Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu depicts the story of Vivian who seeks to amend the sexism in her high school through self-made magazines, called Moxie, reminiscent of the Rebel Grrrls. In her zines, she encourages girls to rebel against injustices, such as the dress code, by wearing bathrobes to class and so on. With the help of Vivian’s friends and boyfriend, Moxie manages to change the climate of East Rockport high school to a friendlier one for women. While this book discusses the struggles that this group of teenagers endured to promote feminism locally, it falls short of an effective narrative on account of the extremities it illustrates as fact and the contradictions it encounters.
The characters and the plot exemplify negative stereotypes as a result of the Texas setting and chauvinistic male figures. The first line Mitchell Wilson, the lead jock antagonist, says in the novel is “make me a sandwich”, arguably the most cliché sexist comment a man can make (2). In addition to this cliché, Mitchell is also characterized as a football player who rules the school and objectifies women. Throughout the novel, not a single positive characteristic of Mitchell is revealed, and all of his dialogue is aggressive and accusatory. The extreme portrayal of Mitchell as an absolute force of evil discounts the intricacies of a true feminist movement where the lines of sexism aren’t so black and white for everyone. By having Mitchell be a walking stereotype, his character becomes less believable as a real person, and an obvious tool for an overdramatic portrayal of adolescent feminism. As a result of this, it’s difficult to root for Vivian as a protagonist when her environment is stereotypical to the point of absurdity.
A contradiction is also present between what the characters identify as problematic and how they go about correcting it. Upon noticing the extravagance of the football mascots fighting each other, Lucy comments “’last I checked, the Bunsen burner in the chem lab runs on coal or something’” (136). Here she brings up an interesting argument about the neglect of educational costs in favor of sports, a realistic argument in Texas, but then disregard this complaint through their bake sale. The proceeds they raise will go towards the girls’ soccer team who “’get, like, zero attention’”, the same amount of attention that the outdated educational equipment is getting (162). The lack of funding for education spurred the idea of a bake sale, however the girls decided to help sports as well, their justification was that the soccer team was all female. The injustice of school funds going to sports becomes moot as the girls also help fundraise for sports.
The novel also brings racial discrimination into conversation through an acknowledgement of minor characters of color. Vivian remembers the time “when the black kids and the white kids and the kids who mostly speak Spanish to each other started sitting at separate tables”, but proceeds to change to subject and move on to discussing her crush, Seth (67). Moxie bravely attempts to add a racial discourse to its feministic plot, however it fails to take the conversation anywhere of consequence. Mathieu continuously brings up East Rockport High’s racial bias, but only as a reminder that it is present. Vivian defines feminism as equality for all, but her disregard for intersectionality deems some individuals more equal than others (83).
Overall, Moxie attempted to do many things; it was written to be a revolutionary feminist novel for young adults with a side commentary on racial discrimination. Its strength definitely lies within its adherence to the Young Adult genre as well as the historicity of the Riot Grrrls, unfortunately, the topics of the book were handled very head on, and the stereotypes with which it operated made it near absurdist. Because of these obvious clichés, the situations are unrealistic and overdramatized. Aspiring young adult feminists would most likely find this book at least entertaining, and perhaps find a way to relate to Vivian. The love plot of the novel allows it to blend in well with the young adult genre without taking too many risks. However, Moxie was too dramatic to feel like an accurate depiction of sexism.
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