feminism · Non-Fiction · review

Girls Will Be Girls – Emer O’Toole

“As feminists, we shouldn’t judge other women’s choices. But we should very certainly try to understand women’s choices.”

 

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Blurb: “Being a woman is, largely, about performance – how we dress and modify our bodies, what we say, the roles we play, and how we conform to expectations. Gender stereotypes are still deeply embedded in our society, but Emer O’Toole is on a mission to rewrite the old script and bend the rules of gender – and she shows how and why we should all be joining in.”

This year I started getting into feminism literature. I was a feminist before I really knew there was a word to assign to it. The main thing I’ve noticed on this adventure so far is that nothing is talked about theoretically: there is no “this is what sexism means now let’s move on” every point about inequality is backed up by the author’s own experiences. Girls Will Be Girls is no difference.

In this book, Emer tackles the idea of gender conformity being a performance. Women are expected to dress and act a certain way, take on certain roles in order to please the “audience.” She lays on the table how restrictive growing up as a woman in Ireland was and unfortunately, still remains to be this day as abortion is currently illegal. She goes into detail about a time when she was thirteen and she wore a particular outfit that everyone complimented her for, a year later and wearing the same outfit suddenly she was sexualised, having suggestions made to her that maybe she shouldn’t wear a mini skirt.

A large part of the book is taken up by her stories about the “performance.” She recalls tales of times she spent exploring her gender and sexuality in public and not conforming to what’s expected of her. Whether it be the clothes she wore, what bathroom she used or not shaving her armpits. It was staggering to see how different she was treated when in stereotypically male attire compared to “traditional” female attire and entering the more androgynous side altogether.

As with a lot of feminist literature this is a western woman telling her stories and experiences of sexism. This is obviously very important as we need people like Emer to use their platforms to express how far we still have to go as a society. However, it’s exclusionary only focusing on feminist issues in Ireland and the UK.

Another thing that actually offended me was when Emer goes into detail about sexuality and what it means to her, including relationships and flings in the past. She decided to drop the bombshell line “I don’t believe in bisexual.” As a bisexual woman who found so much solace in a term after years of confusion I was really hurt for Emer to essentially discredit a sexuality that is already prone to judgment and dismissal. She went on to talk about how she never saw herself as straight/lesbian/bisexual etc but she didn’t explain her reasons for attacking the idea of being bisexual. Something which given the quote I’ve used at the start of this post, contradicts the point she made here. It let me down a lot.

Putting that aside (while difficult to do) she does an important thing of talking about a time when she was incredibly sexist and even played on it to get laughs from people she worked with or other non-feminist folks. She addressed this to show that not everybody is perfect and there’s a time when we were younger where we bashed other girls or called them “sluts” for how many people they dated etc.

This book leaves a lot of food for thought.

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