This post isn’t necessarily going to be a review, however you might take some of my opinions to be a drastic ‘please don’t pick up this book!’ There has been a lot of controversy surrounding Florence Given recently, and whereas I’m not completely clued up on it, before this I had seen her book becoming more and more popular. When I found it on Kindle for 99p as opposed to the usual hardback price, i figured i’d give it a go.
I’m a feminist, i have chosen to use the term feminist for my adult life for myself, and it’s something i strongly believe in. However i haven’t read a great deal of books on feminism. It’s not something i’ve felt the need to seek out further education with at this point in my life. I love learning, however I spent my teenage years researching and reading what i could about feminism. I know the main issues and what is happening with the gender pay gap (i know there’s a lot more to it than this). So i picked up Women Don’t Owe You Pretty more as a reminder to myself, and something fun and educational to read. I didn’t realise what i would be going in to…
‘Instagram feminism’ is a term used recently to describe the face-value feminism that we experience in culture at the moment. The feminism that is ‘dump that boy!’ and ‘women are great!’ written on a t-shirt. Which is all fine and good, as long as you stay aware of facts of feminism and what we are actually striving towards with closing the gender gap. I really wanted this book to go a little further than ‘dump that boy’, but it really didn’t. It’s very ‘instagram feminism’ and whereas that might be a good starting point for some people, i definitely needed more to it.
That being said, i approached the book with a sense of ‘if i was learning about feminism for the first time, would this be useful?’ and i have to say, no it wouldn’t. I want to talk a little bit about the problems i found, that could be an issue if you’re first learning about feminism, or mainly for younger people. I do believe some parts of this book could be incredibly damaging for younger people reading this, and could very much ruin relationships. I’m not degrading the fact that some of these points are acts of feminism, but there was very little room to think about individual situations within these pages.
In the first two chapters there is a lot of conversation regarding if anyone isn’t displaying the behaviour you want or expect them to, rid them from your life. Which to an extent, i agree (again, this isn’t talked about within individual situations). However, there’s a point where it’s stated ‘anyone who tells you you’re “too” anything is using the word because they are threatened by your capacity to grow’ and therefore you should dump them. The book writes this in an incredibly black and white sense, there is no room for a situation to be a small communication issue. Florence seems to lump all these together into abusive red flags or gaslighting.
What is not stated, is that you could be showing some signs of problematic behaviour yourself, and that person in your life is trying to help you. Again, these situational examples don’t really work, and if i was an impressionable young person reading this book, then that could easily be taken the wrong way and ruin friendships and relationships. There is a sense that you are right, and only you are right with Florence’s writing, and surely that isn’t what feminism is trying to achieve?
A few pages later, it’s stated that we are all still learning, constantly learning and will never stop learning, and to always be lenient because of that. Which for me, certainly doesn’t compare to what was previously said about if anyone showns behaviour that you don’t think is acceptable, just rid them from your life. If we want to have the room to grow and learn, why are we not allowing other people that room to learn too? This idea of feminism could ruin healthy relationships and friendships that could be facing a small communication barrier, or even a misunderstanding. Yes some relationships need to be cut off, but think about the wider situation you’re in, if it can be fixed and how much energy you want to put in to fixing it, before you dive in to the advice of this book.
In the next chapter is when we get in to more of the ‘dump that boy’ culture that is bigger than ever. There is a paragraph that is basically stating that if you see red flags for abusive behaviour, call it out before it becomes a bigger problem. Help those people understand why their words or actions were not feminist or just incorrect behaviour. Florence says that if your racist grandma makes a comment, your friends shame because of casual sex and your mum makes comments about women’s bodies, to educate them. These are the women in your life that need to learn more clearly. However we get to the bottom of the paragraph that says ‘your boyfriend insisting on doing all the “man things” and making jokes about women in the kitchen (just dump him).’
Surely, if we are in a place to educate the women in our lives, we are also in a place to educate the men? I personally am in a straight passing relationship (both of us are LGBTQ+), and i make sure that if my boyfriend says something that is particularly questionable towards women (without intent of), i explain why that was questionable and what he could say instead, or even to not say anything at all. Surely that’s how we should be treating everyone in our lives? After all, if we don’t educate men, how will they also learn? Men need to educate themselves, we all need to educate ourselves. But if people who identify as feminists aren’t willing to share the knowledge they have on the subject, how will anyone learn? Educating people is not something you have to do, but we can also choose to, and both are valid options.
One of the more frustrating parts of Women Don’t Owe You Pretty for me was Florence not giving marginalised people a platform but saying how we need to give marginalised people a platform. I think the book would have benefitted from some guest authors, adding their stories to the mix. She’s a self confessed thin, white, cis female who by general world standards, has a whole bunch of privilege because of that. There is a large portion of the book where she discusses Black women having to face more prejudice which is compeltely accurate. However, she could have given the platform of this book to someone who knew what that was like to experience those things. I did find this a little jarring, and something that could have had so much more impact so simply, but didn’t. If you’re discussing marginalised people, give them the platform that you are talking about. And if they are not given that voice in your own book, maybe leave out those experiences you don’t have and that book should be written by someone else.
Florence also regularly discusses her privilege of being a white woman, amongst other things, but never really expresses any further. She acknowledges that she is privileged, but it seems like it feels awkward to go any further in to that for her. If she is writing a book from a privileged point of view about feminism, i want to know truly about that point of view.
There is a lot more in Women Don’t Owe You Pretty that i found completely unnerving and just didn’t enjoy. Later in the book Florence goes on to discuss more of the ‘dump him’ movement we’re all seeing at the moment, which i believe if taken to an extreme extent can become problematic in more ways than one. You yourself are not allowing people to grow and learn as you are allowing yourself to. There has to be some give and take to learning about feminism and educating others. If we as feminists want the world to change, we have to somewhat put the work in to see it change.
I want to briefly mention some points to this book that i found quite positive. Florence herself is a sexual assault survivor, and mentions it in passing a couple of times during the book. There is a lot of discussion towards the end of the book about women’s bodies, and caring for your own body. This i found incredibly inspiring and wish i had read something of a similar nature when i was younger, i think it would have helped to be in touch with my body a little more from a younger age. If the whole book was about women not existing to satisfy men and consent, i feel like i would have gelled a whole lot better with it, and believed in the messages being said.
Florence in depth talks about consent, how important it is, the legalities of consent and even gives examples of phrases which are and are not consensual. There are some facts about consent thrown in too which i wasn’t aware of. This is clearly where her knowledge is, and i think a book about women’s bodies, doing things for your own benefit and some kind of reference about sexual assault (not ‘how to avoid sexual assault’, that SHOULDN’T be a book) and consent i think would be incredibly useful for people of all ages. Yes some of those topics are intertwined with feminism, however i don’t think both of those topics should always be discussed hand in hand. There are so many extra branches off each topic that they should not be lumped together in to one book.
I read it, i didn’t really enjoy it, and i really didn’t enjoy some of the messages in it. But Women Don’t Owe You Pretty is out there in the world, and it’s popular, and it’s got some issues. It also has some really insightful parts and i won’t lie, really lovely artwork. However i just kept imagining a generation of children who refused to educate anyone and would dump their partner because they asked them to flick the kettle on.