I would like to begin this review in a way that will help give you a feel for what the book is like and the best way to do that is to firstly quote what is written on the back. ‘Warning: This book contains feminist limericks, colour-by-numbers genitalia and dancing vaginas.’
Furthermore, I think that Emma Watson, whose words are included in the opening pages, has pretty much said what I would want to, and has most likely said it better.
‘This book is not for the faint-hearted (think lots of swearing, pictures of vaginas and “patriarchy busting”), but frankly I think that might be what we need – a book that unapologetically addresses what teenage girls are really dealing with.’
Considering Emma Watson has become a big name in campaigning for women’s rights I think it says a lot that she describes this book as,
‘So necessary. So timely. Thorough. Straightforward. Well researched. Intelligent. 0% patronising.’
‘Hilarious, bold and unapologetic, Girl Up sets the record straight.’
Laura Bates is best known for being the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, an online forum where people can share their experiences of sexism. Not only did she found this project, but she used some of the entries, along with tweets she received, questionnaires she sent out, and other sources, to write a bestselling book, Everyday Sexism. Her second book, Girl Up, is a Sunday Times bestseller, which shows the strength of her books.
I decided to read this book after I saw it recommended by a YouTuber, most likely Hannah Witton. I am interested in reading more books like this one, about women, personal development, sexism and feminism, because these are areas that I am interested in learning more about. Although I am not the best at talking about sex and that sort of thing, I find books like this one can be a good source and as Bates is very honest and open, there is no embarrassment from her which makes it easier for the reader. Additionally, I think eduction on such areas is no bad thing, and being able to privately read a book like this one can only be positive for young girls, and anyone else for that matter. Books like this one are especially important because young people today are growing up with the Internet, which is a source of so much information, but sometimes can give a distorted view which is not necessarily truthful and can be scary for young people who are just learning about who they are, so a book that is honest and factual, without being judgemental, is great.
Before I get into my review, I would like to add here that when I set about purchasing this book, I had some trouble working out where this kind of book would appear in a book shop. I knew it was non-fiction, but there is no feminism section. So I guessed maybe self-help seemed appropriate but it was not there. When I finally found it, it was in the ‘Smart Thinking’ section. It might just be me, but I found the fact that such books are considered ‘Smart Thinking’ to be pretty great, and having read the book, I can say it definitely fits that category.
The book begins with a prologue of sorts entitled, ‘Buckle up’. This is where Bates introduces herself a little bit, along with why she decided to write this novel. I loved this introduction and after reading it I had a feeling I was going to really enjoy the book. Bates uses ‘Buckle up’ to introduce her views on young women today and how much they have to deal with (which is a lot). When reading her words, I could feel her passion about the way so many girls are treated and that stirred something inside of me too. It felt good that the kind of comments girls receive, the perceptions of what a girl should be and the negativity that surrounds being a girl were being acknowledged in a book that does it in a way that makes you want to stand up and fight back rather than just accept the way things are.
Thinking about the style and structure of the book, the first thing you notice is that it is bright orange. This was clearly a conscious decision because the books really stands out and is definitely not pink. Somehow, if the book had been pink it would not have seemed so defiant. Being pink would have meant it conformed to that stereotype of things for girls being pink, and this book could not care less about what colour things aimed at girls are ‘supposed’ to be.
Linking to this, the images in the book are important for demonstrating points and are possibly the least shy part of the whole book. The images range from a picture of a cat to diagrams you would expect from a biology lesson, but more unapologetic and honest. I like the use of images because they make the book more reader friendly and add something extra. I think that if people pick up a book that is supposed to interest them and spark something within them and it is very wordy, they are less likely to be interested, but the images in Girl Up provide that extra interest.
What is really important about Girl Up is that Bates has done her research. Any statistics she gives are referenced in the back which shows that these are real statistics, and some of them are shocking. Bates’ research extends to organisations/websites that she has found to offer help and support or offer a chance to get involved with feminism, activism, coding and more. I love it when authors who write books like this one go to that extra effort of listing useful resources because it means that some of the work is done for you and you can feel happy that these are reputable organisations.
When writing a book like this, it is vital for it to be factual and Bates has made sure that Girl Up is exactly that. If someone were able to pick holes in even a small part of what she has said as fact, the reputability of the whole book could be compromised. Alongside the statistics, there are examples from real people who have either contacted Bates or been part of her research to give their views and examples of things that have happened to them. There is also a section in the chapter ‘Don’t be shy, aim high’ where Bates has interviewed successful women from a variety of fields so that they can offer their experience and advice. She even uses examples of women throughout history to show what they had to put up with and how some of them managed to make a difference.
