An Eloquent Woman is Never Chaste

Do it like a woman and change the world.

This is a call to arms. Sexism is alive and well, and yet, as Caroline Criado-Perez shows in her book Do It like a Woman, there are amazing women out there doing their best to kick the shit out of it. She asks us all to revel in their achievements and to join their ranks. No false moustaches or male pseudonyms required: just do it like a woman.

Telling the stories of real people and real events, Criado-Perez situates historically the myriad world of discrimination and violence that women across the world currently face. Take the Carriers of the Cross, the shadowy gang of ‘bearded protectors’ and ‘enforcers’ of the Russian Orthodox faith, who claim that ‘pussy is a devious word’. Their literal interpretation of female punk protest group Pussy Riot’s name as ‘deranged vaginas’ is so bizarre that it seems easy to dismiss as not a real concern for feminists. However, as Criado-Perez reminds us, they are following in the dangerous footsteps of a long tradition of fearing and hating the wombs of women: wandering wombs ‘trailing psychosis for women in their wake’, and of course the mythical vagina dentata. Asking us to shut up and cross our legs closes both gates to hell: two sets of lips connected by the proverb ‘an eloquent woman is never chaste’.

Eloquence is something Criado-Perez is well practiced in, having campaigned for a woman to feature on UK banknotes for having done something – as opposed to the Queen who only has the dubious ‘achievement of being born without any brothers’. It lead to a furious backlash, considered too obscene for her to give details in newspapers or on the radio. Extracts are used in the book, a no-holds-barred experience for readers from the 300 A4 pages that piled up by the first weekend. Much of the abuse focuses on Criado-Perez’s mouth and throat: ‘Shut your whore mouth… or ill [sic] shut it for you and choke it with my dick’. But she refuses to be silenced.

Instead she has set herself the difficult job of writing a book that holds up as role models all the amazing women that are out there, but also acknowledges the terrible state of affairs women have to face. Given this, reading the book is a schizophrenic experience. It is, often, uplifting: stories of the first woman to cross the Antarctic, the first female helicopter pilots in Afghanistan, the breast-feeding, Kalashnikov women in Eritrea, and the women leading rebellions in the Arab Spring. But is also truly misery-inducing. There is the female genital mutilation of huge numbers of women and girls across the world. There are the women who are locked up for years and years for murder because they miscarried in countries where abortion is illegal. There is the treatment of female asylum seekers who have been raped, watched by men while they shower, dress and go to the toilet, men who often look a lot like the people – the police and soldiers – who raped them.

An unfriendly eye cast quickly over this book might get the impression that it is confused: is it supposed to be inspiring or depressing? However, that is to overlook that the situation of women, currently, is both. It seems contradictory but sexism is contradictory: women are thought of as both eminently trivial and radically threatening, both as things to be protected at all costs and things to be bought and sold, as things to be overlooked and things to be controlled. With a refreshing style of vignettes and stories imbued with analysis and statistics, Criado-Perez asks – demands – that we ‘join the dots’. These accounts are not ‘mere’ anecdotes, isolated incidents; they are part of a pattern. And the systematic nature of discrimination cannot be overlooked, as story after story pile up with the same message: that doing it like a woman is, we are told over and over, to do it worse than a man.

The aim of this book is to rehabilitate the notion of doing it like a woman: a celebration of being a woman, of doing it like a woman, of speaking, leading, advocating and choosing like a woman. And Criado-Perez succeeds. It will make you want to cry, like a woman, while showing you that crying is not a sign of weakness. It will make you want to climb mountains and topple dictatorships, like a woman. So, when you can change the world, who cares about being chaste?

Do It Like A Woman by Caroline Criado-Perez, Portobello, Paperback, ISBN: 9781846275791

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