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The Feminist Agenda of Jemima Kincaid

av Kate Hattemer

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212861,969 (4)Ingen/inga
In her last few weeks at Northern Virginia's elite Chawton School, eighteen-year-old Jemima Kincaid works to up-end its patriarchal traditions and, in the process, finds the freedom she has always sought.
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Visar 2 av 2
Literary Merit: Good
Characterization: Great
Recommended: Yes
Level: High School

Thanks to the release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, it has taken me an embarrassingly long time to get any reading done lately (curse you, Tom Nook!). This review in particular has been a long time coming, as I've had this book in my To-Read list for a while. While it wasn't the type of suspenseful page-turner that usually helps me finish a book fairly quickly, I did really enjoy the story and overall message. I think YA literature that discusses sex, feminism, and intersectionality is very important, especially in the era of Me Too. This book is full of delightful and realistic characters, and has the ability to spark a great discussion about modern feminism.

The Feminist Agenda of Jemima Kincaid follows the story of Jemima Kincaid, a senior at an elite private school known as Chawton. Until recent years, Chawton was known as an all-boys school, eventually merging with an all-girls school known as Ansel Academy for Girls. With this merger came a whole heap of sexist practices, something Jemima Kincaid has made it her life mission to fix. As a member of the senior Triumvirate (along with her friends Andy and Gennifer), it is up to Jemima to plan large events like prom and the annual Powderpuff football game. This year, Jemima has some big ideas about how to shake up the school prom, planning to let every student make a list of crushes to be paired with for the dance. When all of the entries get leaked, however, Jemima finds herself in a sticky situation. Add to this the stress of her complicated feelings for Andy (who was, as it turns out, the only name she wrote down), and Jemima is in for a senior year she will never forget.

First of all, I have to say that I absolutely love how this book handles conversations about feminism. At the beginning of the book, Jemima considers herself to be a "hardcore feminist," to the point where even her friends refer to her as the "Jeminist." She scoffs at all things "Old" and "White" and "Male," while also sticking her nose up at the popular cheerleader girls conforming to the patriarchy. Initially, Jemima represents the stereotypical feminist, dying her armpit hair blue and generally snarking on anything she deems to be sexist or patriarchal. As the book progresses, however, she begins to develop more as a character, realizing that there is no one right way to be a feminist or to stick up for women. I loved this idea, as I think it's important for women and girls to stick together rather than tearing one another down, a lesson Jemima has to learn over the course of the story.

For example, at the beginning Jemima has a very strained relationship with Gennifer, another member of the Triumvirate. Jemima views Gennifer as being the stereotypical air-headed popular girl, but begins to realize that Gennifer is actually extremely smart and willing to back her up when the going gets tough. Similarly, Jemima tends to dismiss her best friend Jiyoon, never even considering her as a potential candidate for senior class chairman (because, in her words, it's pointless for girls to even try running and she won't stand a chance). Jemima's "feminist agenda" starts out being very superficial, consisting of a lot of complaining and very little action or self reflection. She eventually learns, however, that real feminism looks a lot more like sticking up for your fellow woman, building her up and encouraging her as a teammate instead of tearing her down. I think this is an incredibly important message for teens to hear, as our modern society tends to pit women against each other as "competition," constantly comparing women based on the way they act, look, and think.

Another topic I think this book handles well is sex. Sex in YA literature can often feel uncomfortable for me, as I am an adult woman reading about teenagers having sex (it's a little icky). I do, however, appreciate when a book can discuss sex in a healthy, matter-of-fact way, without glorifying it or fear-mongering to its audience. In this book, sex is simply one part of Jemima's journey, as she moves from "making out," to giving oral sex, to "going all the way" with a guy she has complicated feelings for. Sex and sexual desire are represented as simply being a normal thing that everyone experiences, and the sex scenes themselves are in no way romanticized; they are just presented as realistic encounters. The book even mentions masturbation at the beginning, usually a taboo subject in literature aimed at young people. I personally think it's a very healthy thing to discuss, and reading a book like this might help take away the stigma of shame that often accompanies sexual exploration for teenage girls.

I also like that this book seems to debunk the myth that having sex with someone will form a "life-long attachment you can never get over," something I was actually told in my sex ed classes in high school. Instead, Jemima explores different sexual acts with Andy, but never starts an actual relationship with him. In fact, by the end of the story, we have no idea whether or not they will reconcile or form a relationship at all, as it ends with Jemima spending time with her friends instead of going to prom. While my romance-driven heart was saddened by this, I like that this plot is left open-ended, as it represents a more realistic view of teenage relationships. In reality, the first person you sleep with might not be your soulmate, and real relationships are messy and uncertain. Both Jemima and Andy deal with a lot of inner turmoil, having moments where they seem to be on the same page and moments where they're at each others' throats.

