This is the book I wish I’d had when I was 16. And if you’re a late teen who identifies as a girl to any degree, or an adult who is around one, then please do enter the competition to win my copy – you just need to comment on this blog post. Although I’m very much not a girl in her teens, I learned a lot about the battles people are facing and the wonderful positive stuff that’s going on, too, and I think this book is massively important. Thank you to my friend Barbara for telling me about it in the first place.
So, do read the review, and if you’d like to win a copy, put a comment in the comments. This is open to all but if you’re outside the UK I will send it by surface mail. I’ll do a random draw on 3 April and post who won then. Good luck!
Laura Bate – “Girl Up”
A book for those who identify in any way as teenage girls, and something every older female-identifying person will wish they’d had as a teen. It would certainly have stopped some assumptions I had and saved me from some risky situations and upsetting feelings, at very least. It gives a name to stuff that happens and tells you how to push back against stuff happening, and how to work on society to make sure the stuff has less chance of happening – whether that stuff is institutional sexism, rape culture, dress codes in schools …
It’s funny, frank, open, pretty rude (as my friend Barbara said, there are some pages where you wouldn’t want the book to be reflected in the Tube window behind you while you were reading it!) and incredibly inclusive. On this last point, it goes to great pains to explain what it means by terms it uses (women, people with a womb, genderqueer, etc.) and makes sure it walks the walk throughout the book, never making assumptions on gender, sexuality or orientation. It’s a guide to coping with the pressures of teenage life now, some of which are the same old, same old (bullying, the pressure to have sex before you want to, date rape, although I’m not sure when that term came in) and some of which are new (social media stuff, the pressure to send someone naked photos, a hell of a lot easier these days than when you’d have to have them developed at Boots).
It’s brilliant on how to fight back, whether that’s listing come-backs you can use when cat-called in the street, sharing the stories of women who’ve fought the system or teaching us exactly how to set up a campaign with all the myriad channels you can use to turn those weapons against the abusers. There’s a great chapter on feminism and how to set up a feminist society (including whether / how to include men) and the book is imbued with a powerful and practical feminism and call to arms.
There are chapters on sexual behaviours and relationships and a hilarious but sadly apparently necessary chapter on the difference between porn and real-life sex (this is a massive issue for younger people, which I hadn’t quite taken on board, with assumptions on both sides). There are some great analogies – who would have compared virginity to one of those “reject if the button depresses” supermarket lids?
It’s funny but it’s not trite or too funny, more like an older sister or aunty sharing information she’s gleaned through her own struggles – and triumphs. It’s pretty text-heavy, which might be slightly off-putting (I hope not) but the text is broken up with fabulous illustrations, call-out quotes and full-page quotes (or, memorably, a page of responses to photograph and use if someone sends you a photo of his bits and bobs). It’s also positive and celebrates cooperation rather than competition – for example, in the section on careers, it mentions that once you’ve got somewhere, you should use your platform to help other young women further themselves, and has this to say about friendship standing against bullying for being different:
Good friends are the ones who hold their hand around your flame when other people are trying to blow it out. (p. 82)
Continuing the positivity, after quite a lot of text telling us about how magazines remove choices by pretending to give us them (for example, giving a range of lipsticks to try but not mentioning the option not to wear it; telling you how to dress for your shape but ignoring the fact you might just want to wear whatever you fancy) there’s a list of great new magazines and online resources that are much more sensible (but still look fun).
It’s a personal book, with the author sharing her own experience and that of her contemporaries – right down to sharing a photo-shopped image of herself with the original. She uses material from her Everyday Sexism project to good effect and she is a good enough writer that the book will appeal to a lot of people while still having a personality.
I’ll just share my two last favourite quotes. This one is in a photograph and written ON a banana skin:
Be the banana skin on the patriarchy’s complacent stroll. (p.89)
and this one’s in the section on consent:
Consent is really too low a bar: hold out for enthusiasm. (p. 230)
So, wish this book had been there for me; comment below if you’d like it to be there for you or someone you’re close to.