Wednesday 18 October 2017

No perky call to arms for the modern feminist

Threatened with rape for campaigning for feminism, journalist Caroline Criado-Perez has the last word

Girl power: Caroline Criado-Perez's book does not paint a very pretty picture for feminists
Girl power: Caroline Criado-Perez's book does not paint a very pretty picture for feminists
Do it like a Woman

Tanya Sweeney

When journalist Caroline Criado-Perez got involved in a campaign to make women more visible on British banknotes in 2013, little did she know what would follow. The campaign's efforts paid off, and Jane Austen will appear on the £10 banknote by 2017.

"But… the men of Twitter had other plans for me," she writes. "The day after the decision was announced, I received my first rape threat. And then another, and another. I was just a woman alone in her flat watching these threats roll in."

Criado-Perez endured a lengthy, highly misogynistic storm of abuse on social media that dark summer, but as she starkly points out in this book, she is one of many who experience such sustained, graphic abuse.

Do it Like a Woman evokes the likes of Laurie Penny's Unspeakable Things, Holly Baxter's The Vagenda and Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist, providing as it does a neat and forensic dissection of modern feminism.

"While the media is awash with venerable old men, it would have us believe that all women over 50 have retreated to the nuclear bunker to protect us from the horror of a woman beyond the first blush of youth," Criado-Perez writes. "There is a very simple explanation for this. Men are fully human individuals. Women, in the words of Virginia Woolf, 'have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size'. Rather than being human ourselves, we are a foil of male humanity. And who wants a wrinkly foil?"

Some latter-day feminist tomes - among them Caitlin Moran's How to be a Woman or Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me - approach the topic with a lighter touch. But Do it Like a Woman doesn't make for pretty reading, nor is it meant to.

This is not a perky call to arms for privileged white women raised on the teat of Sex and the City.

In fact, Do it Like a Woman's presentation of the bald truth sometimes makes for a rather dispiriting read. When it comes to true gender equality, women clearly have some way to go.

Yet far from launching a scathing, boiling broadside, Criado-Perez has opted for a different approach. There is plenty of polemic in these pages, but it is couched within the stories and experiences of other women. Using the maxim that doing anything 'like a woman' used to be bandied about as an insult, Criado-Perez reveals those who are doing it just like a woman… and achieving untold amounts of success and acclaim.

And Criado-Perez's honour roll is indeed glittering. We hear of the obstacles - both geographical and social - endured by Antarctic explorer Felicity Ashton, and the casual sexism that followed sports writer Anna Kessel to the workplace every day.

We read of how hard it was for Sara Khan, co-founder of Inspire (a conduit for the voices of British Muslim women) to speak up and keep pushing. We read how, for Russian activists Pussy Riot, being heard and being understood was a hard-won battle.

Criado-Perez's retelling of her own Twitter ordeal merits a few pages, tucked without pomp in the middle of the book.

She acknowledges that being trolled for months drove her to the edge of her sanity, but it becomes clear that, in the overall scheme of things, the event is the mere tip of a huge, very malevolent iceberg.

The tone of Do it Like a Woman, while sobering, is occasionally celebratory. Criado-Perez is having the last word, and it's a very eloquent and powerful one at that. As those who stick their heads above the parapet for the rest of us can attest all too well, it's likely that the online abuse will continue apace. But that's precisely what makes Do it Like a Woman and its ilk so very essential.

Non-fiction: Do it Like a Woman... And Change the World

Caroline Criado-Perez

Portobello Press, pbk, 336 pages

Available with free P&P on www.kennys.ie

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