Florence Given’s book Women Don’t Owe You Pretty (2020) has been The Sunday Times bestseller for ten weeks in a row now, and it’s no surprise why.
Her writing is refreshingly honest and occasionally personal as she alludes to her own trauma throughout the feminism-fuelled chapters. Given is only 21 years old with a huge Instagram following, accolades including Cosmopolitan’s Influencer of the Year 2019, and has now written and illustrated her debut book. The book tackles many issues from ageism to sexual assault, but Florence Given’s main focus is to inspire you to remember who you were before trauma and the confinements of heteronormativity. The chapter “Maybe It’s A Girl Crush, Maybe You’re Queer” focuses beautifully on self-acceptance of not just your sexuality but your overall identity which a lot of young people feel confronted by in a world where we can hide behind social media.
Before reading this, I naively believed I knew it all because of my education in the humanities and personal experiences as a woman; but Florence Given has taught me just how dangerous and toxic a patriarchal discourse in a capitalist world really is. Body politics encourages women that the norm is to splurge their earnings (that are significantly lower than men’s) on makeup and cosmetic surgery. Given illustrates this with the example of Gillette’s first women’s razor advert in 1915 that brainwashed us into viewing female body hair as unattractive. However, we must remember that women don’t owe society ‘pretty’. The obsession to be viewed as pretty in the male gaze has set up women against themselves as competitors. Given points out that phrases such as “I’m not like other girls” not only ostracise you from your sisterhood, but internalise misogyny feeding into patriarchal ideologies – and its ugly.
At first glance I was a little intimidated by the fact Given repeatedly asserts her desirability for being slim, white, non-disabled, and cisgender. But her frankness and acknowledgement of privilege chimes in perfectly with the Black Lives Matter movement and encourages the reader in the penultimate chapter to “Check Your Privilege” and use it to benefit other people:
“The point of being cognizant of our privileges is not to engender feelings of guilt – guilt is pointless and does nothing for feminism or activating social change”
Given, like most women, is tired of the heteronormative narratives that shame women for not getting married and having children. She’s tired about the taboos on female masturbation, menstruation, and how the cost of emergency contraception comes out a woman’s purse when sex involves two equally responsible parties. She’s tired of being judged as a Queer woman, and for not fitting the mould of the stereotype that society has assigned her.
“You’re not responsible for the image people have built up of you”
There is a strong relationship between what society censors and the shame that women are made to feel, and it’s even worse for non-white, transgender, fat and disabled women, where fetishisation is born and perpetuated through platforms such as porn. As a result of this, marginalised groups feel the need to perform femininity and desirability just so that they can survive. Given expands on how dating preferences are influenced by these fetishisations such as “I don’t date feminine guys” and “I have a thing for Asian girls” – these are political preferences that need re-evaluating as they are often racist, homophobic, sexist, transphobic, fatphobic or possibly all of the above depending on how much of an a**hole you are.
Aside from politics, Given hones in on language and how problematic it can be:
“Some things aren’t normal, they have been normalised. There’s a difference”
For example, “rape culture”. Not only does the UK system fail rape victims with only 1.7% of reported rapes in England and Wales prosecuted in 2019 (and that percentage falls annually), it also justifies rape by categorising it into a ‘culture’ disassociating from the fact that people (rapists) form that ‘culture’. Given states that
“We live in a society that functions on our silence and we are immersed in a culture that perpetuates it”
And furthermore, sayings such as “boys will be boys” are embedded in our discourse. Given preaches on the difference between victim blaming and accountability in her book, and it is arguably one of the most important lessons to learn in order to grow as a society. When somebody is raped the victim is interrogated about their choice of outfit. The rapist is defended by the system blaming school education for failing to teach consent and blaming extreme porn for putting graphic ideas into men’s heads as opposed to holding the rapist fully accountable for their actions.
Don’t be misinformed about this book being an angry feminist rant against men. It also covers topics for all genders such as self-preservation, self-love, self-empowerment and how to protect your energy and implement boundaries in toxic relationships where people feed us crumbs when we actually deserve the whole f**king cake.
If you want an entry level education on feminism, you want to grow and heal, or just acquaint yourself with the extremely talented Florence Given, then I recommend buying this book. I look forward to seeing what else Given will present us with in time to come.
– Siena Stott
Featured Image Source: Siena Stott Original Photo, Illustrator: Florence Given