[TW genitalia, porn, sexism, rape]
Spoilers: I absolutely love this book. So much I was reticent to write this, as it might just come across as a massive love letter to Laura Bates. Thing is, this book is SO IMPORTANT, and so here we are.
Laura Bates is the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, which is an online space for girls and women to share their experiences of everyday sexism, anonymously or not, from all around the world. There is also a twitter account where people can share their stories, and jeeeeeez are there a lot of entries. It’s actually kinda disheartening to see the amount of shit women have to deal with on a daily basis.
Step up Bates, and in “Girl Up”, she dissects the world as it is to young women, and gives tips and strategies for survival. I have never met Bates, nor interacted with her, yet by the time I finished this book it felt like I had, because it is so full of personality. It makes the book an easy, fun and funny read, and without realising it until I read it a second time, I had taken in so much information.
This book also contains dancing vaginas, a colour-by-numbers vulva, and cute little icons to send to guys when they ask you for nude pics. There are illustrations throughout, and they are all amazing.
Bates covers so much in this book that we don’t often explain to young women either: about consent, body autonomy, that masturbation is normal, that porn doesn’t equal sex, that you don’t have to live up to the shitty double standards placed on women’s shoulders. That she does all with grace and wit while still getting across some really serious information is awesome.
She also dedicates a chapter to feminism, and banishes so many myths surrounding what she calls “the F word”. She also discusses how to set up a feminist society at school or college/uni if that’s something the reader would then want to do, which I am not sure I’ve seen anywhere else.
There is a whole section on different types of protests and how to keep yourself safe whilst doing so. Young women are actively encouraged to speak out and change their world. I couldn’t be happier.
This is why this book is so important: not only does it give young women (and guys, Bates says hi to them in the book too) the information they need about navigating the world, but she also gives them information on how to safely speak out if that’s something they feel they want to do. How often to we empower young people like that?
That’s what Bates gets at with the phrase “girl up”. She puts it forward as a term of empowerment for young women, a positive chant in contrast to the misogynist leaning of “man up”. And in the context of this book at the very least, it really works.
Some of my favourite things from the book:
- Bates spends a good part of the introduction taking about how people of all gender identities and sexuality identities are 110% valid, and how at times she will refer to, for example “self-defined women”, or “People attracted to men” so she’s not excluding anyone. And that it’s shitty that she still has to do this in 2016. THIS IS THE INTRODUCTION!
- Throughout Bates refers to laws that affect actions she is describing, and not just the ones that affect the other person. There’s a point where she’s talking about sexting, and makes a point of stating that it’s illegal under 18, for example. Again I was a teen in the early 2000s, but I still don’t remember any of our sex ed classes identifying and explaining appropriate laws to us.
- There’s a really clever little “build your own story”-type quiz to show how easy it is for sexual interest in someone to become rape. Throughout Bates uses some really clever writing tricks to get information across in a way that isn’t just “here’s a list of things to remember”.
- One of the chapters is called “Clitorish Allsorts”. I still laugh when I look at it.
- Nothing in the book talks down to the target audience. Throughout Bates treats her audience with respect, and doesn’t assume anything just because the book is aimed at young women. It’s refreshing to see someone so frank and honest when their writing is aimed at that demographic, and it’s really, really great.
So yeah, this post is a bit of a love letter to Laura Bates, but that’s only because “Girl Up” is such a wonderful piece of work. I implore people to get copies of this to young people as soon as possible: write to schools and local libraries, donate copies if you can (that’s a thing still, right?), if you have a young person in your life, buy them a copy. As I have sad above it is rare to see someone be so frank and honest, and it’s about time we saw it more.
Spread this book, spread the information, and let’s empower our young people to girl up.