Sometimes, I’m tired of fighting. I tune out of the news, I step back from voicing my resistance to that racist joke, that sexist microaggression at work. When we live in such a masculine society – even if you want to argue with me about the improvement of female representation in our private and public spheres, capitalism is inherently patriarchal – getting through each day can be tiring. It is a world that physically feels like it is not designed for me to exist comfortably, and any feelings I have about this, and other gender oppressions, are belittled or not valued. And so sometimes you minimise your battles, preserve your energy, focus on what’s important. All this is to explain why, for a while, I resisted reading Clementine Ford’s memoir-cum-battle cry Fight Like a Girl. I’m tired, I don’t like aggression, no more fighting please. That was until my new kick-arse ladyboss fervently recommended and loaned it to me. And thank god. What a validating, reenergising read.
Ford uses episodes from her life growing up to broach and illustrate the ways we are taught to be a girl, and what a disservice this can be. There is an essential pain in being a girl, she identifies, because the space we are allowed to inhabit is full of rules and expectations that can never ever possibly be met at all times. It is enraging and deeply familiar to read all this: she is speaking a known, lived truth. And then comes the massive wave of shame identifying that you are complicit in your own captivity. We follow the rules, we reach for approval and acceptance, but it never quite suits, never fits. We try an alternative: just another version of the rules you discarded. This is how we are taught to be; it hurts.
“Nothing hurts more than realising you’ve been complicit in your own silence. Nothing feels better than unleashing your voice. Words are thrown like bombs by people who want to hurt us. Let them throw them. Use those bombs to break the floodgates that have kept you restrained and captive, and let your battle cry soar. A friend of mine once said to me that feminism helped to figure out a way of being a girl that doesn’t hurt…A lot of the time, being a girl in this world hurts. Before you are aware of it, it just presents a persistent throb. A slow and steady sense that something isn’t quite right. You wonder if the world you’re experiencing is the same on that everyone else is living in. Do they see colours the same way you do? Do their senses work differently? Is there something wrong with you?”
This is why her book is deeply validating. There are absolutely aspects to Ford’s life and rage that do not resonate with me and there are struggles I have not shared but goddamn we were told to be a girl in the same way. And it doesn’t suit us because it wasn’t designed to suit us. It was designed to keep us small and useful: the rules are for others’ benefit. Petite, pleasing, smart (but not more than the boys), sexy (but not sexual), pretty (but doesn’t try), caring (but not mumsy); ways to dress, ways to laugh, ways to walk down the streets at night, ways to have feelings about the rules on how to dress and how to walk down the streets at night.
“Like so many girls caught in this trap, it wasn’t enough for me to want to be considered an intellectual and social equal by men (because, really, that’s what a lot of this scrabbling for their approval comes back to – the misplaced desire to achieve equality for ourselves by being welcomed into the inner sanctum rather than destroy the sanctum altogether and redefine the dynamic entirely); I also had to climb a tower made out of the discarded, disdained bodies of other women in order to prove myself worthy to enter.”
What I also appreciated in Ford’s memoir was that while these are stories from her life, there is no individual blame on her parents for raising her in the structures that she later has to break free from. Because these rules, being raised this way, is all a product of a larger society that benefits from keeping women quiet. It is not an individual parents’ fault for trying to teach their daughter the conventions for getting along in this world, not getting into trouble, and doing well.
Knowing the online abuse Ford gets simply for expressing her own mind – the back of this book plugs her as an online sensation and scourge of trolls – I hesitated in writing and posting this review. But if anything is needed it is adding another voice to the battle cry. There is just so much in this book to read aloud to your girl gang and sob in recognition, laugh in familiarity, scream and rage and the bullshit we all experience and aren’t allowed to acknowledge. And we don’t care if you don’t like it.
“What I cannot tolerate are the men who try to claim some kind of feminist allegiance (and consider themselves heroes for doing so) while lecturing women on how we’re setting back the fight for gender equality. Give me a dollar for every man who begins a sentence with ‘As someone who’s always been in favour of women’s rights…’ and ends it with ‘…you are doing more harm for women than good’ and I will use the proceeds to buy a very expensive yacht on which I can live while sailing the vast ocean of male tears that stretches on for eternity.”
This book covers so many elements of my experience and existence that I was holding it and head-nodding the entire time. She speaks to my soul. I loved this book. It reminded me that I like being a girl, that I am a kick arse girl, and I don’t care if you like it. I don’t like fighting, but what is worse is hiding away, being made small the weight of your expectations and rules on my shoulders. The resistance is tiring but it is worth it.
In a society that gaslights my own feelings about my very existence in that society, it is empowering to have a friend and fellow soldier like Ford standing next to you. She is one of many women across the world right now who are bad arse: they are shouting out what we have always felt, thereby enabling even more to shout it out too. And they don’t care if you like them. It’s fucking wonderful to have role models like this, to give you bravery for your own shout out. Because equality is not playing the rules of the game set by men, but changing the game altogether.