Crunk Feminist Collective’s Feminist AF: Essential Reading for Young (and Not-So-Young!) Feminists

Feminist AF, the newest title from the Crunk Feminist Collective, is a fierce and intelligent guidebook for young adulthood that meets the reader at her level. The book has a vision of young girls that is loud, vivacious, undimmable and not burdened with painful and unrealistic positivity. Rather, it’s a book about being and feeling powerful, while staying informed as you enter young adulthood.

Girls picking up a book on how to see, be in, and sometimes do battle with the world of 2021 definitely do not need easy answers. They need a useful, upfront guide to exactly what oppression, feminism and intersectionality actually mean.

That’s exactly how Feminist AF opens: invoking the energy of hip-hop generation feminism, the authors spell out a crystal-clear, conversational index as toolbox for their readers to set out with.  

The Crunk Feminist Collective is made up of Brittney Cooper, Chanel Craft Tanner and Susana Morris. Formed in 2010, the collective is on a mission to “create a space of support and camaraderie for hip hop generation feminists of color, queer and straight, in the academy and without, by building a rhetorical community, in which we can discuss our ideas, express our crunk feminist selves, fellowship with one another, debate and challenge one another, and support each other.”

The collective has one previous publication: The Crunk Feminist Collection, which assembles selected posts from the first five years of the collective’s blog.

What this book thankfully does not do is proffer positivity writ large. Sure, Feminist AF is generally operating on the bright side, offering tools for personal growth, strength and happiness. But it isn’t messy about it. Guidebooks for young readers so often fall into a sticky trap of trying to exercise uplifting messages as general cure-alls, even when what’s needed is direct clarity. Feminist AF tells it like it is: The book has answers to reader questions, but often those answers aren’t easy or simple.

Positivity in Feminist AF is all the more powerful for being contextualized, direct and honest. The imperative to recognize oppressive patriarchal lies about a girl’s worth and practice consistently disbelieving them is a more tangible positive imperative than I’ve found in many a self-help book. For instance, in a moment when the book turns to address the old “sugar and spice and everything nice” rhyme—as a tool for deconstructing expectations of feminine performativity—the authors write not only with a sense of purpose but with a full-picture view that includes the many subtle pressures that girls, especially Black girls, face as their behavior and attitudes are policed toward niceness.

This acknowledgement frames a passage that I think is worth quoting at length:

“The three of us understand and treat anger as a superpower … Anger is a reasonable response to dealing with the foolery of racism, sexism, homophobia, and every other thing each day of our lives. Our anger is a compass that tells us that we have been hurt in some way or experienced an injustice. The desire to be treated justly is fundamental to being human. When we are treated unjustly, we get angry—also a human response. To deny our right to our anger is to deny our right to our humanity.”

This passage does an excellent job of encompassing the uncompromising delivery and clarity that pervades the book as a whole. There is no two ways about it in the realm of crunk feminism: Girls are worthwhile, powerful, complicated and perfectly entitled to a range of emotion and experience no matter how noisy, messy or un-ladylike. And that’s gorgeous to read.

The authors come at every issue and obstacle, from struggling in school to haircare, with the same battering-ram force—always expanding the measure of who their reader is capable of being and what coded ways the world tends to push back. Central to the book is power and permission: Children often need to hear explicitly that something’s allowed. You see this play out in classic psych studies like the gendered play spaces experiment, when young boys refused to even sit in a pink chair because it wasn’t the correct thing to do in their experience. In other words, no one had told them it was okay.

Feminist AF gives broad permissions without making it patronizing. Quite the opposite—the authors give the sense of many doors opening while extending the invitation to explore in your own time.

The book feels trustworthy because it’s at once transparently upfront and clearly invested in treating its reader with respect. It’s also upfront with the generational divide between writers and readers. Cooper, Craft Tanner and Morris are explicitly writing from one generation to another, using the lineage of hip-hop female figureheads as a guide.

There is no presumption of consistent, reliable femininity: One author writes about the transgressive power of her own mother wearing trousers and keeping her own last name in marriage. That’s not the world of the book’s audience, but the authors know that. These girls have a new generation of idols and role models, a new kind of feminist energy.

At the core of this book is the reiterated rallying call: “Your worth is not in question.” The authors give shape to all the coexisting oppressive systems that young girls feel the effects of, but often don’t yet know how to name. Feminist AF gives perspective to gut-feeling challenges, with adult contextualization. And underneath it all, the powerful certainty that even in a world brimming with so many obstacles for girls, and especially girls of color, that girls’ agency and promise have a sacrosanct value.

These aren’t perspectives that lose value as you age. I personally read the book as a grown adult, pursuing my second masters at MIT, and its message is something I needed to hear. It’s difficult to imagine the power of putting this book into the hands of girls starting out on life and beginning to consciously build their worldview. That’s just to say: I’m glad this book is going to be out there. Definitely pick up a copy.  

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Alison Lanier writes about the intersections of gender and media, which is the focus of her current studies at MIT. Her fiction, nonfiction, and poetry appear at BUST, Bitch, Origins, and elsewhere.