I picked up this book, not because I had heard great things about it (I had), but because the title really resonated with me. So many people — including myself at times — think if you are a ‘real’ feminist, you won’t wear pink, you won’t be obsessed with the way you look or with your hair or make-up, that you must be a secret (or not-so-secret) man-hater and that you won’t shave your armpits. I was intrigued to know more about what the world tells us feminists can’t be and why it is so so wrong.

Photo Credit: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/600471/feminists-dont-wear-pink-and-other-lies-by-curated-by-scarlett-curtis/9781984819178/

I’ve always called myself a feminist — I’ve been proud of that title — and always one to tell everyone who would listen that girls can do everything that boys can do and more. But I have been prone like many to question my feminist values — to question whether I am doing it ‘right,’ whether I am actually being a feminist or just calling myself one. This glorious book showed me that it doesn’t matter if your feminism is quiet like a mouse, if it is inside you and exists only in small, seemingly inconsequential ways, or if your feminism is loud like a lion, roaring in the face of everyone who will listen. It showed me that any way of doing feminism is still feminism and it is still valid. So for anyone questioning what it means to be a feminist, whether you are a feminist or wondering how there can be so many different types of feminists, please please read this book.

Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (And Other Lies) is a collection of writings, penned by 52 extraordinary women, famous in their own, crucially different, ways. From Hollywood actresses to teenage activists, each tells the story of their own relationship with feminism and their own take on it. Some of the incredible women include: authors like Helen Fielding (of Bridget Jones’ Diary); actresses such as Emma Watson and Keira Knightley; Youtuber Tanya Burr, along with a hoard of other empowering women with wisdom and stories to share. These pieces of writing are all worthy and interesting in their own right, but when taken together demonstrate a cohesive narrative that feminism is for everyone, and that everyone’s feminism is different and that’s okay. The book is separated into sections as a way of understanding feminism: epiphany, anger, joy, action and education. There is also a small poetry section half-way through and some suggestions of further reading from the wonderful Emma Watson and ‘Our Shared Shelf.

I couldn’t possibly choose a favourite piece as they were all so varied: some were funny, some were heartbreaking, others more historical, some were educational and lots were forward looking — all those things made it such a great and varied book to read. But there were a few that really resonated with me that I will share now.

The first piece I want to talk about is Jameela Jamil’s entry ‘Tell Him.’ Without even reading the first sentence I knew this was going to be an awesome read. If you don’t know who Jameela Jamil is, Google the ‘I Weigh’ movement and you will instantly learn what sort of a person Jameela is. She is a fearless feminist activist who calls out the media and Hollywood and their ingrained patriarchal values. I love how Jameela starts ‘Tell Him,’ not by focusing on women as you might expect but instead by focusing on men and the toxic masculinity that seeps into the male psyche. She talks in detail about the damage that the world does to boys as they grow up, forcing them to resist any soft or ‘feminine’ traits and imbuing them with unrealistic ideas of the female body. Simply put, Jameela’s message is that we should just tell men the truth about women; about their history and their present to really make them understand and create change. Jameela puts out a call to mothers, sisters, aunties to just tell boys the truth. She says we should tell them about the historic abuse women have faced at the hands of men, how they are underpaid, devalued and made to feel scared even in their own homes. Jameela insists we should tell them about sex, we should allow them to be vulnerable, and we should be both their friends and their teachers. Jameela ends with this important statement: ‘Build these men from scratch to fit women, rather than to take up all the space and force us to compact ourselves to the little corner allocated to us by them.’

I had to give a mention to Keira Knightley’s gritty piece ‘The Weaker Sex’ because it was so different to any of the others pieces. Keira’s graphic and honest portrayal of childbirth as a bloody battleground leaves no doubts that women are certainly not the weaker sex. Keira proves how unbelievably strong women are throughout childbirth and afterwards. She gives a special mention to Kate Middleton who gave birth the day after her and signs a light on how difficult and horrific it was that she was forced to go out in public only seven hours after giving birth, pretending like giving birth was easy and that she hadn’t just emerged victorious on a battlefield of life and death. Keira should be commended for shining a light on the struggle of childbirth and not straying away from any of the gory details.

My last mention will be to Dolly Alderton and her ‘Dismantling and destroying internalized misogyny: to do list.’ Dolly’s practical and insightful solutions to destroying internalized misogyny make you realise how many of your thoughts are not really your own and how harmful this can be. Dolly shows us that all the things we hate about ourselves; all our imperfections, our not rights, our weird looking things, are all constructed by the media and TV and films. We don’t actually hate our grey hairs because of some deep biological fear, it is purely because we have been conditioned to be this way. Dolly shows us not to use the language that men use – the ‘sluts’ and the ‘bitches’ — because men are oppressing us and quite frankly we are better than those words. Most importantly, Dolly puts the whole problem with pitting women and other women so clearly. As she says, the patriarchy have made us believe there is only one slice of cake and we have to all fight over it. That when another women gets the job, boyfriend, dress (insert anything) that we wanted, she is taking it directly away from us. When in fact there is space for all of us, it is not a case of only one woman can win. Dolly gives the best tips on how to support other women, or challenge them when the needs be, but in a constructive way. I think any woman would learn a lot from Dolly.

Now, if my book review didn’t inspire you to go and pick up a copy maybe this will: the royalties from the sale of this book go to Girl Up, a global leadership development initiative that strives for gender equality.

-Tia Shah
Contributing Writer
Girl Museum Inc.

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