““It occurs to me that this is what it means to be a feminist. Not a humanist or an equalist or whatever. But a feminist. It’s not a bad word. After today it might be my favourite word. Because really all it is is girls supporting each other and wanting to be treated like human beings in a world that’s always finding ways to tell them they’re not.”
If Moxie had been released when I was a teenager, I probably would have carried around a copy in my backpack at all times and quoted from it as if it were gospel. Punk rock and girls supporting girls? These were (and continue to be) two of my very favourite things! And while I would have absolutely worshipped this book in my teens, reading this book in my 20’s was no less enjoyable. Moxie filled me with warm fuzzy feelings and made me remember all the things I love best about feminism. Here are some of my thoughts about the novel.
Vivian Carter is sick of the every day sexism she encounters in her small town Texas high school. She’s surrounded by teachers who deem a young woman’s bare shoulder an offensive “distraction” yet see no problem with boys showing up to class wearing shirts that read “Great legs, what time do they open?”. Not to mention the boys who themselves who turn sexual harassment and objectification into games they call “the bump ‘n’ grab” and “March Madness.” Viv recognises and hates the flaws in the world around her, yet she’s not too sure what she should do about them… until inspiration strikes as she’s going through a memory filled box of her mothers’ labelled “My Misspent Youth”. Back in the 90’s Viv’s mother was a loud and proud Riot Grrrl; a feminist who stomped around in Doc Martens, scrawled the word “riots not diets” across her arms, and spread her ideology through handmade zines. Viv decides to adopt this DIY attitude and begins anonymously creating and distributing a zine she names Moxie, encouraging her classmates to fight back against the sexism in their school. Much to Viv’s surprise, Moxie grows popular and Viv comes to realise that her female classmates are more than ready to revolt against the patriarchy.
Though Viv’s naivete can be irritating early in Moxie, she’s without doubt a well written character, and the personal growth she experiences in the novel is both realistic and inspirational. Viv begins the story as a girl too shy to raise her hand in class, and develops into a rule breaking Riot Grrrl who’s ready to lead a revolution. Basically, she becomes my new role model. However, her love interest Seth isn’t particularly interesting; he mostly serves as an example of how your average guy should react to feminism. There are times when he doesn’t understand Viv’s point of view, but he’s always willing to listen and try to understand, and is ultimately supportive. As for the other Moxie girls? They’re literally all amazing. There’s Kate McGowan, who shows up to school in a bright red bikini and a flannel nightgown to protest the sexist dress code, Marisela Perez who slaps a sticker reading “You’re an asshole, XOXO Moxie” on the chest of a guy who tries to grope her, and Kiera Daniels who stands up for black girls and organises secret fund raisers for the girls’ soccer team. Arguably the best thing about Viv’s girl gang is the way that they support one another. They’re genuinely inclusive, wanting the best for all of the young women of East Rockport High, and there’s none of the stereotypical bitchiness that pop culture tends to associate with teenage girls.
At times, early in the novel, I felt that the writing occasionally came across a bit more middle grade than YA (not necessarily a bad thing, I just prefer YA personally). However, I came to realise fairly quickly that this is mostly because Viv is a particularly innocent character; she tends to refer to sex as “doing it” and is nicknamed “dutiful Vivian” by her Grandfather. As Viv becomes more open minded and starts to grow up, Mathieu’s writing does too. The only complaint I have about the style in which Moxie is written is that I think Mathieu occasionally underestimates her audience / characters. The dialogue heavy scenes tend to be quite awkward, and a lot of the characters overuse the word “like.” I know that there are plenty of awkward teenagers around, but there’s also a large number of very articulate ones, and I think Mathieu should have tried harder to include more of the latter. Overall though, the writing was great, it was simplistic and straight forward in style, which really allowed for the characters to shine.
If I were to describe Moxie in three words, I would say it’s inspiring, empowering, and important. One of my first thoughts upon finishing the novel was that it should be required reading in every high school. It’s a book about equality, but it’s not preachy or unnecessary dramatic, instead it’s fun and exciting. Moxie has such a positive and inclusive approach to feminism, and I think everyone could take something away from this book. For me, I came away with a reminder, that feminism doesn’t always have to be serious, it can also be a source of great joy, and a renewed appreciation for female friendship and 90’s Riot Grrrl music. Though I’ve written a few paragraphs here, I don’t think I’ve even begun to convey just how much I loved this book. Honestly, I was crying happy tears for most of the last forty or so pages of the book, because it was just so wonderful and heart warming. Moxie girls fight back!!
Some extra notes
- If you enjoyed Moxie, you may also enjoy one of my favourite Clementine Von Radics poems, For Teenage Girls. I feel it has a very similar message. Check it out here!
- The Moxie Tumblr has a lot of great content, including a playlist of Moxie anthems. Give it a listen while you’re reading the book!