Women Don't Owe You Pretty Review

Published in Books / Feminism - 4 mins to read

Florence Given’s Women Don’t Owe You Pretty is billed as an accessible introduction to feminism, and when I was recommended it, I knew I was going to have to approach it the right way - I’ve never read a whole book about feminism before. I was a bit worried that the whole process was going to make me feel uncomfortable, that it would be 200+ pages of me being called out in various ways. Even if it was all part of a process to being a better person, if the pain was necessary for growth etc - a whole book of that is always going to be a hard sell.

Fortunately, I didn’t experience that at all. There were definitely sections that highlighted my own lack of empathy, lack of knowledge and general misogyny (even if I keep telling myself that I’m not a misogynist in the overt sense). Given’s issue is clearly with oppressive systems - the patriarchy as a whole, and so it was a lot more palatable to be told I was one cog contributing to this system, rather than for example being called out by a friend for saying or doing something specifically problematic.

For me there was two aspects to the content within the book - one detailing discussing aspects of experiences that I don’t have because I am a straight white man, and one regarding issues that I relate to, eg how to deal with low self-esteem, practice self-care and set strong boundaries. For the former, I knew I was going to have to make a conscious effort to suspend any defensiveness, any urge to disagree or play devil’s advocate and just to try to listen, to soak it in, to understand. There were some thing I’d never really considered before (for example the problems that queer women face while dating, eg that men come up to them and try to hit on them while on a date with another woman already), and others that I was aware of to some degree but did not have a comprehensive grasp of. These sections of the book primarily taught me that I have a lot to learn - but also that that learning does not have to be an exercise in self-flagellation. It feels good to try to understand others better, and not to take the lazy, easy, and scared path of not engaging just because it doesn’t affect me.

Given’s descriptions of self-care are relatively simple, but powerfully expressed. One analogy I particularly enjoyed was that of crumbs and cake; in many situations people might offer us emotional crumbs, enough to keep us on the hook, but not providing us any emotional nourishment, and we should feel empowered to know and express that not only do we want the whole cake, we deserve it too. Another being the concept of protecting your energy, which I wrote about the other day - a concept that might seem obvious to some, but to others it doesn’t, and that makes it worth articulating. Overall these parts did a good job of reinforcing to me that I will benefit from therapy (and you probably would too).

I would question some things Given says in the book though - she does not come across as a big believer in second chances, forgiveness or redemption. She says that we should forgive ourselves any of our sins, but once someone does anything that hurts you, to basically cut them out immediately. Without offering any kind of cynical take as to why she feels like that and I don’t, I think real life situations tend to be far more nuanced than that, and blocking someone IRL the first time they overstep or hurt you seems like it would make me very, very lonely. I think people make honest, human mistakes, and also have the ability to learn from them and change, and while I’m sure Given believes that too, there are times in the book where it feels like she is suggesting otherwise.

Overall I learned a lot from this book, and it’s given me plenty of food for thought. The illustrations are great too - 7.5/10.

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