Polly Vernon: Banishing the fear of 'getting feminism wrong'

British journalist Polly Vernon's new book promises a look at feminism 'with style without judgement'.

British journalist Polly Vernon's new book promises a look at feminism 'with style without judgement'. Photo: Desmond Muckian

First there was the bad feminist, now snapping at her heels comes the hot feminist. British journalist Polly Vernon coined the phrase in her book of the same name released this month. The subtitle of the work promises a look at feminism 'with style without judgement'.

The new tag is deliberately provocative with Vernon tweeting prior to publication that the term had led to a few raised eyebrows. "Obviously it was a deliberately controversial title that I chose," says Vernon on the phone from the UK to Daily Life. "I was nervous, but I hoped it would get people talking. I have inevitably seen people go, 'What? Only hot people are allowed to be feminists now?' On the other hand, I was surprised how many women were happy to go, 'Yeah, I'm hot' and how happy that made me. But the hotness I'm talking about isn't defined by looking a certain way."

Instead the book jokingly breaks it down in much looser terms (in pie-chart form, no less) as taking into account not only physical allure, but also funniness, kindness, silliness, breakdancing skills, good shoes and being well hydrated. Vernon clearly wants to shatter the hairy-legged feminist stereotype, describing herself in the introduction as "the shavey leggy, fashion-fixated, wrinkle-averse, weight-conscious kind of feminist".

'Hot Feminist' (Hodder & Stoughton) is out now through Hachette Australia.

'Hot Feminist' (Hodder & Stoughton) is out now through Hachette Australia.

Her vision of the hot feminist is a woman who embraces fashion, flirting and equal rights. She's utterly unapologetic about caring how she looks. If the movement was seeking a patron saint, she'd probably be someone like the brassy Samantha Jones from Sex and the City. Vernon cites a few of her personal feminist pop cultural heroes as Taylor Swift, Beyoncé and Rizzo from Grease.

Advertisement

The book is Vernon's first and is the result of her overturning a vow never to write one. "I thought it was too much hard work – which is entirely true. It was like having homework that didn't go away for a very long time," she laughs.

But the writer, who says there's never been a time when she hasn't identified as a feminist, was drawn to put fingers to keyboard when she found herself feeling pushed away from the social movement, particularly within the maelstrom of opinions voiced on social media.

"I felt like some aspects of modern feminism were beginning to feel quite excluding," says Vernon. "I wanted to make it feel inclusive and make it resonate for, well, me again. I didn't want to write a response, I wanted to write a new way of looking at things that could make more people feel welcomed and supported."

Vernon was also spurred to pen the book in reaction to what she dubs 'feminist fatigue'.

"It was getting to a point where it seemed like there had to be a feminist angle on absolutely everything and in quite a negative way," she says. "I think that was making people disconnect from feminism almost, because they felt it was prescriptive and narrow, that there were all these rules in place. I was talking to women in their late twenties who were feeling angry and tired and bored with it. It didn't feel like this exciting, joyous, fun thing, which it really should be." Vernon believes that these perceived rules of feminism contribute to what she's coined 'FOGIW' or fear of getting it wrong.

The book certainly looks at feminism through a different lens than most tomes on the topic. After all how many women's rights titles would have a 68-page section devoted to fashion and recommend shopping while drunk to 'take the edge off your retail inhibitions'? One of the issues taken to task is the notion that traditional concepts of femininity and feminism are mutually exclusive.

"I think it's an inherently sexist idea. It amazes me that a man is allowed to be a very passionate football fan, that makes him more masculine and interesting and sexy. It doesn't in any way detract from his intelligence, his work, his morals. Whereas if a woman cares about fashion or pop music, she's assumed to be lesser, a bit daft, a bit shallow. It basically says the things girls and women like are stupid. That's hugely sexist. Incredibly girly women can also be incredibly feminist."

Vernon sees the book as a clarion call to a more inclusive feminism that is less focused on the smaller aspects of how women choose to live their lives. "I do think we have become increasingly hung up on the minor details, like whether your shoes are too high or your hair is too long. If you shave your legs, if you wax your bikini line, that in no way stops you being angry about the bigger issues of equality," says Vernon. "I mess up, stuff my bra, say stupid things, that's okay. Feminism is about women earning the right to be as idiotic as men are, quite honestly. I do really silly, messy, immoral, ridiculous things all the time, but none of that means I don't care about women having equal rights."

Hot Feminist (Hodder & Stoughton) is out now through Hachette Australia.