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Amelia Forsbrook is an Associate Editor at Bare Fiction Magazine, and a freelance critic and arts commentator across a number of publications. With particular interests in regional arts, South Asian performance, twentieth century European theatre and quirky little numbers involving improvisation, emotional outburst and abandoned buildings, Amelia is also part of the judging committee at London Off West End Awards, and is currently editing the Casting Call Pro Actors' Handbook.

Read this article in Vhcle Issue 18

Read other articles by Amelia Forsbrook

Hot Feminist

Polly Vernon


Reviewed by Amelia Forsbrook

Vhcle Books, Issue 18

Now I’ve finally finished my copy of Polly Vernon’s Hot Feminist, I can boast a strong understanding of the story of modern Western Feminism – warts and surgical lack thereof. I know that women can be sexy go-getters, without acting in opposition to the sisterhood. They can wear seductive clothing, and make a ritual out of their hair removal techniques. They can flirt shamelessly, and shout with pleasure over the riotous bed springs that bear their short-lived romances. After bringing Vernon’s lessons into my own life, I now know that I can impress the opposite sex with what I choose to wear, without completely objectifying myself. Hell – what’s more, I’ve even learnt that I can impress men with what I choose not to wear, without slipping out of my feminist principles.

Unfortunately for those who love a good narrative curve, I also knew all of this before. I appreciate a decent blusher and a smooth armpit, as much as I love beating my other half at a thumb war and mastering a new DIY hack. I know that the gender pay gap, together with the all-too-frequent instances of sexual abuse on women by men, makes for a huge stain on British culture. I’m also fully aware that, while the Sun’s Page Three constitutes quite the conundrum for feminists who want their tabloid papers to be heavier on the news than on the nipples, 2D fantasy is not the most pressing problem on the feminist agenda.

So, aside from a couple of tips about hassle-free exercise and a lesson in getting the perfect fringe that, crucially, works as an homage to pop culture while keeping you on the right side of fancy dress, Hot Feminist teaches us little about what we don’t already know. If, ladies, you’re keen to rev up your sex appeal while championing gender equality, I recommend buying some leather leggings and curling up (as much as your new clothing allows) with Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. For those who’ve fully embraced the glossy worlds of Maybelline, Hugh Hefner, Coco Chanel and Tyra Banks, yet who don’t lose any beauty sleep over how these references bear an ideological incompatibility with traditional feminist values, you may find comfort in this self-aware, smug and splendidly manicured pat on the back.

And just as she spends the beginning of every day protecting her inner thighs from the onslaught of ugly hair, Vernon spends the start of this book spotting and mowing down any intellectual uprisings. She draws on her experience of seeing things getting ugly on social media to immunise herself against a similar response to this book. With her proud face staring out from the cover, boldly claiming the book’s title as her caption, Vernon lifts a thin, yet beautifully presented, shield towards negative judgement. Her stance is brave, but Vernon is recycling arguments that were gathering dust when the mini skirt was invented, and she does little here to spruce these ideas up. Her flippant tone, peppered with a tween’s monthly quota of apologetic "cray"s, "like"s and lost Americanisms – “a spectacular belt is like an exclamation point holding up your pants” – does little to drive her cause forward.

Men, those easily-swayed creatures that stare at your breasts and make you do their washing, are painfully underestimated here. After making it clear that blokes would struggle to belong in her exclusive, well-preened “feminist” club, Vernon patronises the men in her life – hinting that they get a very different treatment to the ladies around her. There is one enlightening moment where the writer directly addresses men, sympathising with their reluctance to give up the social privilege gained from thousands of years of patriarchy. That said, if a mountain of xy chromosomes managed to get past page three without throwing the book at the wall due to the lack of soft porn and abundance of feminine ditziness, we can assume that he’s already pretty committed to the feminist cause. Or maybe he just has a seedy attraction to liberally applied italics, or rhetorical questions that like to get around a bit? “Does some part of us seek to protect [men] from the feminist revolution we’re simultaneously perpetuating elsewhere?” asks Vernon, inconclusively, in a stream of questions that, if this dated book was in fact written in the 90s, would surely make it the inspiration for Carrie Bradshaw’s pen-chewing journalism.

This book is indebted to the style of the magazine columnist, and Hot Feminist is best when digested in small chunks. Unlike her fellow feminist pop-nonfiction writers, Vernon oozes none of the friendliness that can hold a book like this together. Vernon records tipsy instances where her girl mates put the world to rights, and relates candid chats with her colleagues about the state of modern feminism. In these moments. Vernon is someone we might want to be friends with, but her exclusive anecdotes ensure that her readers remain on the peripheries of all these intimate conversations. There’s a point where Vernon name drops Lena Dunham, author of 2014 bestseller Not That Kind of Girl, describing her as “an oracle on life [. . .with] a big brain and a sharp wit and heightened emotional intelligence quotients”. Through Vernon’s reverence, Dunham forges quite the cameo, breezing into London for 4 pages, settling down to some green tea at Soho House. Here, she collides “cool” and “feminist” within the same sentence without adopting the tone of a cold caller or exasperated secondary school teacher who’s desperate to hype up the mundane. Now there’s our hot feminist.