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It seems like Lizzie Marvelly is someone everyone has an opinion on – a tall poppy who is poking sticks at a vast range of societal issues which are pertinent not just to the sexual and emotional health of women young and old, but also to those in the LGBTQIA community, as well as to men young and old who she sees need to be re-educated on how to treat women and girls in our society.
I also suspect that there is a feeling there too, of how dare she – a talented, privileged middle class girl who has been wildly successful as an international recording artist and who has performed at the Royal Albert Hall, suddenly turning her nose up at all those who put her there, supported her, bought her music, watched with tears in their eyes as she proudly sang the national anthem. A slip of a girl suddenly coming out with all this feminist zealot stuff, ranting, exclaiming and sweeping the curtains open, on all issues relating to being female in the 21st century. And that of course is her very point – her branding has needed re-branding to expose some much needed truths about the type of society we are currently living in, and whether this is what we really want for our children. Whether people like it or not, this young woman is challenging us to take a closer look at the community we live, work, socialise and raise our children in.
I knew I had to read this book with a very open mind. I am not the target demographic that she has written for, but I have grown up in and lived in NZ for most of my life, so understand the culture she is talking about and can identify, some of it from personal experience, with much of what she has to say. I also have two daughters in their early 20s, navigating the society that Lizzie is writing about, in fact her whole section on rape culture is something that a young woman we know is currently having to deal with. So extremely topical. How does she do?
Overall I think she has done very well. She is an excellent writer, does a superb job at getting her point and argument across with many illustrations and examples to support what she is saying. For someone so articulate though, with a great command of the language, I was annoyed at the overuse of the F-bomb especially in the first few chapters, and that word is not ‘feminist’ or ‘female’! I see her point – she is very angry. By crikey she is angry, angry at the sexist treatment she has received from boys at school, young men, people of power in the recording industry. And above all the insidious damaging power and reach of the internet.
It has to be said that her path to adulthood has not been the norm, and as interesting as it is, I do wonder how relevant or topical it will be to the majority of young women who may start to read this book. I doubt very much the average 29-year-old has accumulated such a range of life experience. I gave the book to a 16-year-old girl to read; she has read the first couple of chapters and is already bored with reading about Lizzie’s life to date, none of it really relevant to her. I am telling her to keep going, it gets better!
However her story does the set the scene, it being her own personal experience of much of what she writes about in the rest of the book. Once I had got through the first third to half of the book, she really pulled the guns out focusing on how girls and young women in NZ are portrayed in the media, advertising, social media, broadcasting, the perils of having the courage to have an opinion, the access of impressionable young teens to on-line porn (and we aren’t talking Playboy or dirty videos), the rape culture so deeply embedded in our society, abortion, the patriarchy. Not much of it is good I am afraid, it’s a scary world out there for young women.
And this is why I think it is an important book for the young women in our families and friends to read. Young women need to know that what they are seeing, reading, listening to, having to deal with in their social/sexual/work lives, is not uncommon, that many others are having similar experiences and reactions to it. This book will normalise the experiences that many, many women in New Zealand have experienced. There is power and reassurance in the sharing of information. There is no big call for unity or protest marches or petitions to Parliament. But there is power in knowing that you aren’t alone when unpleasant or bad stuff happens.
My one criticism – the title puts people off. I work in a bookshop and we haven’t sold a single copy, even though the book is right at the counter. There is no way people are not seeing it – based on the comments people make about Lizzie, her newspaper column, her persona. My theory is that it is actually that word ‘feminist’ putting people off, and my 21-year-old daughter concurred.
But don’t let this ‘judging a book by its cover’ put off the young women in your life or yourself for that matter, from reading this. In light of the #metoo movement, the ongoing drive for pay equality, the anxiety and self esteem issues many women have about their image, the savagery and trolling on social media/internet to anything related to female empowerment, I think this book is compulsory reading. Go Lizzie!
Reviewed by Felicity Murray
That F Word
by Lizzie Marvelly
Published by HarperCollins