This book covers a variety of topics, but the first one I am going to talk about it sex and relationships. In all honesty, lessons at school were always very awkward and missed out some things, such as consent, which people need to know about. Yes, it is hard for a teacher to have to stand up in front of 30 or so students and talk about sex when many people in the room are feeling pretty awkward and embarrassed. The issue is, young people are able to access pretty much whatever information they want, so if someone does not teach them, the Internet is always there. Bates dedicates a whole chapter to porn and how it has influenced perceptions of sex and how it is usually girls that are negatively affected by it. She also talks openly about genitalia and things that people may not know in the chapter ‘That’s not your vagina’. This chapter also encompasses the section about consent, which is so important and young people need more education on it. Rape and abuse are looked at, but it is also outlined in a letter that a violation of consent is as simple as someone doing something even though you said no, no matter who they are or whether they have done it before, without consent it is not okay. For those who are unsure of whether they are ready for sex etc, Bates gives advice on how to know in the chapter ‘Clitorish allsorts’ which is very useful. In this chapter she uses the metaphor of ice cream to show how sex can be different for each person and how it is up to you to choose what you want. Rape comes up again in this chapter and Bates herself explains more about it. She goes on to talk about STI’s and how important it is to protect yourself and to make sure you are communicating with your partner because even though it can be awkward, the alternatives are worse. Chapter 7, ‘Sluts, unicorns and other mythical creatures’ is a great chapter for looking at relationships themselves. I like that it is not all negative, and in fact, throughout the book Bates makes sure to show the negative and positive sides to things because everything is not either good or bad, it can be both depending on many factors. Bates looks at how girls are perceived in relationships, how being single is not a bad thing, warning signs of an unhealthy relationship and signs of a good, positive relationship.
Sexism is a big part of this book because it comes up in almost every topic as well as being a point by itself. Chapter 8, ‘It’s my face and I’ll smile if I want to’, is the main chapter where Bates addresses sexism. It is important to note that she gives examples of Acts which demonstrate our rights to show that the examples of sexism are not overreactions. Also, sexism affects men as well as women. What I found interesting in this chapter was the points Bates gives as to why sexism still exists. I had never really thought about the fact that the people the system benefits are not exactly in a hurry to change the system in case it no longer benefits them. Yet the examples Bates could give of sexism are endless. There are so many examples given by real people who have experienced sexism first hand, as sadly, many girls probably have. However, there are also examples of how women have dealt with sexism and I could not help but laugh at a couple of them. Bates herself gives great and also amusing suggestions for how to deal with sexism and I love that Bates knows when it is okay to make jokes to give lightness to a topic.
In the digital age, the media has a lot to answer for. Not all media is bad of course, but the examples of magazine headlines and the way women are used in adverts shows that there is a lot of negativity in the media and negative messages and stereotypes are quickly passed around. This is a big issue that so many people are aware of and yet it is hard not to be sucked in. For example, when a magazine is plastered with images of celebrities who have gained weight, it is hard not to pass judgement because without realising it, we judge people every day and much of those judgements come from what we see either online or in newspapers/ magazines. Bates tackles the common problem of how what we see around us largely affects how we view our bodies and makes us very conscious of our size and appearance. She also looks at how the media can give such mixed messages and tries to influence many aspects of our life, but we should not allow ourselves to be sucked in and made to feel unhappy.
The last chapter, ‘The F word’, is dedicated to feminism. Feminism has really come back in the past few years but has picked up negative connotations from the past. I was really pleased that Bates began the chapter with a list of false facts about feminism followed by what feminism actually is. So many disputes about feminism are caused by a misunderstanding of what the term means. Bates makes things simple and answers common questions that people have about feminism like how it links with relationships and religion and whether to be a feminist you have to fit into a certain category. Although the chapter is short, I think that Bates covers what she needs to. It really does not need to be a complicated thing, but has been made that way (often from a lack of understanding, negative perceptions and being scared of change).
The book ends with a short list of important things to remember and I was certainly left feeling empowered and pleased that this book exists. I would recommend it to many people because it works as a book for adults so they can understand what young people today are going through and can help them, but also is perfect for young adults who are dealing with all of these things themselves or even just want to read about the topics covered out of interest. The book is straight to the point, factual and covers so many important topics in a way that makes you feel positive and ready to face what comes at you. Best of all, the book manages to be positive, is not patronising or judgemental and even made me smile and laugh a few times.
Girl Up – Laura Bates, published by Simon&Schuster, first published in Great Britain in 2016, RRP £12.99, ISBN 978-1-4711-4950-4