Moxie's #MeToo Misfire
A review of "Moxie" by Jennifer Mathieu
Roaring Brook Press, 336 pages, 2017
In Jennifer Mathieu’s popular young adult fiction (YA) novel Moxie, 11th grader Vivian Carter is inspired to start a feminist zine that sparks a revolution at her high school. While the idea takes shape after she rediscovers a box of her mother’s Riot Grrrl memorabilia, her rage—and motivation—comes from the way things are at East Rockport High. To say that misogyny and bullying run rampant would be an understatement. At East Rockport, sexual harassment is an institution.
Here’s another understatement: Moxie was well-received. It has a rating just shy of 4.3 on Goodreads, based on over 25,000 votes. Its ratings on Amazon and Barnes and Noble are higher. It earned starred reviews from both Booklist and School Library Journal. There’s also the not-insignificant matter of it being made into a Netflix original film directed by Amy Poehler. And while that film caught some flak, it remains evident that people feel strongly about the book. As the top review on Amazon put it, “This makes me want to smash the patriarchy in the d&*k.”
But as someone who reads a great deal of YA with her 14-year-old, I was surprised by the broad warm welcome Moxie received.
While I couldn’t agree more that now is the time for young people to learn, care about, and recognize examples of sexual harassment, the book makes what I consider to be a grave mistake in how it exaggerates the school’s abusive climate.
Taking a page from the TV series 13 Reasons Why, Mathieu describes a school in which almost all male students and most of the staff behave like mustache-twirling villains.
Mathieu depicts the school’s boys acting like they’ve invented sexist use of the phrase “Make me a sandwich” (which they say openly to female students during class), wearing offensive t-shirts (a football player wears one that reads, “GREAT LEGS—WHEN DO THEY OPEN?” at a pep rally, in front of the coach, the principal, and presumably numerous other authority figures), and participating in the “bump ’n’ grab” game (bump a girl in the hallway, grope her when she stumbles—sometimes with a side of bra-snapping—and then disappear into the crowd).
On the administration’s part, random dress code checks are conducted in which the offending girl (it’s always a girl) is called out in front of the whole class. These don’t focus on boys wearing shirts indicating that they offer free breathalyzer tests (“BLOW HERE”); only girls of a certain build flashing too much shoulder. In fact, the administration seems to exist primarily to protect the football players, if not all boys, from