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.

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