Book Review: Fight Like a Girl

Today I want to take a short break from endometriosis (don’t we all) and review a book I finished recently: Clementine Ford’s Fight Like a Girl. It was published in 2016, so I’m a little behind the 8-ball on this one, but I enjoyed it so much I just have to discuss it.

You may know Clementine Ford as the outspoken and controversial Sydney Morning Herald columnist.  Well, I say controversial – she’s mostly controversial to the men that she calls out for a variety of awful behaviours.  She rocketed onto the Australian public sphere in 2015, when she posted a topless photo of herself with the words “Hey #Sunrise, get f***ed” written across her chest.   This was in response to Sunrise writing, “What’s it going to take for women to get the message about taking and sending nude photos?”, as opposed to asking the far more appropriate question, “What’s it going to take to get men to not to share intimate photos given to them in confidence by women who trust them?”  Or, as Ms Ford put it, “why do men continue to view women as objects they can defile and violate while the world watches and tut-tuts?”

With a title like “Fight Like a Girl,” it probably isn’t much of a surprise that this is a feminist book, and it carries on from Ms Ford’s facebook protest in fighting back against victim blaming.  It also does a whole lot more besides.

The book more or less follows the arc of Ms Ford’s life to date, starting with her childhood, and my goodness, are those first few chapters relatable to me.  She talks about a childhood in which she was a little too tall and not very girl-shaped.  She talks about how the first time she learned to start hating her body was when another child teased her.  She talks about the sting of realising you are not conventionally attractive, measuring your worth but how desirable you are to boys, and projecting a facade of “one of the lads” to make it seem like you don’t care that you’ll never really be a “proper” girl.

Whilst I never went as far down the rabbit hole of self-loathing as Ms Ford, who developed bulimia, I shared those thoughts and feelings.  I distinctly remember the time in year 8 when two of my classmates told me my legs were hairy and I should shave them.  That’s when I became conscious of how “ugly” and “bad” body hair is, and learned to hate and be ashamed of it whenever it appeared.  I don’t recall what made me start to worry about my (perfectly healthy) weight.  Probably a magazine.  I can’t recall when I realised my teeth were quite yellow, but I expect someone pointed it out to me.  That’s one I’ve never been able to get rid of, to the point where I’m planning on having them professionally whitened.

I remember in year 9, realising that I was a good four or five inches taller than most of my friends, and that I loomed awkwardly over them in photos.  My feet were too long for my body and I felt like a clumsy clodhopper in my ugly, practical school shoes.  I resented not being allowed to wear makeup to hide the smattering of teenage spots that bloomed on my face.   I was driving by this overwhelming need to look pretty, pretty, pretty, and burdened by a constant sense of not being good enough.

I think this was part of what drove me to make a really stupid hair decision in year 10 that I maintained right through year 11, by cutting into what could have been a sexy pixie but on me was an awkward pageboy.  I adopted a slightly emo style, because I admired the “don’t care what you think” vibe and wanted to pretend that I genuinely felt that way too.  I never really managed it (the style or the attitude.  I was a dag).

Anyway, like Ms Ford, I found feminism in university and learned to stop putting down other women for being too girly, too high maintenance or too shallow, and actually started to love my gender.  It’s brought me a lot of happiness and made my brain a much nicer place to be.  I now have four beautiful female best friends who have been massively influential in getting me there, and I owe them my undying love for that.  It was at that point, and since, that I’ve been slowly waking up to the world that Ms Ford paints so beautifully in Fight Like a Girl.

I don’t think I’ve ever read anyone who makes me go, “I wish I’d thought to say it like that,” the way Clementine Ford does.  She is unerringly accurate at hitting the nail on the head and holds the microscope up to the myriad of ways in which a patriarchal society shames, oppresses and stifles women.  She talks about the thousands of vile, abusive messages she has received for daring to criticise men, and how she deals with it.  She discusses the absurd excuses that allow such a culture to flourish.  She validates the feelings of every woman who has ever felt the helpless fury that comes from being objectified, put down, sexualised or humiliated simply because of their gender.

It’s an incredibly empowering book for that very reason.  My views don’t always mesh perfectly with hers – I’m a Christian, and whilst I’m a very left-wing one, it still informs my feminism.  Ms Ford doesn’t have that particular influence.  But, despite that, I can respect and understand every single thing she writes, and I agree with the overwhelming majority of it.

Fight Like a Girl is a very funny read, but it also made me want to cry and rage.  Clementine Ford has mastered the art of a witty, bantering tone that exposes some very unpalatable truths in a way that just hits you right in the heart.  If you aren’t sure if you’ll like her style, have a read of any of her Sydney Morning Herald articles, or take a peek at her facebook.  I’d start with this article on the victim blaming following the murder of Eurydice Dixon, or this one on the ridiculousness that is #notallmen.  They are very like her book, but with a touch less humour (given the subject matter, not surprising) and a lot less swearing (if swearing bothers you, Fight Like a Girl will probably be hard for you to read).

TL;DR: Fight Like a Girl is touching, funny and amazing and all people should read it.

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