Girl Up by Laura Bates

As a feminist, I’ve never felt the need to read feminist theory. I didn’t think that I needed persuading to be a feminist. Now I realise reading this sort of writing isn’t just about being persuaded, it’s about awareness and arming yourself with facts.  Girl Up has taught me things that I needed to know right now, and certainly needed to know when I was a teenager.

I never read Everyday Sexism, Laura Bates’ first book, but I took great interest in The Everyday Sexism Project , both online (http://everydaysexism.com/) and on twitter (@Everydaysexism). I listened to Laura’s Tedx talk (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhjsRjC6B8U). Laura is a great role model and really inspirational. I only realised that she was coming out with another book, Girl Up, when I saw a talk and book signing advertised at my local Waterstones.

I really enjoyed watching Laura speak. She’s not presidential or authoritative in tone the way a teacher might be; she’s just natural. You could see that she was a little nervous as she took to the stage, but that was charming. It is her relatability that makes her such a great ambassador for the Everyday Sexism project. Laura isn’t preachy at all, all she does is, without being patronising, guide the listener or reader to remember that life, and feminism, is really all about choice. As long as the choice is something that you want and are comfortable with, then it’s ok. That sounds simple, and I always thought that I knew it too, but Girl Up really enlightened me to the times where actually, a choice maybe wasn’t mine but was foisted on me by media or society’s idea of the ideal woman.

The other great thing about Laura is the passionate way in which she speaks and writes. There was a point in the talk, and many points in the book, where Laura reels off a long list of statistics to illustrate why gender inequality is still very much present in the UK. Statistics, long lists of them, are often dull. Not in this case. Laura speaks with such passion, and writes with such frank honesty, that you can feel the tension building as you read the reel of stats…

“The way that ‘he’ is the automatic default for a person. That fact that insults, from cunt to motherfucker to bastard to pussy, are all, at their root, derogatory towards women. The fact that only seven FTSE 100 companies have female bosses. That women only write one fifth of front page newspaper articles. That they’re 50 per cent of chemistry undergraduates but only 6 per cent of professors. That 400,000 women are sexually assaulted in England and Wales every year, and 85,000 raped.”

…until you just want throw the book down, run to the nearest rooftop and scream at the top of your voice at the unfairness of it all. This is exactly the reaction that feminist writing should elicit. We all need this wake up call.

Girl Up is probably aimed at the younger market, and the writing often directly addresses teenagers. Please don’t let that put you off. I learnt so much. Laura covers off a variety of topics, from social media and body image, to consent and sexual health, and how to own the word feminism.

I really hope teenage girls can get their hands on this book. I think it would be a great manual to dip in and out of and remind anyone suffering from sexism, or perhaps feeling attacked for speaking out about it, that they are not alone. That’s exactly what listening to Laura speak at my local Waterstones (coincidentally one of my ‘happy’ places) did; it made me realise that I’m not alone.

My worry is that teenagers won’t be able to access this book. The book is fierce and direct and I can see that high schools in the UK might ban it from their libraries. For one, they may consider that some of the topics are too mature for teens or that the dancing vagina cartoons are inappropriate. (Yes, dancing vaginas! The idea behind it is that there is penis graffiti everywhere; on walls, school desks, public toilets! So let’s raise awareness of what a vagina looks like and balance this out a bit!) But this is a book to give to your children, whatever their gender identity.  These are ideas and thoughts to be discussed, explored and broadcasted. There is actually nothing particularly revolutionary in this book, this isn’t a new type of theory. It’s feminism for beginners and it’s a great place to start.

The only travel guide I use

A bit of an alternative book review post, here. I’m off to Amsterdam with my partner soon for a few gorgeous spring days in May (top tip – most cities in Europe are at their nicest in May). We’ve been planning an itinerary for our trip with our Top 10 Amsterdam, DK EyeWitness Travel guidebook, and I realised that I haven’t been on a trip since 2007 without buying one of these!

Now, some people might be aghast at the idea of putting together a detailed travel itinerary, preferring instead to meander the cobbled streets of Europe getting lost and whiling away time in cafes and old bookshops. Now all that is lovely, and I wish I was a little more relaxed like that too, but I bear my badge as a holiday dictator with pride.  I can’t imagine going abroad, setting foot in a brand new city and not having a clue where all the things I want to see are. And often with city breaks, your time is so limited. I’ve been known to drag my friends out of bed at 7am in the heat of  mid-summer to get a head start in Barcelona, only to find everything shut and the streets deserted for another few hours.

Anyway, onto the Top 10 Guides. The layout of the guide is always the same. First, the guide lists the top ten sights in the city, with a double page spread for each attraction, with plenty of photographs. I’ve occasionally browsed other guidebooks but so many have no pictures and just long lists of hotels and restaurants. Really not that useful!

The guide then breaks the city down into quarters or districts, with the low down on the best bars, cafes, restaurants and attractions in each quarter. There’s also a street-smart section on safety tips and local customs, as well as my absolute favourite which are these detachable fold out maps. The maps are easy to read and highlight all the attractions and are cross referenced throughout the guide, too.

The other great thing about these guides is that they’re peppered with facts about the history and culture of the city. That way, you’re not just looking at a pretty building, you’re looking at a pretty building and understanding why it looks the way it does or what part it played in history. In addition to these guides, I always make sure to start any trip with a three or four hour walking tour on the first morning (ok, ok, even I’m starting to think I’m weird). The walk will get you your bearings and you know what parts of the city you really want to explore properly and which parts you can live without. The tour guides always have a few snippets of great local knowledge too, like which bars are the most authentic, or which restaurants the locals actually go to. The best walking tour I ever took was in Berlin, during a snow storm in December. The tour was 4 hours, and I was wearing suede wedge heeled boots! But our guide had so much knowledge and passion, I learnt so much more about Berlin than I ever could have if I’d just  meandered around alone.

Anyway, I don’t want to preach! Holiday however you like, but if, like me, you’re a bit of a planner, these guides are fab, cheap and won’t take up much luggage space!