MOXIE is more than just a book, it’s a call to action! We talk all things Riot Grrl, music and our misspent youth with author Jennifer Mathieu.
The Riot Grrl movement was born out of the feminist punk scene of the 1990s. Nearly 20 years later and so much has changed, but even more has stayed the same. There is still a need for female unity. There is still a need for feminist activism. There is still a need for Riot Grrl. Jennifer Mathieu’s new book MOXIE reminds us of all the reasons we need REVOLUTION GIRL STYLE NOW!
YA WEDNESDAY PRESENTS:
An Interview With Jennifer Mathieu
Q: The dedication of this book is badass but it makes me think this story is personal. What inspired Moxie?
A: Writing that dedication was, truly, the most fun I have had writing in years. It was very cathartic. I think I was inspired to write Moxie not only because of my personal interest in Riot Grrrl and feminism (which really started during college) but also because I wanted to write the sort of book my high school self would have wanted to read. My high school was very conservative, stifling, and especially restrictive when it came to gender roles. It was the early 90s in the suburbs and it was hard. The teacher to whom I dedicated the book also bragged about giving his wife a frying pan for her birthday. The vibe was just gross and in my gut I knew it. But I didn’t have Moxie or anything like it, so I decided to write the book I wish I’d had when I was 15.
Q: I grew up in small town not unlike East Rockport High and Vivian’s story felt very real to me. Was your high school experience like what was described in Moxie?
A: Yes, in a lot of ways. I didn’t grow up in a small town, but the sports teams were very important at my school. My school was religious, too, so in many ways it was very conservative. I don’t mean to imply you can’t be religious and progressive or religious and a feminist, but my school was very conservative in its approach to social issues. It put a high premium on conformity. I had several bad experiences there. The teacher to whom I dedicated the book was one of them. I also had my cheerleading coach imply I needed to lose weight. It was really gross.
Q: Music was such a large part of the Riot Grrl movement and Vivian’s story. What songs fueled you while writing Moxie?
A: I remember the first girl punk song that blew my mind was Cherry Bomb by the Runaways. I discovered it in high school because it was on the Dazed and Confused soundtrack, which I played obsessively on cassette – lol! When I got to Northwestern for college, I met up with people who I really connected with, and they introduced me to punk. I listened to a lot of those songs as I was writing Moxie, including a ton of Bikini Kill, of course. I listened to Cool Schmool by Bratmobile repeatedly as well as a lot of Team Dresch songs. I listened to a lot of music by bands that came a bit after the RG movement, including Sleater-Kinney and Cadallaca. I don’t always listen to music when I write, but for this book I definitely did!
Q: In Moxie, Vivian finds a box of paraphernalia from her mother’s high school days called “My Misspent Youth” box. What would be in your My Misspent Youth box?
A: Great question! It’s funny because after the book went to print I wondered if I should have called that box something else because I don’t think Vivian’s mom thought her youth was misspent – she was mostly being tongue in cheek about it! Her youth was important and revelatory for her as was mine. I’m 40 years old, and I think I would include my ticket stubs from all the shows I went to – Fugazi, Sleater-Kinney, The Queers, etc. as well as some of the books that made a real impact on me, including Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion and the Sisterhood is Powerful anthology, edited by Robin Morgan. I’d include some of my journals and the letters and postcards my friends and I wrote to each other – we were part of the last generation to write to one another instead of just email or text. I would also include Zine, the Pagan’s Head zine anthology by Pagan Kennedy, which introduced me to zine culture and what zines are all about.
Q: Vivian was inspired by the Riot Grrl movement from the 1990s. What historical movement or individuals inspired you both in high school and now?
A: For me personally, looking at feminism’s second wave, I am deeply inspired by Gloria Steinem and Audre Lorde. I had the opportunity to hear Gloria speak when I was in college and it was an amazing experience. Audre Lorde’s “Sister Outsider” collection is as relevant today as ever, especially in regard to feminism needing to be inclusive and not just a movement full of middle class white women. As far as RG, I was and still am inspired by Kathleen Hanna, the lead singer of Bikini Kill and later Le Tigre and The Julie Ruin. I know in her early years she shunned off the “leader” title, but she is so charismatic, inspiring, and hilarious it’s no surprise that word kept getting thrown at her. I have also been so impressed by Beth Ditto, who led the band Gossip and is now a solo artist. I recently read her autobiography From Coal to Diamonds and was so touched by her insight and honesty. She was really influenced by the Riot Grrrl movement as well. And finally, Roxane Gay is one of the most important feminist voices out there right now. She should be required reading in schools, and that’s why I name dropped her in Moxie! LOL!
Q: In Moxie, some students are less than enthusiastic with the idea of a feminist agenda at their school. What would you say to anyone who thinks “feminist” is a dirty word?
A: I would be really gentle with them because arguing back isn’t going to help change their minds. I would ask them why the think this way. For a lot of people I think it’s the media’s influence or just stuff heard at home. Feminists are man haters or can’t wear makeup – just dumb stereotypes that get circulated online and elsewhere. I would ask them if they think women and men should be paid the same. I would ask them if men should be able to cry in public and not get shamed for it. I would ask them if childcare and housework should be valued no matter who does it. Feminism isn’t scary if you think about it like that – it’s really about liberation for everyone from stifling and repressive stereotypes. As the great bell hooks said, feminism is for everybody. It’s about love, inclusivity, and living authentically. I think approaching the conversation that way might help.
