Polly Vernon is one of those Marmite writers- I know women who LOVE her and those who LOATHE her and I reckon it’s a 50/50 split. I approached this book with trepidation- I’d read some reviews and they were NOT kind.
Before I start, I want to say this: I believe that feminism is a broad church and, like anything, it’s a spectrum. It’s OK to disagree with others, but I’m not dead keen when feminists get into really nasty fights with each other; it distracts us from what we should be doing, i.e. fighting inequality.
Saying that, this is a book of jumbled messages. Polly Vernon comes to feminism as a white, middle class woman and admits that this is has its limitations- but then doesn’t explore any further. I completely support her right to dress how she likes, wear makeup and indulge in hair removal (although… nose hair removal is a tad extreme, non?) After all, I am a signed up member of the skirt wearing, red lipsticked band of feminists. It doesn’t lessen my beliefs.
What did get me, though, was that Vernon is flippant about what she sees as smaller issues- page 3, photoshop etc. But those things do affect some women, add to a general sense that society isn’t kind to women and girls and to dismiss them out of hand isn’t helpful. What I think is happening here is that there is a new genre of books “columnists attempt to write feminist books that have a bit of a memoir thrown in” and some are successful- such as the book that started it all, Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman– and some fall flat. This one is in the latter category.
The sad thing is, I would have loved to read Polly Vernon’s memoir. She’s amusing and has interviewed some amazing people. She wrote about her sexual assault, abortions and going to university in a witty (yes!) and accessible way. I just don’t think trying to invent a new type of feminism (which isn’t really new. She talks about how the feminists of the 70s and 80s were not interested in looks, which, although there were feminists who rejected femininity and looking good for men- is clearly a bit false when you look at photos of Germaine Greer, who was a stonkingly striking looking woman and consider that Gloria Steinem was gorgeous enough to go undercover as a Playboy bunny) was needed to sell this book.
I do think that maybe this would perhaps be a good ‘starter’ book to give to a friend who says things like ‘I’m not a feminist, I like men!’, but I would also give that friend other books to read too. Treat this with a pinch of salt and as a gateway to other stuff.
Buy the book here.
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