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When I was fourteen I genuinely thought that women only had two holes between their legs. Poop came out of one, sex and wee the other. I didn’t know that you could get an STI from oral sex until I was eighteen; this was extremely disturbing news. The same year I found out, to my horror, that pre-cum does in fact contain sperm and yes! You can get pregnant from it!
It seems unbelievable really, that I wouldn’t know what was between my own legs. I knew very well what I weighed, my ‘problem areas’, how big my tits would probably grow to be and which moles could be covered up with a strategically placed blob of concealer in P.E.
But the clitoris? The urethra? The vulva? I knew more about the chances of finding water on mars. My science teacher thought that it was important to cover that.
These are body parts, however, that are all discussed (and lovingly illustrated too!) in the fantastic ‘Girl Up’ by Laura Bates. It is a novel that not only interrogates, but single-handedly massacres the cruel and unforgivable way that young women have come to be treated in 2016. The book is as funny as it is moving, it is engaging, and the words and pictures interact perfectly. It is inclusive, it teaches understanding as well as empowerment, encouraging young women to be not only revolutionary, demanding and outspoken but also to think about the world complexly. It is everything that I needed and more.
My sister is fourteen now and I have noticed recently that her school has banned skirts from the dress code. She seems distracted, she has started skipping meals. The worst came yesterday when I found out a boy in her class has been sending her violently pornographic sex messages, or ‘sexts’.
My first plan of action was to enact evil revenge, something along the lines of hurling little bags of dog poop at his porch (would not recommend, probably illegal) or scratching tiny little penises into the paintwork of his father’s car (also would not recommend, seriously, this one is illegal).
After much contemplation I decided these plans of action were probably not the way a grown woman should be dealing with a confused teenage boy so I proceeded with a much more logical series of events…
‘Girl Up’ is revolutionary. If I were prime minister (probably a bad idea in the long term) it would be handed out in schools religiously. They still make you read ‘Of Mice and Men’ right? Well it’s about time that we scrap that white man nonsense. What we want is sexist bullshit claxons, witty anecdotes about cat callers, flippant snark, and paint-by-numbers vulvas. And when do we want it? NOW.
I can’t tell you if my sister enjoyed the book or not. I like to think that she did. I could have sworn I heard her laugh out loud here and there. But I do know that afterwards she didn’t call that boy anymore. She started eating desert again. Honestly, this is the highest praise that I can give this book, or any book for that matter. My sister is beautiful, she is strong and kind and giving and funny and she deserves to be happy. I want her to know how to protect herself and I think that this book can give her that – but more than that, I want her to feel good about herself. I want her to be strong, I want her to know how to love herself. I want her to ‘girl up’.