The most important thing, however, is the book emphasizes that it is ultimately Jemima's choice how far she goes, and which lines can and cannot be crossed. Even better, Andy seems to respect this, never forcing himself on her and asking for consent before they finally have sex. While this book is geared more towards girls than boys, I think consent is a CRUCIAL topic when discussing sex in YA literature. There is even a section of the book where Jemima ponders the social construct of virginity, and decides that there really is no line between "saint" and "slut;" it all depends on how you view your own sexual experiences and desires. This is also extremely important, as too many young teens and women are exposed to "slut shaming," making them feel terrible for taking agency over their own sex lives. Ultimately, it is not society's ideas that matter, but what each of us feel comfortable with on an individual level. I commend Hattemer for tackling this topic, and I think she did a great job.

While there isn't a ton of LGBT representation in this book, I really appreciate Jemima's brother Crispin, who is an excellent example of both a great big brother and casual LGBT representation. Crispin is gay, and while the book alludes to the fact that he sometimes had a hard time in high school, nobody seems to make a big deal about the fact that he is gay. In fact, the only controversy he faces throughout the book is the fact that he's dating his coworker in secret, which may cause him to lose his job if his supervisor finds out. Crispin is also an incredible older brother, offering advice and comfort to Jemima as she struggles with her identity and sexual exploration. He encourages her to "think about what she really wants" before going too far, and also gently reminds her throughout the book to rein in some of her over-the-top ideas and schemes. Their relationship is incredibly sweet, and I found myself wishing I'd grown up with a protective older brother like Crispin as I read.

Lastly, I want to touch on Jiyoon, who is another important character when it comes to both representation and intersectional feminism. As Jemima's best friend, Jiyoon serves as a constant reminder to Jemima that feminism encompasses much more than just "straight white female." Near the beginning of the book, Jemima reflects on the privilege that allowed her wealthy parents to afford her education, while Jiyoon is on scholarship. Additionally, Jiyoon is Asian-American, and is often stereotyped to be "smart and nothing else." Jemima herself has to reconcile with the sexist notion that "girls cannot be both popular and smart," leading her to initially dismiss the idea that her friend could ever become the senior chairman.

Once again, Jemima learns a valuable lesson about treating other women as individuals rather than cookie cutter stereotypes, and valuing them for who they are rather than placing them into convenient categories. Jiyoon and Jemima's friendship hits a lot of bumps and curves throughout the book, but the two always manage to forgive one another and have each other's backs. Anyone who reads my reviews knows how much I appreciate strong female friendships in YA, and this was no exception!

The Feminist Agenda of Jemima Kincaid tackles issues like feminism and sex in a witty, humorous way that never once feels preachy or overdone. I genuinely found myself laughing out loud at some of the snarky things Jemima says throughout the book, and I really appreciated the light-hearted mood it evoked. Though Jemima acknowledges that high school drama feels life-altering and horrible in the moment, Hattemer also seems to be telling the reader that it's okay not to have everything figured out in high school.

Like any coming of age novel, this book showcases a time in most adolescent lives that is later remembered fondly, a time when everyone is trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be. The characters all learn a lot, but nothing is too serious or too awful to be fixed with some communication, and I think the novel shows us a very realistic (if light-hearted) slice of high school life. Add in the frank and healthy discussions about feminism, prejudice, and sex, and this book makes for an entertaining read with even greater messages. I would gladly recommend it to any teenage girl trying to find herself, especially one struggling with identity, self reflection, or sexuality. I think this book offers a lot of interesting ideas ripe for healthy discussion, and it does so in a fun and humorous way. I look forward to reading more of Kate Hattemer's work in the future. ( )
  SWONroyal | Jun 5, 2020 |
We call them stereotypes because they're so prevalent. For Jemima, there are plenty that make her hackles rise, most revolve around the gender inequalities she sees and seethes at where she goes to school. It's a fancy coed private school. It had been all male until absorbing an all girls' school in the late 1970s. When she looks at how girls are treated, she sees little, if anything that has changed since then. Still, she's a girl and feels the same urges other girls have when it comes to relationships and sex. This book is a very interesting and sometimes messy look at how she navigates the final part of her senior year. It's a real eye-opener for her, her best friend and those in the senior and junior class that she works with during this confusing time. It's a fast and quite satisfying read. ( )
  sennebec | Mar 6, 2020 |
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In her last few weeks at Northern Virginia's elite Chawton School, eighteen-year-old Jemima Kincaid works to up-end its patriarchal traditions and, in the process, finds the freedom she has always sought.

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