Warning: swearing, tap dancing vulvas and strong opinions in this book
Girl Up by Laura Bates is a fascinating read about the necessity of feminism in our world and how the inequality affects everyone – including men! Bates very cleverly doesn’t mention the word ‘Feminism’ until the last chapter of the book, as it has an unnecessary taboo around it which makes women, men and others around the world feel like they can’t be a feminist as there are so many negative stereotypes attached to the word.
I picked up this book in the new bookshop in my town (I’ve spent an extraordinary amount of time and money in it despite it having only been open for about a month.) as its bright pink cover caught my eye. I had heard of Laura Bates through the website that she created called Everyday Sexism where people are invited to share their experiences of everyday sexism. Many of these accounts are things that happen to women all over the world, every day, and are passed off as normal, which is not okay. Girl Up is Bates’ second book, the first – Everyday Sexism – included many of the accounts uploaded onto her website and was highly acclaimed.
Emma Watson did the preface for the book which was one of the (many) reasons that I decided to buy it. The book is ‘well researched’, ‘intelligent’ and most importantly ‘0% patronising’. I thoroughly enjoyed it as it is all the thoughts and arguments that I have been having with the idiots in my computer science class for the last three years, all collected and written in a well thought out book that is ‘mature, eloquent and passionate’.
I agree with everything that Bates says in this book and have recommended it to almost everyone that I have seen since finishing it in one sitting. One of the things that I loved was the use of colour as she has included passages in a teal blue which adds interest when reading.
The book costs £12.99 RRP, but it is well worth it and I would definitely pay more for it if the price was different. The paper quality is good and the pages are quite thick. The book itself is quite heavy, which I really liked and the fonts that she used are good.
I live in a relatively remote area and rarely go outside, so I haven’t heard many sexist “compliments” shouted at me, although one of the older boys in my year tried to chat up my 12-year-old sister, whilst I was there. I don’t get why it is necessary to inform women how nice their legs/bum/breasts look in the dress/top/school uniform that they are wearing. I’m sure they know (if they’ve managed to still have self-confidence after being bombarded with reasons why they aren’t good enough by the media).
The book really proves that ‘young women are superheros’ with all the shit they have to put up with. There are constant judgements on the internet from people who you may or may not know and comments from people who are comfortable sending hate mail when hiding behind their screens but would never say it to your face.
Bates includes many slogans to think about such as:
If it makes you feel good, keep doing it, it if makes you feel bad, stop.
Which applies to almost any situation that you can think of. The book also has a colour-by-numbers vulva and many doodles of dancing vaginas
One of my favourite chapters was called ‘Sluts, Unicorns and other Mythical Creatures’ which addresses the idea of a so-called “slut” and how it really isn’t a real thing, other than an insult used to devalue women. Many people will define a slut as a woman who has a lot of sex, or who has a lot of sexual partners, but this contradicts with women being called sluts for not wanting to have sex with a man, so what is the real definition?
Girl Up also mentions the idea of the “friend-zone” and “virginity” which are talked about so much that people think that they must actually mean things. What is so wrong with being someone’s friend?
The concept of virginity has no physical meaning and is purely an emotional thing. There’s nothing wrong with waiting until you meet the right person, but there’s also nothing wrong with having sex whenever you want (between two consenting adults). People may claim that virginity is the breaking down of the hymen (a thin tissue in the vaginal opening) but this can break down of its own accord, through tampon usage, menstruation, exercise, hormones, and other things. It is not a ‘button-on-the-top-of-the-jam-jar style indicator of whether or not the seal has been tampered with and this item should be returned to Asda’.
Virginity is also a thing that has very sexist connotations, given that it is something that is usually taken by men and lost by women, almost as if it isn’t our own. It also brings up questions like what consists of “losing” your virginity? Oral/anal sex? Masturbation? Tampon use? But it’s talked about all the time, with boys at school boasting about how many girls have lost their virginity to him.
‘It’s my face and I’ll smile if I want to’ brings up the idea of flirting against harassment. ‘It’s my _ and I’ll _ if I want to’ is a good retaliation to many things that people will say to you (except if you’re telling your parent that ‘It’s my room and I’ll tidy it if I want to’ because that’s rude).
The last chapter – ‘The F-Word’ – brings up the taboos around the word feminism and how people will think that they aren’t feminists as they are male (see the HeForShe campaign) or don’t understand that the only way that you are not a feminist is if you don’t believe that men and women and people of any other gender identity are equal.
At the very end of the book, there is an extensive list of helplines, websites and other places that you may need to contact or may want to look at after reading this book.
I think that Girl Up is a well-written book with ideas and arguments that more people should listen to. I would definitely recommend this book, although I think that it is probably aimed more towards young women
PS. The Guardian has done a review that may also be of help if you are looking for a more critical review.