Monday 24 October 2016

A must-read, put it on the curriculum

Katy Harrington

Published 11/05/2015 | 02:30

Book cover of Do it Like a Woman
Book cover of Do it Like a Woman

It's doubtful any of us had heard the name Caroline Criado-Perez pre-2013. Before then, Criado-Perez was a regular journalist (and feminist activist) who had written for The Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian and the New Statesman. Then, in what sounds like a fairly unremarkable move, she began a campaign to get a woman's face, other than the Queen's, on a British bank note (after it was announced that Winston Churchill was to replace social reformer Elizabeth Fry as the face of the fiver).

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I remember reading about this and thinking - 'Jane Austen on the £10 note - great idea', but not everyone agreed. Criado-Perez received the most disturbing reaction. She was subjected to rabid, vitriolic abuse on social media and a man and a woman were later arrested for making rape and death threats on Twitter. Thankfully, Criado-Perez wasn't the type to take this lying down, she fought back and now "the woman who took on the Bank of England" has written her first book. The book, Do It Like A Woman… And Change The World, sounds like a manual, much in the vein of Caitlin Moran's top-selling How to be Woman. But the comparisons stop there, Moran's common sense and riotously funny take on feminism had men and women mounting furniture to shout their feminist credentials; Criado-Perez adopts a more studious approach.

Criado-Perez's mission statement is simple - to tell the (unheard) stories of some of 'the most pioneering women campaigners across the globe'. She wastes no time in providing examples of women who have refused to accept or acquiesce to the dominant culture of male power and privilege the world over.

The first in the line-up of ass-kicking women is Criado-Perez's mother, who comes across as a crusading, can-do, fearless woman who gave up a life of comfort to work for Médecins Sans Frontières.

Next is adventurer Felicity Aston, who has explored Greenland, the Poles and Siberia as well as being the first woman to ski across Antarctica alone. Aston's experience in the predominately male arena of Arctic exploration shows up some staggeringly stupid examples of sexism at work. She speaks about a less-experienced, physically weaker man being sent to do a job instead of her (because it involving digging) as well as the difficulties she encountered from men who had a problem receiving instruction from a woman in her twenties. Aston's example also highlights the way we sell both sexes short by labelling women as 'touchy feely' and 'hypersensitive' and men as tough, unemotional and unable to cry.

Next up are two examples of women in more creative jobs - London-based graffiti artist Amy Ash, whose 'spray name' is Candie, followed by Dana McKeon, a beatboxer, both of whom have had to overstep obstacles and implications that they couldn't paint graffiti, or make crazy sounds with their mouths, as well as a man.

Criado-Perez talks to the first female fighter pilot in Afghanistan, anti female genital mutilation campaigners and Victoria Henry, the woman who climbed London's iconic Shard (the tallest building in Europe) to raise awareness about Greenpeace's Save the Arctic campaign.

There are dozens more inspiring examples so for Caroline Criado-Perez it's mission accomplished. The only problem is that after a while, reading the book feels a little bit like doing your homework. That's less a criticism and more a suggestion - if it reads like a textbook, why not put it on the school curriculum?

Do It Like A Woman

Caroline Criado-Perez

Portobello, €16.99

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