I decided to order a copy of Florence Given’s, Women Don’t Owe You Pretty after having it recommended to me by a friend. After reading the blurb, which states: ‘you owe men nothing, least of all pretty’, I was intrigued to read the book immediately and I wasn’t disappointed.
Anything feminist appeals to me. I love learning more about feminism and becoming a stronger and more active feminist each day — this book was the boost I needed. If you’re looking to challenge the patriarchy and fight female oppression, order a copy. Here are some impressions the book has left me with.
In the context of the Black Lives Matter movement, feminism has been fighting to empower all women including black women, especially given the rising rate of sexual harassment incidents as a result of the lockdown. For me, this was definitely the right time to be reading the work of a powerful woman.
Many women would agree that catcalling and other forms of harassment on the street have worsened during lockdown, with men supposedly feeling more ‘confident’ in harassing women as there are less people around to witness it. In an article written for the Independent, Maya Oppenheim wrote that:
‘One in 10 girls have received unwanted attention, including having insults yelled at them, while one in 10 said they have endured unwanted sexual attention, unwanted sexual or physical contact, or even men indecently exposing themselves to them on the street’.
This is extremely worrying, especially since a quarter of these victims choose to not let anyone know about the incidents. Having been affected by this sort of unwanted male attention myself, Given’s book arrived at the right time to remind me that women are not objects to satisfy the male gaze, and we certainly do not deserve this disgusting treatment. Something that has stayed with me after reading the book is that most women find that the most effective way of preventing unwanted male attention is to say, ‘I have a boyfriend’. This is simply unacceptable. Why is it that a man responds to another man more than to a woman’s right to politely say ‘No’?
Flaws and privilege
There is an interesting chapter on the falseness of ‘flaws’. What are they, really? They’re nothing, they’re ‘man-made’ according to Given. She confronts our fat-phobic, trans-phobic and misogynistic society, which was a such an eye-opener. I had never before considered the full measure of difficulty faced by women who don’t fit the typical beauty standard. I began to ‘check my privilege’ (Chapter 20). I am white, cisgender, non-disabled and financially comfortable. I am also unprivileged however, in the sense that I am female and non-straight.
Recognising our privilege is so important, especially in the context of the Black Lives Matter Movement. All white people should be using their privilege to support the unprivileged. Chapter 5 of the book, ‘Refuse to find comfort in other women’s flaws’, discusses internalised misogyny and how to overcome this. Given powerfully states:
‘If we can learn to view other women as opportunities for inspiration and empowerment in our own lives and realize that there is enough room for all of us to be happy, the relationships and bonds we form together will be unstoppable’.
One life-changing step I took after reading Women Don’t Owe You Pretty was refreshing my Instagram feed. I unfollowed accounts that trash other women, promote an unhealthy dieting culture or that were triggers for my mental health, and instead followed accounts promoting growth and that positively portrayed women who don’t fit society’s ridiculous beauty standards.
Beauty standards are CANCELLED!
No doesn’t mean Yes
I absolutely loved Given’s discussion about boundaries. Not only did it make me realise that I need stronger boundaries myself, but also how many times my boundaries had been overstepped — and that I let it happen.
The book taught me that ‘love at first sight’ actually isn’t romantic, it’s a demonstration of unhealthy boundaries. After reading this I stopped —- I had never even considered this possibility before. Chapter 12, ‘If it’s not a “fuck yes” it’s a no” ‘, taught me a lot more about consent than my school ever did. I realised how many times I’d ‘accepted’ sex without giving consent because I just didn’t want to say ‘no’. ‘I’m tired’ doesn’t mean ‘convince me. If there isn’t an enthusiastic ‘yes’, it’s a ‘no’. Being guilt-tripped into having sex is NOT consensual.
Given also importantly spoke about women often becoming their partners’ caretakers rather than being their partners. She states that ‘today is a wonderful day to dump them’, especially if you’ve become their ‘second mum’. You can’t be with someone just because you believe they will grow and change. It’s not your job to change your partner. If they can’t treat you well without you telling them to, drop them.
Taking care of YOU
Women Don’t Owe You Pretty is definitely the book to read if you need some time for self-care. Given reminded me that self-care isn’t always about applying face masks and buying beauty products to ‘make you beautiful’, things that are sold to women by the capitalist system to make a profit out of us. Self-care is also crying, telling your friends how you feel and dancing around naked. The last chapter, ‘Let That Shit Go’ is powerful. It talks about self-healing, outgrowing people and realising the difference between being better and being distracted. Given reassuringly tells us:
‘There will never be a point in your life when you’re entirely “healed”. But whether it’s a break up or something more traumatic — shit gets better’.
I’ve only discussed a small portion of the book, and it’s so much richer than I can describe in the space of a short article. But whether you read her life-changing advice or not, just don’t forget that: ‘you’re a walking divinity, darling’, as Given says.