Step one: believe women when they tell you they’ve been harmed. Step two: listen and learn. Step three: follow them when they walk out and then link arms with them in protest.
“Calling Themselves Feminists for the First Time”: A Conversation with Jennifer Mathieu
JENNIFER: I knew this story had to be written the minute the idea popped into my head! I wanted to write a book about Riot Grrrl – the feminist movement that made such an impact on my life. But I wanted to find a way to make it contemporary and meaningful for young readers. I also wanted to find a way to address the importance of intersectionality. I started texting with my friend Kate and ran some ideas back and forth with her, and suddenly, I couldn’t stop planning, outlining, and writing Moxie. Honestly, this book was so much fun to write – probably the most fun I’ve ever had writing a novel – and hearing from young readers who have told me they are calling themselves feminists for the first time just because they read this book really makes me so happy. The experience of writing Moxie was so special, and if it has helped make positive change in the world, then I am so humbled by that.
MARIE: What are some of the things you’re doing to create the world that you want your kids and students to live in?
JENNIFER: Personally, I have become very engaged in the campaigns of some local progressive candidates. I became a voter deputy registrar in my county so I can register people to vote, including students at the high school where I teach! And speaking of my high school, I sponsor the Feminist Club which is very important to me. I also teach Sunday School at my church where I teach little ones about how God’s love is for everyone no matter their color, ethnicity, abilities, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
MARIE: What’s your message for readers who want to take action, themselves?
JENNIFER: My advice to readers who want to take action is to focus on one or two issues that really matter to them and do what you can in those areas. It can be very overwhelming to try and “do it all” and I’ve been guilty of this myself. After the 2016 election I was trying to go to so many meetups and doing so much, I got pretty stressed. I decided that I was going to direct my focus on helping elect candidates I care about, and that’s what I’ve been doing. For someone else it might mean getting super involved in raising awareness for climate change or feeding the hungry or clinic defense. They just need to figure out where their hearts are and go for it! I would also say staying informed by consuming reputable news and trying to limit consumption of click bait on the Internet is important, too.
Let’s Get Reading! “Focus on one or two issues that really matter … and do what you can.”
Okay, Moxie girls (and those who love us!). Time to follow Jennifer’s advice: Here’s a short list of non-fiction books that would be great companions to Moxie – they can help us get informed and stay informed, while also avoiding that click bait.
Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters by Jessica Valenti – The first chapter of this book is: “You’re a hardcore feminist. I swear.” The rest of the book will show you why that’s something to celebrate. And, as an added bonus, you’ll learn a bunch of new stuff along the way about pop culture, health, reproductive rights, violence, education, relationships, and more.
We Should all Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – *Okay, hopping up on my soapbox here.* We should all read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She is an eloquent and unapologetic feminist who speaks and writes with incredible clarity about how and why gender matters.
Girl Up by Laura Bates – The tagline for this one is “kick ass, claim your woman card, and crush everyday sexism”. Need I say more?
Looking for some Moxie anthems? Here’s Jennifer’s very own super rad Riot Grrrl playlist!
“Rebel Girl” by Bikini Kill
“Freewheel” by Team Dresch
“Dream Number Nine” by Big Joanie
“Stuck Here Again” by L7
“Mujer Moderna” by Fea
“Gimme Brains” by Bratmobile
“Oh Bondage Up Yours” by X-RaySpex
And, a documentary, for when you’re taking a break from that stack of fabulous books:
Let’s Get Loud! “Figure out where your hearts are and go for it!”
Ready to take action? Here are a few recommendations straight from Jennifer Mathieu – “resources that support an intersectional feminist viewpoint and welcome all ladies, including girls of color, girls with disabilities, queer girls, and transgender girls.”
feministing.com – an online community run by and for young feminists. Offers “sharp uncompromising analysis” with the goal of inspiring people to make real-world feminist change.
therepresentationproject.org – Inspiring individuals and communities to create a world free from gender stereotypes and social injustices
moxiegirlsfightback.com – Jennifer Mathieu’s own tumbler with so much good stuff, including a step-by-step guide to starting a Feminist Club at your own school.
(Let’s Pause for Gratitude) “If It Has Helped Make Positive Change in the World…”
Oh, Jennifer! It SO has. This book could not have come into our lives at a better time. As women step forward and speak out, and as good men stand in support of them, we all are so grateful to have Vivi, Seth, Lucy, Kiera and all those Moxie girls & allies to show us how empowering it is to join this fight!
Let us go forth, walk out, fight back, and #ReadForChange!
And if you’re hoping to go forth and read a free signed copy of Moxie AND some moxie swag, here’s a link to the giveaway. US only! We’ll be announcing the winner on Twitter @MarieFMarquardt and Instagram marie_marquardt March 1!
Meet Marie Marquardt
Marie Marquardt is the author of three YA novels: The Radius of Us, Dream Things True, and Flight Season (available 2/20/18). A Scholar-in-Residence at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, Marie also has published several articles and co-authored two non-fiction books about Latin American immigration to the U.S. South. She is chair of El Refugio, a non-profit that serves detained immigrants and their families. She lives with her spouse, four kids, a dog and a bearded dragon in the book-lover’s mecca of Decatur, Georgia.
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About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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