Q: After finishing Moxie I was ready to take over the world! What would you suggest for girls who want to continue the Moxie movement after they finish this kick-ass book?
A: I’m so glad you felt this way! I didn’t want Moxie to be the ending point but rather the starting point, so with the help of my former student, Lexi Acevedo, I created the Moxie Tumblr which can be found at moxiegirlsfightback.com. There you can find resources, a playlist, and tips on starting your own Moxie Club at your school! You can also Ask a Moxie Girl a question or submit original art and writing to be shared on the Tumblr. It’s my hope that the Moxie movement really becomes a community. The book is already out in the UK and I recently heard from two young women over there who are working on their own zines and starting a Moxie Club! i wanted to scream with excitement! Actually, I did!
Q: So, the rights to Moxie have been acquired by Amy Poehler’s production company (yay!). What songs would be on your dream Moxie soundtrack?
A: Yes, right now the screenplay is being developed and we’ll see what happens from there! As for my dream soundtrack, I would recommend every song on the Moxie playlist, which you can find on the Tumblr. For sure Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl” and “Feels Blind” would go on there, but I would also want to include some contemporary lady punk, including a song called “Mujer Moderna” by this kick ass San Antonio band called Fea as well as “Dream Number Nine” by a UK band called Big Joanie.
Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu: The Review
From the book flap:
MOXIE GIRLS FIGHT BACK!
Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with a school administration at her small-town Texas high school that thinks the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes, hallway harassment, and gross comments from guys during class. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.
Viv’s mom was a tough-as-nails, punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ’90s, and now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond. As Viv forges friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, she realizes that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution.
Moxie is a book about high school life that will make you wanna riot!
Overall: There are times when the problems of the world seem too big to handle. Climate change, racism, politics…Problems- so, so BIG. Me- SO, SO small! To stop myself from sliding into depression and retreating to my bedroom with a quart of gelato, I remind myself that no problem, no matter the size, gets solved with inaction and even a small act creates momentum, the opposite of inertia. MOXIE is that reminder. Moxie proves that small acts can lead to BIG change. Alright ladies-go read this book, then go change the world!
Judge a Book by its Cover: Black, white, pink and pissed! The Moxie cover fits the book’s vibe perfectly.
Me Talk Pretty: Jennifer pretty much channeled me at 17 while writing Vivian. This quote especially sums up my high school experience.
Audiobook Narration: Audiophiles, you’re in luck. Moxie will be available as an audiobook on September 19th and the reader is audiobook veteran Suzy Johnson.
Kick-Ass Factor: The Kick-Ass factor for Moxie is high! Don’t get me wrong, this is not a book about a girl who suddenly finds out she’s got secret martial arts skills and starts challenging bullies in hand to hand combat. No, Moxie kicks ass in a way that is real, believable and accessible to anyone. Vivian just gets fed up with the misogynist status quo at school and she decides to do something about it. It’s not something that would be considered overly grand or reckless to everyone, but for meek Vivian, it’s huge. And from her one act of defiance, the Moxie movement is born.
Body Count: While this is not a book with a literal body count, there are definitely casualties.
The Chosen One: The plot of Moxie could have slipped into the cliché if not for the skillful writing of Jennifer Mathieu. Moxie is Vivian’s story, but this is not one girl against the world. There are other girls in this book who are fighting their own battles in their own ways. Moxies girls fight back, but there are consequences.
Just. Why. One thing I couldn’t understand was Vivian’s love for frozen dinners. Please Vivian, stop with the Stouffer’s!
He Said/She Said: Moxie is told from the perspective of Vivian, a girl who does a lot to go unnoticed. She’s smart, but afraid to speak out in class. She clever, but doesn’t want to draw attention to herself. She’s got ideas, good ones, but she’s too scared to voice them. Vivian’s inner dialogue proves this girl has a voice, she just needs to learn to use it.
Bizarre Love Triangle: Jennifer introduces the sort of love triangle that is way more common in real life than the usual YA trope: The Platonic Love Triangle. It’s easy to feel pulled in two different directions when a new friend threatens to shake-up the friend equilibrium between you and your old school bestie. Especially when the new friend is a badass girl from the big city with all kinds of subversive ideas. Is there room in Viv’s life for old friends and new ideas?
Don’t Believe the Hype: When Amy Poehler endorses your book and wants to turn it into a movie, the bar is set pretty damn high. And for me personally as a self proclaimed Riot Grrl, this particular bar was 20 feet above eye level. But Moxie is worth all the praise it’s receiving. ALL. OF. IT.
Open tab/Last call: Jennifer Mathieu proves that Moxie Girls can be both gentle and tough. This is why the perfect Moxie drink is Fortified Lemon- sweet and sour with a hidden kick! We’ll keep the punch bowl full for you, Jennifer!
Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu, Roaring Brook Press, 336 Pages, September 19, 2017