Book Review: Laura Bates' Girl Up

4:54 pm

Girl Up by Laura Bates

So, well all agree that 'man up' is basically the worst phrase ever, right? Good. Now we can begin.

Laura Bates wants us to Girl Up. She's here to tell us that we don't need to be thin to be beautiful (or even need to be beautiful at all), we can wear what we want on a night out, we don't have to 'flatter' our shape when we pick out clothes, we don't need to be quiet and hide our opinions, we should rock the boat and do things that 'aren't for girls'. In her second book Girl Up, Bates tells us to ignore the stereotypes and stop apologising for every little thing we do. She also gives us some colour-by-number genitalia.

Published by Simon & Schuster UK in April, this luminous orange book was already on my radar when I spotted it in Waterstones on the day of my masters graduation. I was killing some time before meeting my friends for drinks and I had book vouchers burning a hole in my coat pocket. They were all spent five minutes after crossing the threshold, I kid you not. Unfortunately I would discover on the way home that a rogue beer spillage earlier in the evening had invaded every single one of the books I bought, so they've all now got fuzzy corners. My copy of Letters to my Fanny was almost unreadable.

Girl Up is a book I desperately wish I had as a teenager. The lessons within its pages were things I learned far too late in my life, with a handful I only learned from reading it. It covers topics including slut-shaming, anatomy, mental health, porn, shame, and feminism. Most importantly for me it also covered the new issue of sex and social media, something I was fortunate enough not to have to grapple with during my teen years, but is incredibly prevalent today for young girls. A quick aside: in a recent Note to Self podcast, presenter Manoush Zomorodi interviewed Peggy Orenstein on her new book Girls and Sex which deals with this topic. It's such an interesting listen even for an adult, so I would really recommend it.

The book is rife (rife seems like a negative word, but I mean it in a good way) with diagrams and photographs that illustrate the book's points. There are full-page spreads with snappy, colourful phrases in attractive typography, making the book at times become akin to a blog or Tumblr-page. I found this made the book even more engaging, rather than less so. The endpapers have dancing vulvas wearing top hats. It's charming.

The content itself is non-condescending and I found it just as readable to an adult as it would be to a teenager. There is no pandering with cringey phrases or outdated internet references. It's simple and straightforward, always with a sense of humour that doesn't compromise the message. Too-often books aimed at young people try to be 'hip' and on-trend, but Bates manages to put across a modern message in a timeless manner. She knows that many teenage girls these days are already switched-on to the subjects she covers (just look at Jazz Jennings, Amandla Stenberg, and Marley Dias), but doesn't treat the ones who aren't like they're stupid either. Not everyone was brought up on read Betty Friedan. 

This is Laura's second book, after 2014's tremendously popular Everyday Sexism, named after the blog that inspired it. If you want to know more about this project, I recently watched a MAKERS interview with her that sums it up nicely. She peppers Girl Up with her own experiences with sexism, particularly in the film industry, but also in her everyday life. There are also mini-interviews conducted throughout with various women about their experiences as teenage girls, including Josie Long, Anita Anand, and Paris Lees.

As a final point, Bates also shows an awareness of LGBT+ issues and successfully weaves a dialogue that doesn't assume everyone reading is straight, has periods, has a vagina, or identifies as female. She speaks using phrases such as 'people with vaginas', 'people who are attracted to men' and 'self-defining women', explaining her reasons before the book even starts. I don't think any book published in 2016 on feminism and women's issues should bypass an explanation like this, and it'll be nice when we get to a point where these things don't need to be explained any more.

I would genuinely recommend Girl Up to anyone of any age looking to learn something about growing up and treating one another with respect, but aren't averse to swearing and internal diagrams of a clitoris!

Come for the humour, stay for the vulvas.
M x


Current Library Borrowings #3

11:02 am

Current library books: On Beauty (Umberto Eco), Outliers (Malcolm Gladwell), There But For The (Ali Smith), High-Rise (JG Ballard), Womansize (Kim Chernin), The Good Women of China (Xinran), and Once Upon a Time (Marina Warner)

It's a Sunday and I'm sitting in bed, fully dressed, cracking out some words for once. I look about fourteen again dressed in all black, except this time I have a Star Wars sweater and jeans that don't bag at the knees. I'm struggling a bit to blog at the moment. I have very few ideas and even less motivation to write, so this is an attempt to break through that wall with something simple.

I'll never tire of working in a library if it means constantly having fascinating books at my disposal. I've really been on a non-fiction kick recently so this collection is naturally non-fiction heavy. Here are some of the things I've picked up from work over the past few weeks:

Once Upon a Time by Marina Warner - A small non-fiction volume on the history of various fairy stories. This investigates their origins and the reuse of their themes over time. I'm really enjoying fairy tales and fantasy at the moment (I just finished reading The Princess Bride and am now halfway through Bitter Greens which is glorious) so this seems like some supplementary reading that needs to be done.

