Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu
Vivian Carter wants to fight back. She’s tired of her stupid small-town school in Texas valuing football over everything else. She’s tired of the boys telling girls to ‘go make me a sandwich.’ She’s tired of the dress-code checks which only target the girls [and totally ignore the misogynistic t-shirts guys on the football team can wear] and she’s tired of hallway harrassment being brushed under the carpet. One night, when she spies her once-rebellious mother’s Riot Grrrrrlll zines, Viv realizes she’s found the perfect weapon to fight back with. She leaves her feminist zine in the bathrooms, hoping it will help her let off steam. However, with each new ridiculous rule and sexist remark, the idea soon gains traction with the other girls. Viv learns that revolution goes beyond cliques, and that friendships forged in them are the best way to hit back.
Am I the only one who hoards books on Kindle and then never quite gets around to them? I swear when I die, they’ll discover my Kindle Fire with at least 50 unread books on it. Eek. Let’s give me a quick moment to feel suitably ashamed though, because one of those e-books I’ve been neglecting is Moxie. I’m not even sure why. I watched at least a dozen booktubers praise it. I saw posts about it appear on twitter and instagram. I heard nothing but good things. Following the destructive aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in the US, I was spurred to buy this book after the author posted she would donate money for every pre-order. In the US, preorders included merch stuff, and I wasn’t sure if pre-orders from the UK would be included in the Hurricane relief donation, so I actually emailed the author with my proof of purchase and asked if it was okay. She replied, telling me she was happy to donate even though I’d gotten it on a 99p deal, which I thought was super-cute of her.
And then… Nothing. It lurked in my book collection for ages. I chose other contemporaries, or I just fancied that new fantasy book coming out. But I started to feel guilty, and having just finished The Diviners, I wanted a nice, quick, contemporary to refresh me before my latest book haul was delivered. So I ended up picking Moxie. And then I spent the next few days raving about it to anyone who would listen. My best friend, my boyfriend… they all got to hear every detail of how I fell in love with this book.
The message in Moxie has never been more necessary– girls must fight back if we want society to stop treating us like crap. Sure, it didn’t always seem one hundred percent realistic. At times the high school in this novel seemed surreal, like a hyperbole of the high school life. I’ve been subjected to dress-code checks myself, but the whole high school football team thing was never that big in my UK school, so I guess I can’t really judge how close to reality Moxie gets it. But hey, even if it is at times a little exaggerated, or a little too idealistic, just remember that these issues are a collection of real things that are happening in real schools. And I just loved that Viv’s way of coping with it was to try and bring girls together with a zine. It starts out simply trying to link girls, asking them to mark their hands with stars and hearts so they can see who agrees, but the rebellious acts she encourages are quickly amped up as the atmosphere gets more and more toxic. Living in a post-Weinstein era, with additional problems like revenge porn and social media trolling, I can only encourage girls to pick up this book and learn a thing or two.
Guys too. Perhaps the bits I could most relate to, were the moments when Viv was trying to convince her first major crush, Seth, to understand what she’s getting at. Seth comes across as cool and liberal. He attracts Viv’s attention when he’s the only guy willing to draw the hearts and stars on to show solidarity. Now, I’ve heard a lot of backlash against Moxie, with some saying it leaves men out of the feminist equation. However, I’d totally disagree with that statement. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve still had to explain to guy friends who agree with feminism why I need to make sure I never walk home alone from a house party in the dark. A sentiment to which they usually reply with: It’s dangerous for guys too. To which I reply: yeah, but what’s your number one fear when walking alone? Is it getting mugged? Because honestly, that is a worry for me too, but it’s really more about not wanting to be sexually assaulted. Yes, that can happen to guys, and it does. But girls are brought up knowing that it is a constant danger, a prowling fear just waiting around the corner. We’re taught to never wear heels, to never get in a car with a stranger, to always have our keys out to use as a weapon, to have an emergency number on hand in case you’re followed. And that’s basically what Moxie gets at. It doesn’t exclude guys. There’s actually some really good debate when Seth tries to understand Viv’s obsession with the Moxie zine. He seems to get it, to some extent, but being a guy he doesn’t seem to entirely get it. But hey, sorry to be the one to break it to you, but you can never fully understand something which is beyond your abilities to experience. And that’s what Moxie tries to say. You don’t have to have been on the receiving end of sexism to fight against it, or to stand up for what you believe is right, but it does mean that you’re never going to 100% relate to it. That isn’t excluding men from the conversation, that’s simply saying that we have different life experiences. Lots of guys I know are proud to say they are feminists, but that doesn’t mean they have experienced what it is like to be a woman getting catcalled, or slut-shamed or being bumped and grabbed. Guys play a pretty important role in Moxie, as a matter of fact. Seth balances what sandwich-obsessed idiots like Mitchell Wilson are lacking– the ability to judge when a behaviour is wrong and needs to be addressed. And honestly, it was quite refreshing to see a healthy YA relationship out there too. And then there’s the argument about girls being shamed and forced to wear baggy gym clothes as punishment for having a ‘low-cut’ top or thin straps or ‘too-tight’ jeans since it might ‘distract the boys from learning.’ Mathieu [through Viv and her friends] rightfully points out that this shortchanges both genders. Girls are sexualized and shamed by very arbitrary rules which seem designed to work however the teacher wishes them to, while guys are considered so sex-obsessed that the sight of a girl’s collarbones will render them utterly unable to concentrate on work. Yeah, that doesn’t quite sound right, does it? So really kirkus reviews, I can’t agree with your mansplaining bullshit review. I mean, can you believe the nerve of it, there’s a book out there about feminism that actually focuses on girls? Totally bang out of order.
Mathieu also tackles the very difficult discussion of privilege of white women when it comes to feminism too, which I whole-heartedly applaud. There were several moxie girls at Viv’s school who were POC, and I’m glad they pointed out that even when white girls encounter sexism in the big wide world, they are still having a completely different experience to POC. Which is a very valid point, one which has often been discussed in the various feminist-orientated lectures and seminars I’ve attended at uni.
If there are any downsides to this book there are two that I picked out. First, that it is quite tell-y, especially at the start when we find out about Viv’s life and her mom and the zines and what they mean to her, and how her school treats the football team as idols while it makes girls unable to go to authority figures with their issues. I can forgive this though, because the message is so important.
The other concern I have with this novel is how it creates a kind of idyllic feminist revolution. [SPOILERS AHEAD, CLICK AWAY NOW IF YOU DON’T WANT TO SEE THEM] By the end of Moxie the girls have won some of the battles they’ve had against the school administration. They’ve also bonded, even across clique-lines, and they’re planning out their strategy for the next year of high school. If only such a thing could be true. Maybe I’m getting bitter in my mid-twenties, but I think if girls tried to do what Viv does in Moxie in their own schools, they’re most likely to be met with a quick shrug of the shoulders, some polite interest and maybe a handful of genuine debate. Which is sad, but true. It’s the romanticised version of what a high-school rebellion can be. And while that’s thoroughly entertaining in the world of fiction, and while I would love to be proved wrong and find that there are popular feminist groups in many many high schools, it just doesn’t quite ring true to me.
But hey, maybe I’m a pessimist.
9.5/10 stars for Moxie. And even if it is slightly romanticised (not in the sexual harassment obviously, but in the success of Viv’s revolution) and not entirely reflective of the world we currently live in, I’d urge everyone to pick up a copy of this book and read it. And then share it. Because Moxie contains a message we all need to hear.