Thursday, 14 May 2015

'Girls Will Be Girls' by Emer O'Toole

Emer O’Toole is a Guardian writer, a university professor and a professional hirsute woman. And all of these factors combine in her debut book Girls Will Be Girls, which is a delving look into the world of what it is to dress up and be a woman these days.

Combining personal anecdotes with links to academic texts and external research papers, Emer is adamant that we should ditch the age old concept of what it means to be a woman (a lipstick-wearing, shaven-legged, long-haired thing in a frock) and take on any new identity that we see fit.

That’s pretty much the content of Girls Will Be Girls in a nutshell, except Emer repeats these points in a variety of ways for 263 pages.

There have been a fair few books in recent years cashing in on the new fashion for feminism (Vagenda, The Everyday Sexism Project, How To Be A Woman… to name the first three to spring to mind) and this is no bad thing. But as a writer myself I must admit it frustrates me to see books such as Girls Will Be Girls published with so little substance… given how hard it is to get a publishing deal these days. And how many better books there are in the heads and laptops of writers without a Guardian profile who are unable to secure an agent and therefore a publishing contract.

Emer’s book starts as a bold and confident stride into the world of teenage girls, and how she rejected what it traditionally meant to be a girl as an anorexic teen. What follows is her own journey through the next 15 years or so of her life where she tries to decide how to present herself to the world, culminating in her appearance on ITV1’s This Morning in 2012 where she showed her unshaven armpits to the world. A clip that she refers to on multiple occasions in the book since it catapulted her to attention for a short while afterwards.

While in theory I think Girls Will Be Girls is an interesting concept for a book, sadly the resulting tome is too much of Emer’s personal journey and too little that can be related more widely to the general reader. It feels like we’re reading Emer’s private thoughts as she struggles to decide who she is, but it’s hard to know what relevance this is to the wider world. Sorry.

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