A Book for Her

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Read 25/03/2016-26/03/2016

Rating: 4 stars

A Book for Her is genuinely laugh out loud funny, but also very thought provoking. I like Bridget Christie‘s thought processes. In the book, I like the interplay between silly and serious, from the silly idea of women like Christine Lagarde and Angela Merkel interrupting the serious womanly business of twirling for physical approval with fluff like heading up the IMF or being German Chancellor, to the serious point that feminism is about equality in all things and the right not to be defined by your gender or for your gender to be used as a reason for not being allowed to do something.

It’s a book that I think everyone should read because it’s straightforward about how ridiculous sexism, misogyny and anti-feminist attitudes are if you think about what’s being said, and it’s an incredibly funny book that doesn’t make you feel preached at. I like thought provoking socio-political discourse, but I like being made to laugh at how ridiculous the world is more.
Mixed in with Christie’s take on feminism is a sort of autobiography of her stand up career. I couldn’t help making comparisons with the book her husband wrote about his stand up career, and the cross pollination of jokes that clearly goes on in their household (my suspicion is that he pinches more ideas from her, my evidence being that her riffs on Dara O’Briain and Brian Cox and a colander are funnier than his), and that led me to think about how he’s on the telly more and better known, which made me wish that Christie was on the telly more and better known. I hadn’t heard of her before I heard that she was his wife. That’s pretty bad on my part, because I think it means I fall into the usual prejudices about women comics that Christie outlines in the book. I think they’re all going to be Miranda (I hate Miranda) or obsessed with relationships and chocolate. I don’t go to see them because I feel uncomfortable about how hard they seem to be trying. Which also reinforces Christie’s point that men live in positions of influence, and audiences subconsciously think that women comics are irrelevant.

Christie is wonderfully angry about the sneering, white male, British establishment who think women have it easy in the UK because we get to have an education, and not be gang raped on a bus like in India, and can vote and have bank accounts, so why don’t women in the UK stop bleating on like stupid sheep, yapping away like small dogs, why don’t we just take the bantz like a man and stop being so humourless?

She’s also exceptional at popping balloons of male entitlement with surreal vignettes like the one where she describes how George Osborne eats off plates with Maggie Thatcher’s face on them and then cries so he can imagine Maggie swimming in his tears. It’s on p.105 and it made me cry with laughter.

Her bewilderment at a man from a different country hissing at her in the street also made me laugh out loud. I would be bewildered, too, because I don’t know what it means either. I Googled it but am none the wiser. My money’s on it being an expression of disapproval that a woman should dare to walk about freely. Christie thinks he was either a sexual predator trying to come onto her, or a misguided snake themed children’s entertainer.

Over the whole 311 pages, I stopped laughing only once. The chapter about FGM was deeply moving and completely sobering. I have long thought that the Western fashion for designer vaginas is FGM dressed up as choice. Anyone who thinks they need to tidy up their vagina needs to read up on FGM and consider why they are dissatisfied with a part of their body that is a sensitive, responsive, sexual organ that contributes to their pleasure, and why they want to cut it up. Because it strikes me that it’s something a woman would only do if someone told her a man would like her better if she did it. Christie discusses labioplasty briefly in connection with FGM, then talks about why she wanted to include it as a subject in her stand up routine. There aren’t many laughs, even when she tries to lighten the mood, but she talks about how the film she made with Leyla Hussein has helped survivors of FGM to laugh at it and has had a cathartic effect for them.

Things Christie talks about in the book that spoke directly to me:
  • Feminism being about “A woman’s right to choose what she finds funny, without being called a militant lesbian. Or frigid. Or German. This includes being able to walk down a street, on her own, with a neutral facial expression, without fear of having a strange man shout at her in an aggressive way to cheer up.”
  • What a woman is: “a woman is often contextualised in social situations to make it easier for you to understand what the point of her is. For example, she will often be introduced to you as being the wife, mother, daughter, sister, auntie, grandmother, niece, nanny, cleaner or secretary of one of the men in the room. She might also be introduced as his boss, or as the president or monarch of the country that you are currently in … [but] you mustn’t be confused, threatened or angered by this.”
  • How women taking control of an issue, such as domestic violence, and turning it into a women’s issue might actually be counter-productive: “Feminism is about men, and how they treat and view women. So don’t we need to start marketing it that way? Make it for men? Rather than for women? Take women out of feminism? How did we all fall for it? They’ve managed to make something that’s about them look like it’s about us.”
  • On beauty: “I’m not saying we shouldn’t celebrate beauty. Of course we should. The world needs beauty. Beautifying ourselves is fun … So of course we’re allowed to look nice. All I’m saying is that we shouldn’t rely SOLELY on our beauty to give us our sense of worth or purpose.”
  • On women being ashamed/afraid of being a feminist: “In the words of Mary Wollstonecraft, ‘In order for equality to take place, society must change its thinking.’ Half of that society is us.”

I picked this book up because I needed something light hearted after Parade’s End. It gave more than I expected to because, as well as making me cry with laughter, it helped dissipate some of the anger I felt towards Ford Madox Ford’s misogyny. Good work, Bridget Christie.

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