The Good Women of China by Xinran - Deng Xiaoping was a radio-station employee who found herself with the opportunity to host a call-in. What resulted was an oral history from women all over China, telling stories about their lives and breaking through the myths that surround their place in society.

Womansize by Kim Chernin - Any time I see something published by The Women's Press I feel a desperate urge to pick it up. I'm not sure if this is because so many of my dissertation books were distributed by them, or not. This book is a challenge on society's love for thin women and what sociopolitical ideologies this brings about.

High-Rise by JG Ballard - A break for fiction. Triggered by the release of Ben Wheatley's adaptation of this book, I picked up a copy deciding it was probably time now to read some Ballard. The 'High-Rise' is a segregated apartment block where citizens live on floor depending on their social standing. From what I can understand, this book shows the breakdown of this system and the inherent violence that resides within society when separated. 

There but For The by Ali Smith - Further fiction! I've enjoyed everything I've read by Ali Smith so I've snaffled away all of her books I could find in the library. This is but one of them. At a dinner party one of the guests locks them self in a room upstairs, and that's as much as I know. Knowing Smith, this will be a weird and convoluted journey.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell - And we're back to non-fiction. I feel like I've been recommended every single Gladwell book in my lifetime, so here is me picking up my first one. I'm not sure what to expect, or even if I'll like it, but this is about why some people succeed and what makes them special. It will probably make me feel very underachieving. 

On Beauty by Umberto Eco - Honestly, I've already taken this back to the library because I found it so dull. I looked at half of the pictures and got caught up in the philosophy. This book did not have to be this big.

M x


Terry Pratchett: a Memorial, Barbican Theatre

4:12 pm

Terry Pratchett Memorial gift bag - Ankh Water, Dried Frog Pills, story collection, postcards, purple ribbon pin, and black canvas bag

Thursday 14th April 2016. The Barbican Theatre, London. Book lovers from around the country gathered for Terry Pratchett's Memorial, a night dedicated to the grumpy/cheeky, old/young, wise/funny man who brought to life Discworld, among other works of fiction. The upside of going to a Pratchett event is that when you inevitably get lost on the way there, you will see someone in costume and know you're on the right course. There were top hats and waistcoats, along with many personal versions of Pratchett's own hat which did become his signature and continues as his symbol in the eyes of many. 

Tickets for the event were free and winners were chosen at random. Demand was reportedly five times higher than the number of seats available, so I was bewildered when I received an email a month before the event stating that I had been selected. Although I would call myself a fan of Pratchett's work, I am far from the people who have read every Discworld novel, know all of the lore, dress up as the characters, and recognise the personal guests as they speak on stage. I initially felt bad for getting a ticket as I knew there were people out there who probably deserved to go more than I did, but I appreciated his work (Good Omens is probably my favourite book) including his documentaries and thought he was a jolly good human being. My bad feelings made way to excitement.

It was a strange experience making my way to this event as it dawned on me I had no idea what to expect. There were no details released to the public or ticket-holders saying who was going to be there or what we were going to see. For a completely free event, what did it have in store? Well I can tell you now:

  • Pratchett's assistant Rob Wilkins presented the evening, and what a glorious job he did. There is nobody who could have done the job better. He was funny, charming, moving, and completely entrenched in the world of Terry.
  • Terry's daughter Rhianna reading her obituary she wrote for him in The Observer.
  • Tony Robinson reading Pratchett's Dimbleby lecture on his experiences with Alzheimer's and choosing to die.
  • Neil Gaiman (sob) reading his introduction to Pratchett's collection Slip of the Keyboard.
  • Dr Patrick Harkin and sculptor Bernard Pearson musing about Pratchett and his many, many idiosyncrasies.
  • Performances of Pratchett-inspired songs by the band Steeleye Span.
  • Various publishers and agents of his from over time regaling us with yet more idiosyncrasies. It was a lot of fun and I'm sure they all enjoyed sharing their favourite memories of Terry.
  • Gaiman being bequeathed with the hat and the entire audience audibly gasping. And crying. And cheering. Actual shivers.
  • Snippets of Pratchett's documentaries played on the big screen, commentated by Rob who was present in all of them.
  • An overview of future Pratchett projects. They won't be releasing any of his unfinished books (completely respectful and understood), but there are many, many exciting things on the way. 
    • Discworld encyclopedias, for the Pratchett nerds (who isn't one?)
    • A Good Omens TV-series written by Neil Gaiman as requested by Terry himself (screaming).
    • A documentary on his life.
    • A film of The Wee Free Men written by his daughter Rhianna (she is a boss).
    • A film of Mort (finally).
    • A biography written by Wilkins, again, the only person for the job.
    • A TV-series of  'The Watch' from Discworld.
After this barrage of exciting news, as the evening was coming to a close, a video flashed on the screen from none other than Eric Idle. His kind words about Pratchett brought a smile to my face, and as he pulled out his guitar we all knew what was coming. The room sang together 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life', and the night was over with happy feelings and sad feelings and all of the feelings.

M x