Digital Culture

How Instafeminism is Damaging the Feminism 101 Genre

Annabel Mulliner

If there’s one thing the Florence Given v Slumflower scandal has highlighted, it’s the snobbery surrounding ‘feminist 101’ books. Searching Twitter for both influencers’ names returns Tweets like: ‘loooool not Florence Given and The Slumflower fighting over who monetised the Pinterest quotes they shared on Instagram and put in a book’.

While the ideas in these books are certainly not revolutionary, they provide an accessible gateway for those who would not typically engage with feminist literature, and can be a validating read for any wxman. It’s dangerous to assume that we all know the ‘basics’ of feminism. Considering that the male gaze and compulsory heterosexuality are so deeply ingrained into society, Feminism 101 books can help us to become self-aware and recognise our internal misogyny. Being aware that gaslighting is a thing is different to reading about it and hearing those behaviours described.

Another Twitter user called critics of both parties ‘gatekeeping academic feminists’ highlighting the divide between those with access to academic feminist texts versus accessible, social-media driven content. In the opening pages of Women Don’t Owe You Pretty, Given calls it the book that she wishes someone would have bashed her around the head with aged fourteen. One Instagram story from a middle-aged, male builder said that after he had passed the book around at work, all catcalling and slut-shaming stopped on site.

The real issues arise when feminism-lite collides with influencer marketing. These books are falsely marketed as ‘groundbreaking’, the young women behind them placed on a pedestal so high that their fall is inevitable. Given was catapulted from a mere illustrator to the mother of online feminism; suddenly, if you hadn’t posted leopard-print-clad book on your Instagram feed, you were a bad feminist.

Given has likewise received plenty of backlash already for her self-proclaimed ‘Floss effect’, used to attribute positive changes her readers have made in their lives specifically to her influence.

The issue here is not the depth of Given’s ideas but their self-centrism. It’s not about collective liberation, but personal profit – WDOYP has dominated both Waterstones shopfronts and Instagram feeds, steering readers towards one white, cisgender voice.

Given’s distinctive illustrations lend WDOYP perfectly to aestheticised social activism, encouraging readers to photograph the book or even paste its pages on their walls. This dilutes the book’s message down to performativity. It’s no better than posting a vacuous black square for #BlackoutTuesday and leaving your anti-racism at that.

Social activist books are not exempt from the need to be profitable, and when they are more digestible, colourful, and come with a ready-made Insta audience to boot, it’s a recipe for success for the publisher, but the drive for profit is threatening the Feminism 101 genre’s capacity to enact genuine social and personal change. While it’s great that WDOYP’s content is aiding a wide audience in their feminist journey, the cult of personality behind it is harmful both for the consumer and the author-influencer.