Sunday 11 October 2015
Review by Adam Dawson
The F word. When was the last time you said it? Have you heard it lately? Probably. More people than ever are using it, and more frequently. Sometimes it’s screamed from headlines in newspapers, other times it’s whispered much more quietly so that barely anyone can hear it being said. There’s no way around it, it’s a powerful word. Using it has consequences, regardless of the situation. The word, of course, is feminism.
Caroline Criado-Perez experienced some of the harshest backlash from unashamedly calling herself a feminist. Men sent her rape and death threats, detailed explanations of the violence they’d do to her unless she stopped wanting equality for women. It’s pretty hard to imagine Criado-Perez having enemies, or even not getting along with someone. As she relaxes in her chair, she’s friendly, at ease, and has forgotten her book.
When she gets a copy, she begins reading from the second chapter. It deals with Afghani women poets whose writing is a form of resistance. The effect is immediate – the woman with sunglasses on her top of her head, wearing trainers, who was smiling brightly is an intellectual powerhouse. Her writing is about the literal life or death struggle for these woman to just read poetry to each other. Certainly not light, before-bed reading. Essential though. Her book, Do it Like a Woman, is filled with stories of diverse women doing incredible things against a backdrop of violent misogyny.
Alongside recounting the stories of these incredible women, Criado-Perez also talks briefly about her own, though makes sure we know she’s not the token women who speaks for all women. Her book does the same – she isn’t the focus, but she is a part of it. Her story doesn’t define her or her politics, she refuses to be ‘the woman who was abused on Twitter’ and uses her position in the public eye to bring attention to feminism and women’s struggles all over the world. As she says, she’s expected to speak for all women – a symptom of the lack of public space given to women.
Criado-Perez uses simple, startling facts and statistics to make her point for her – it isn’t opinion, it isn’t conjecture, it’s the truth. From how heart attacks present differently in men and woman to the number of women working in Hollywood, Criado-Perez has facts at her fingertips. She’s just as quickly able to bring up a female roboticist as she is Hilary Clinton or Angela Merkel.
In the most powerful moments of her talk, she shows how she’s not immune to the conditioning power of the patriarchy either, which she points out through an anecdote about feeling intimidated in a boxing gym stuffed with men, despite being a boxer herself. Just because she can recognise when social conditioning is at work doesn’t make it go away. It requires a change in attitudes across society: a change in how we approach care work, in how we define a successful man. It won’t be an easy process but if like Caroline Criado-Perez, we confront injustices against women when we see them no matter how small they appear, we’ll all live in a much more just, much more equal society. Can you really say you don’t want that?
Adam Dawson is a Reviewer in Residence at Durham Book Festival.
Reviewers in Residence is a Cuckoo Young Writers programme ,which allows young critics to develop an in-depth relationship with a venue or art form, and take part in exclusively tailored writing masterclasses.