How do you explain feminism to a child? As an academic trained in critical theory, this is the question that I assumed would be at the core of Mirion Malle’s The League of Super Feminists, translated from French by Aleshia Jensen. However, the book does such a great job of making obvious the simple logic of what feminism is that one thing becomes clear early on: Super Feminists is not about teaching a theoretical framework. Its aim is to give children the tools they need to understand the society in which they live – to understand why the world can be so unfair toward girls, and how girls and allies can push back against society’s restrictive gendered social messaging.
Super Feminists teaches young readers how to take a critical look at those aspects of life they’re taught to see as “normal” – media representation, ideals of beauty and romance, etc. The book argues that those things are not normal at all, but instead carefully constructed and continually perpetuated by a society often unwilling to let girls know that they can actually be anything they want to be.
Super Feminists does not use traditional comic-book panels. It displays a few sentences, sometimes short paragraphs, of explanatory information punctuated by illustrated hypothetical examples, dialogue, and simple games to help children understand the material. It anticipates arguments and counters them, and sometimes sets aside entire pages of wordless artwork to do its arguing for it. Malle’s decision not to rely on traditional panels allows the book to use other creative ways to organize the information. Assuming that readers will read left to right, the book employs arrows, number sequences, and strategically placed borders to guide the readers’ eyes. It provides some structure while giving readers a little room to explore each page on their own.
The work of gender theorists, including Judith Butler and Gayle Rubin, underpins Malle’s simple and honest delivery. Butler in particular is responsible for pioneering work on gender performativity: the concept that people learn at a young age what it means to be a boy and a girl by being encouraged to behave, speak, think, and desire in a certain way. Malle distills complicated feminist theory into easy-to-understand explanations without ever talking down to readers. Because of the respectful tone, this book can just as easily be given to adults. The artwork, which at times can feel a little too rudimentary, allows the reader to concentrate on the lessons while adding a splash of colour with helpful visual aids.
I most appreciated Malle’s highlighting of intersectionality. Early feminist movements made the mistake of focusing solely on heteronormative white women, leading to the continued oppression of women of other marginalized groups. Super Feminists shows how intricately connected gender ideals are to ideas of sexuality, class, and race, turning this book into the inclusive read it needs to be in order to truly be a transformative work.