Thursday, March 5, 2015

Review: Girls Will Be Girls by Emer O'Toole

Girls Will Be Girls by Emer O'Toole
Publisher: Orion Publishing Group

Release date: Feb 26 2015
Genre: Non Fiction 
Source: Bought

The fiercest new voice of feminism - Emer O'Toole is the perfect mix of Caitlin Moran, Germaine Greer and Lena Dunham. Emer O'Toole once caused a media sensation by growing her body hair and singing 'Get Your Pits Out For The Lads' on national TV. You might think she's crazy - but she has lessons for us all. Protesting against the 'makey-uppy-bulls**t' of gender conditioning, Emer takes us on a hilarious, honest and probing journey through her life - from cross-dressing and head shaving, to pube growing and full-body waxing - exploring the performance of femininity to which we are confined. Funny, provocative and underpinned with rigorous academic intelligence, this book shows us why and how we should all begin gently to break out of gender stereotypes. Read this book, open up your mind and, hopefully, free your body. GIRLS WILL BE GIRLS is a must-read wake-up call for all young women (and men).
From being the face of female body hair, to smashing down the normalisation and consumption of porn (and its unrealistic standards), or to confronting the  manipulation of our bodies for the 'male gaze,' Emer O'Toole is my new favourite face of feminism and brings her wit, honesty and humanity to the table to defeat patriarchy. 

"When it comes to how best to perform your gender under patriarchy, only you have the right answer for you.”

So far, the girls have all wrote amazing, articulate and inspiring first reviews. And I really don't want to mess mine up. But honestly, I couldn't have picked a better book for my first review because Emer O'Toole has given me feminism in anecdotal, hilarious and accessible chunks. And, while I'm being honest, I don't know if I'll be able to do this book justice, but I'll try. 

O'Toole's idea is simple: she believes gender is a social construction and an act we play. She takes feminism and puts it in reality in regards to her own life, her path to feminism, where that path has led her and presents a book which is groundbreaking, thought-provoking and ideal for young women wondering what feminism is all about. So instead of writing "I really love this, go buy it!!!" repeatedly, I've highlighted some of the reasons why this book is really bloody fantastic and you should totally check it out. 

"What I hate is patriarchy - societal gender relations based on sexism. But the hard thing is, patriarchy is made up of people I love."

Being a feminist is hard. Unlearning misogyny, sexist views, patriarchal values that you have been sold, taught in schools, read, learnt from parents, seen on advert, on TV, in a film. Sexism is everywhere. And it changes regarding class, culture, ethnicity or background, but it has the same fundamental underlying idea about women. O'Toole knows her privilege (that of being white) and is honest in her way of learning feminism and what it is. My idea of feminism changes each day with the people I meet or the situations I find myself in. O'Toole shows you that's okay. Partly being a memoir, O'Toole highlights her readings of the classic gender politicians (I love you Judith Butler) with her life. From scenes of fighting with her older brothers for their input in household chores or to seeking male approval at 18 by discarding feminism, O'Toole is honest in how she found her beliefs. She reinforces how the great thing about feminism is that we don't have to agree on everything, but the things we do agree on are the things that matter: choice, equality, humanity. 

Words will hurt you.

O'Toole writes a chapter on linguistics and what we're really saying. A pun on her book title? I think so. Language is loaded. The words we say come with already defined meanings and inferences, which is important because implied meaning can damage you. Emer recounts a conversation in which one of her co-workers (a woman of colour) who asked her to find other words to replace words such as 'dark' used negatively. She then goes on to talk about how she began to refine her language and cut out the words that were filled with meaning we had forgotten about. Language is another part of representation! And a very important one. Being a 'girl' or a 'woman' is often regarded as a negative thing (the worst insult to both a man and a woman apparently, how odd!) and Emer comments on how this needs to change. This links back to her overriding idea throughout the book: if gender is an act, surely we can change our perception? And language is an aspect she thinks we can start with, because if we change the tone in which we speak about gender, some of the stigma will disappear and open doors for exploration. 

"So now I've been chatted up, while cross-dressing, in the men's toilet. Deadly."

It started with Halloween and it started with dressing up as a man. But, a fantastic book later, it has led to much more. Emer's first meet with cross-dressing (later to androgyny) opened up her world and her perception to gender.  From here, O'Toole recalls her experiment with body hair, her reaction to growing it and becoming the "international face of female body hair," the taboo around female sexuality and sexual freedom, and ultimately, female security and happiness in their own bodies. As a young woman, and somebody who thought their view on feminism and their own comfort was pretty great, O'Toole made me question my own reasoning why I still do some of things I do. If I don't wear make-up, I apologise. I have no idea why. If I haven't shaved my legs in a few days, I hide them. I have no idea why. Emer suggests the idea of how women are conditioned and taught aspects of femininity, or how to achieve it, and therefore identify their own self worth with this. And know I've read her book, I totally agree. While I believe everything I do is out of my own choice, I do wonder why if I spend the extra 20 minutes getting ready of a morning for myself, or because I believe this is what I have to do to achieve an ideal of femininity I feel comfortable in. 

"We're trying to dismantle male privilege and you can't sugar coat that."

After I read the quote above, I knew Emer O'Toole was officially my favourite feminist and person ever. I also knew I was totally screwed in writing a coherent review, but alas. We live in a society in which we sugar coat everything and it is beyond the point of control. I am surrounded by people who do not know boundaries, how to take no for an answer, what is acceptable to say to women, what isn't. I once had a conversation with my own father about sexism and he stated that "sexism just didn't happen anymore." His reasoning was that because he didn't see it, it was not happening. 

And that is why I think Girls Will Be Girls is important. A huge majority believe their actions are fine and have no impact on the identity of women. But if what being a woman is has been defined by organisations and companies that are, largely, ran by white upperclass men, they are creating standards that are reinforced by the majority of daily life because they dominate them. Emer O'Toole gives you the good, the bad, the pretty and the ugly. She shows you that you do not have to be confined by binary or labels or structure. She inspires freedom for you to explore you identity in your space, and allow yourself to seek possibilities of change. 

But most importantly, Emer's book was profound because it gave me feminism in humour and reality. She gives aspects of her life which range from brutality endured to amazing opportunity.  From sexuality to gender performance, O'Toole looks at a variety issues that impact women from a feminist perspective. And her message is clear: things need to change, but first we need to stop seeing everything in binary. Western society celebrates its 'first-world' excellence in freedom, choice and possibility, but that includes us ladies too. 

Girls Will Be Girls reminds us that there is not one right way to be a girl, but endless ways. "And it means that girls can change the world with the ways that they choose to be girls."

I gave this book 5 stars on Goodreads and you can buy it here.

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