I belong to a bookclub…an in-person, meet once per month and have a glass of wine, whilst talking about a curated book that someone other than myself chose and forced everyone else to read, book club.
In the sense that talking about books whilst drinking wine and consuming vast quantities of delicious eat-ables is NICE.
The books though.
They tend to fall into that slim-line genre I have ranted about in the past: full of lofty ideals, very little snogging and very much self-importance.
Yes, I am looking at you literary fiction.
I tend not to review them here @ BlueCastle…simply because it is such a difficult enough slog trying to finish them in the first place, I really don’t want to spend anymore time on them than necessary.
They aren’t BAD books, they are often very worthy and well written and touch on extremely important subjects; exploring the nuances of people’s perceptions and individual placement in society. But they are not relax-at-the-end-of-the-day reading.
They are more like I-have-cleaned-every-square-inch-of-my-house-and-ironed-all-my-hankerchiefs-le-sigh-I-guess-I-will-have-to-read-that-book…Books
This month, however, was SO different. The book assigned was Clementine Ford’s Fight Like a Girl.
I am posting about this particular book, because whether or not you agree with everything in the book; whether you like the style of writing or find the overload of cussing, just that bit too much – it is, at its core, an urgent and fundamentally important book.
What Ford covers isn’t groundbreaking, (we’ve probably always known it, even if only subconsciously), but what she does do, is clearly, ruthlessly create a verbal platform that allows you to enter into the discussion; to analyse your own response to society and its perceptions, and to see how and where it has changed you.
I am running ahead.
I will explain.
Part memoir, part diatribe, part social-commentary; Fight Like a Girl doesn’t hold anything back…and even occasionally, I did wish that Ford had, just a bit.
It is an uncomfortable read. And it should be. Documenting her own life thus far, Ford uses this as a mechanism to discuss (rant, rage, shout) and question the place of women in the world. In society. In relationships. In media.
‘Before I became radicalised as a man-hating, separatist feminazi hell-bent on installing a matriarchy and imprisoning men as its slaves, I possessed a nominal amount of internalised misogyny about the value of women…’
It is fearless. It is personal. It made me angry and it made me question so much of what I have been taught. I don’t think I am ever going to be able to read romance novels again in quite the same way – that is for sure…
‘In a culture that rarely, if ever, allows women simply to be people, value is ascribed based on a woman’s relation to something other than herself. A woman on her own is like a bit of driftwood floating in the ocean. She is a broken object with no purpose, waiting either to wash up on the shore and be put to use as part of something else, or to sink and be forgotten forever.
A woman’s life only finds meaning when it becomes defined by another person’s. Her value increases once she becomes a wife, because finding a man to love her publicly forever is the goal that society, pop culture and history have conditioned most little girls to aspire to. For what are we without a man to not only love us but transform us from invisible peasant girls into princesses adored by all the kingdom?…’
Ford has successfully in a few hundred pages, completely made me reconsider what I felt about feminism. About women’s role in the world. About how I personally respond to, and/or allow certain mindsets and preconceived perceptions about women to exist in my life and the life of my family.
‘…women already know how fucking unsafe the world is for us. We begin the long and painful process of knowing it sometime before we pass through the veil of childhood and into adolescence, before we’ve even begun to know ourselves…’
And now, like the Baader–Meinhof phenomenon, I am noticing it everywhere.
‘…we absorb this message of danger so completely that we start to accumulate a bag of tools to protect ourselves. We learn to carry our keys between our fingers when we walk to our cars or front doors at night-time. To listen to music with one ear and footsteps with the other. To cross the street to avoid walking past a man or a group of men, even if it’s just to prevent what soon becomes the inevitable expectation that they’ll say something about our bodies and what they want to do with them. We become stoic and stony-faced when these words are thrown at us, pretending we didn’t hear these men commanding us to show them our tits, suck their dicks, sit on their faces, lose some weight…the laughter the laughter the laughter. Stare straight ahead, keep walking, cross the street, arrange your keys between your fingers. Notice as another small part of yourself is ground down.
We know how unsafe the world is for us. We are like cliffs staring down at a raging sea, battered by winds and salt and spray and unable to wrench ourselves away from the supposed inevitability of it all. But though we may recede under the relentless thrashing, still we stand tall. The world and all its angry currents cannot break us, no matter how hard it tries…’
And the thing is – if you had asked me whether I was a feminist – before reading this book? I would have said yes. Resoundingly yes. But now I realise that what I thought was feminism was really just a substandard replica of what feminism REALLY should be.
When I thought I was asserting my rights as a woman, was taking a stand against the small-minded pettiness of narrow-minded worldview and people’s place in them – I actually wasn’t. I was negotiating and placating a patriarchal society and its inherent belief that women will ALWAYS be less.
I was not only allowing this to continue, but I was HELPING maintain that status quo.
Kind of kicks you in the balls, when you realise something like that….
‘…To me, it seems perfectly obvious that the real enemy is the benign permission we give to society to own women’s bodies. We have been allowing culture to tell us for so long what our worth is that we barely even blink anymore. Instead, we apply all these bandaids to the problem and hope that it will go away of its own accord.
It’s frustrating that women are forced to waste precious time and resources staging rebellions over how much space (both physical and visual) our bodies are entitled to take up. Even though we weren’t party to the negotiations of that social contract, we’re still expected to adhere to them. Because of this, it’s a defiantly political act any time women brazenly flout these unwritten rules…’
You may not agree with all of it; in fact there may be entire chapters that cause a heart attack; and it most definitely could have been edited down (the repetition can get a bit much); but the good, solidly out weighs the negative.
Ford writes in a way that is honest and forthright; she acknowledges her own limited perspective and doesn’t try to force you see things EXACTLY her way; she wants all of us to think; to reassess, to be empowered and to not limit ourselves to the status (and often completely sexist) quo.
Women are supposed to be beautiful, accessible and gaze-worthy, and we know this on a very deep level. But we’re also keenly aware of how unfair this measure of value is, and how arbitrary the judgment that ascribes it to us. Unfortunately, instead of tearing the whole facade down and taking control of the rules ourselves, we turn to the patterns of behaviour that teach us to work against other women instead of with them. Rather than banding together to reject the system entirely, the ones who feel let down by it make it the fault of the women it supposedly rewards. We tell ourselves that they might be pretty, but they’re empty-headed. They might be sexy, but they’re a slut. They might be desirable, but they can’t offer anything more than physical pleasure. We are so used to feeling the gaze on ourselves that we learn to look at each other with men’s eyes…’
No one likes to change, least of all me. When I encounter a non-fiction book that is determined to change my mind or belief system; my base-operating tone is one of bemused scepticism at best and cynical derision at worst. I sit there (sometimes literally) with my arms folded and a stubborn chin, daring an author to TRY and change my mind. The defences are in place, and it is a tough call to overcome that.
But there is something compellingly raw and and uninhibited about how Ford writes and what she says, that sublimates that initial resistance; it slips under your defences; it settles deep inside you (possibly somewhere near your spleen…) and you are suddenly aware of what she is saying; why she is enraged – how justified it is.
Fight Like A Girl is glorious, and furious; incendiary and accurate. And righteous.
It demands space on my bookshelf – and so it should.
Valancy: suggesting this is more fun read with others, so you too can rant and discuss and consume vast quantities of delicious eat-ables…
Header Image: William Morris Wallpaper, Larkspur, 1875