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Girls Will Be Girls: Dressing Up, Playing Parts and Daring to Act Differently Paperback – 4 Feb 2016
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A fascinating exploration of how we 'do' gender. From the early labeling of infants to the ironclad enforcement of grooming and interpersonal behavior, gender expression is neither a matter of biological mandate nor individual choice. Emer O'Toole nimbly weaves philosophy and personal experience into a vivid depiction of gender identity as performance art. (LISE ELIOT, author of PINK BRAIN, BLUE BRAIN)
The blogger and columnist, who is emerging as one of the leading lights of the new feminism, uses anecdotes from her own life - from 'cross-dressing to pube-growing and full-body waxing' - to illuminate some of the the dos and don'ts for women trying to set themself free from gender stereotypes. (THE GUARDIAN Unmissable books for 2015)
A witty, engaging appeal for everybody to stop conforming so rigidly to gender stereotypes.... As this thoughtful, funny book reminds us, being a girl can mean a lot of things. And with luck one day women will all get to decide for themselves what that is. (IRISH TIMES)
An entertaining book that makes you question the conventions of gender. I expect it will attract comparisons with Caitlin Moran's How to be A Woman. Like Moran's work, I wish it could be handed out to every teenage girl as a self-esteem booster. (Rosamund Urwin EVENING STANDARD)
What I love most about Emer's writing is that she is not only able to explain complex ideas about feminist theory in a way that is engaging and relatable, but it is also really funny. If you love reading feminism which is as entertaining as it is thought-provoking, this book is the obvious next step up from Caitlin Moran. Get your hands on a copy. (abstractmag.com)
The book is personal, in that it's her own story of playing a different role, and it's chatty and funny and likeable, much as the author herself seems to be. (Eithne Tynan IRISH MAIL ON SUNDAY)
Part autobiography, part heartfelt plea to change the way we look at gender, Girls will be Girls is an excelltn primer on feminist theory. Every teenage girl should be given a copy. (Anne Sexton Hot Press)
As a possible fourth wave of Western feminism beckons, new titles on the subject are appearing with increasing regularity. O'Toole holds her own in a crowded space, albeit one in need of a greater diversity of female voices. Her accessible approach to theory, interwoven with her chatty, self-reflective style and gender insights from an Irish perspective creates a welcome addition to the current crop of popular feminist writing. (Mary McGill IRISH INDEPENDENT)
In her excellent and eye-opening book Girls Will Be Girls, Emer O'Toole discusses the impact of the often stereotypical 'lenses' through which we see the world and the importance of examining those lenses in order to better understand our ingrained and normalised prejudice. In her book, How to Be A Woman, Caitlin Moran suggests that things would be easier if some pigeons would shit all over the glass ceiling, because we would then at least be able to see what we are dealing with. O'Toole's book performs a similar function... allowing us to see clearly the boundaries that are often invisible and unquestioned... A witty, pacy and exhilirating lesson in beginning to colour outside the lines. (LAURA BATES EVERYDAY SEXISM)
Girls will be Girls is a funny and compelling read, combining fascinating, relatable storytelling with meticulous research and real practical advice for challenging patriarchal gender roles in your own small, large, thin, fat, feminine, masculine, hairy, unhairy way (and anything and everything in between!) (Lusana Taylor THE F WORD)
O'Toole follows the personal example set by Caitlin Moran to such powerful effect, as she explores through anecdote and recollections from childhood and adolescence a powerful concept familiar to those who have studies feminist theory since the 1970s: the notion of one's gender as a performance, a construction that can be altered. (SUNDAY HERALD)
A hilarious, honest and probing journey through what it means to be female, from haircutting to sexual discovery. (GRAZIA)
Girls Will be Girls is bloody amazing, so go and read it right now. (WRITER'S LITTLE HELPER)
Change the way you think about gender and feminism forever. With all the revolutionary zeal, laugh-out-loud humour and intelligence of Laura Bates, Caitlin Moran and Bell Hooks, Emer O'Toole explores what it really means to 'act like a girl'.See all Product description
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Emer O'Toole uses accessible language and easy to understand examples to explain the theories of some of the greatest thinkers of our age, Butler, Bordieu, etc. It's academic without using heavy academic language. Forget about hegemony and homogeneity. Welcome the vivid descriptions and stories that give you a language which you could use down the pub, or at a party.
For example - she talks about boob mania. Now obviously we're all aware of boobs being a thing in our society. I thought I was fairly aware of how cleavage in adverts etc affected me (or not affected me, I thought). Then Emer points out that, after you have a shower, how do you wrap your towel around you? Around your waist? Or do you cover your breasts? It came as a total shock to me - I don't cover myself with a towel the same way men do! Why? Why do I do that? I am not afraid of my own reflection! I am not ashamed of my breasts! And yet I do! The need to urge to cover up is just that strong!
Okay that wasn't the best example in the world, but I did find it very eye-opening. I have a daughter, which is one of the reasons I picked up this book. I am reading it in the hope of making the world a better place, and to raise her in a way that makes her better equipped at dealing with the traps of gender performance than I did. I don't want her to suffer the way I did when I was younger. And I think that if everyone read this book - the world truly would be a better place!
By drawing from her own life experiences, and sharing many amusing if sometimes poignant anecdotes along the way, the author looks at how people are conditioned to act out the part prescribed for their gender from birth. This is more than just dressing girls in pink and boys in blue. It looks at the way adults treat little girls (isn’t she pretty?) and how women are admired for attaining an acceptable aesthetic (thin, tanned, long hair on head, no hair on body).
The author talks of how she would feel social love and acceptance when she conformed, and how difficult it was to be seen in public with a more natural look.
“Why does so much embarrassment and shame surround women’s bodies?”
“it made me see how deeply engrained body policing really is”
I remembered the furor in the media when Emer appeared on breakfast television with visible underarm hair. Women grow hair on their bodies at around the same stage in their development that they grow breasts. How differently these natural protuberances are treated. Visible body hair, other than on the head, is viewed with disgust. Female breasts are so desirable that they must be covered, particularly in a professional setting, for fear that men will lose control, poor dears.
“The taboo on breasts successfully convinces us that women’s breasts are provocative, that men cannot possibly come into visual contact with them without losing all reason to a degree that we actually blame women who are attacked for failing to sufficiently hide their bodies.”
The chapters on sexuality were explicit but written to inform rather than titillate, a refreshing change. Women perform their socially influenced, learned behaviours in public and in the home, but even more so it would seem in bed. And that is what is expected, especially by men. The influence of porn is discussed, as is the lack of knowledge of the functions of the female anatomy. This is not an anti male text in any sense but rather an eye opening account of the roles society expects the genders to play, roles which are often painful as well as degrading for women.
The author writes of experiments she has carried out with her looks and how these have been received. She has shaved her head, grown her body hair, dressed as a boy and a girly girl. She reports on how each of these incarnations have been treated by friends and strangers, of the confusion and anger that can be induced when a women strays from what is considered the norm.
“My experiment […] was a visceral reminder of just how socially unacceptable the unmodified female body has become”
“we regularly punish those who fail to do their gender right”
The sociology and psychology are fascinating. I would love to put this book into the hands of so many people, yet I suspect that those who could learn most from it would dismiss the reasoning as feminist ranting, political correctness gone mad. Why should the beneficiaries of a system try to change it?
And this is why books such as these matter and must be put into the hands of young adults. If the patriarchy see no reason to change then the catalyst must come from elsewhere. Society is not just made up of boys and girls but also of those whose gender cannot be so neatly defined. Difference is natural and normal. Accepting this will require a radical shift in learned behaviour.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Orion.
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