I’d like to crack a joke like, “I love this title because it’s basically my life” except that would be a lie, because I’m actually killing it at adulting this year … not that I want to be. Sometimes just have to. Still, Bad at Adulting, Good at Feminism really does have an excellent title. Prudence Geerts has produced a cornucopia of tiny comics that illustrate, reflect upon, and poke fun at her own experiences, the way she sees the world, and the way the world might see her. As the title implies, she is, of course, discussing that millennial experience of growing up as the web came of age, of transitioning into adulthood in the age of social media, and, in her case, of being a woman all at the same time. There is a lot in here that I think would resonate with many readers, particularly people in that millennial bracket—but these experiences are by no means unique to that generation.
Geerts’ cartoon style is interesting. Her comics usually feature a version of herself, with occasional guest characters (mostly her cat). They present a story in a minimum of words and an economy of visuals. The most predominant comic form is that of a side-by-side of two situations, either two of Geerts, or Geerts and someone else (often a hyper-idealized stereotypical woman), to depict the “expectation” versus the “reality” of a situation. These ones in particular are always clever, and even when they don’t apply to me, I can still sympathize with and understand the point Geerts makes with each one.
Small content note/trigger warning for aromisic language: the section titled “Love Letters” begins with the phrase, “We all fall in love at least once in our lives…”, and the section is quite obviously about the ups and downs of romantic love. These kinds of blanket statements are dehumanizing for aromantic people; not everyone falls “in love” in the sense almost always meant by that phrase. One could simply change it to, “Many of us fall in love at least once in our lives…” and suddenly it isn’t a universal that excludes/erases aro people.
There may be other problematic aspects to these comics, but most of them are about experiences quite different from my own, so it isn’t really my lane to comment on that. I have some thoughts about the “feminism” portion of the adulting/feminist content … suffice it to say, I just think that I’m in a somewhat different place right now in terms of the type of feminist reading I’m looking for. But I really don’t want to invalidate the work that Geerts has put into these comics, because they do embody feminist ideas and messages, and for some people they might land.
Also, this is not the type of book I really enjoy reading. Novels are, of course, my primary jam. When I read comics, I tend to gravitate towards graphic novels. Collections of comics don’t do as well with me. If I had read some of Geerts’ comics individually somewhere, I would definitely be entertained, just as I am with xkcd, or The Oatmeal, etc., even though I’m not a huge fan of collection books in general. My friend Rebecca, who lent me this book, absolutely loved it. And I can see why she did! There are delightful things about it. She also pointed out to me that it wasn’t really meant to be read cover-from-cover, as I did, but rather dipped into and sipped at, and that’s a valid point.
And this raises an interesting philosophical issue of literary criticism. When a reader doesn’t consume a book in the way it was intended to be consumed, is that on them? If I attend an arthouse drama and then complain there weren’t enough explosions, aren’t I being a dick for not tempering my expectations to the form? So can I really even properly rate a book if I think I haven’t experienced it in a way that does it justice? Aren’t I being a grumpy curmudgeon?
I mean, you can see that I’ve obviously rated this book. But this is all just a long-winded disclaimer to remind you I’m just here to record my thoughts, and this review is probably not the one you want to be reading if you’re trying to decide whether or not to read this book. Unless you are me, in which case … you’ve already read this book, Ben. Get with the program.
Anyway, I liked many of these comics individually. I like the idea behind the collection, even if the execution isn’t everything I wanted. I definitely think that a lot of people could pick up this collection and enjoy it—for me, personally, Bad at Adulting, Good at Feminism has its moments but overall didn’t leave me wanting more.