A Wasted Opportunity: This is How Not to Write A Book About Coming Back Stronger

This Is How We Come Back Stronger: Feminist Writers on Turning Crisis into Change by Feminist Book Society

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This will be a long review. But the upshot, is that this book is nothing more than an opportunity wasted. I began trying to curate my thoughts about this book when I began reading it. I found it a near impossible task, as so much of this book incensed me to an almost raging fireball of fury. But first, a bit of background to put this review into context. I am a divorced, single parent, nearing fifty years old, university educated, having had a professional career. This is a book that should be speaking to me. As to the book itself, it was curated by the Feminist Book Society and published in the UK by And Other Stories, an independent publisher based in Sheffield, while in the US it was published by The Feminist Press. The blurb was that it was written by feminist writers on how the current crisis the world was facing could be turned into change. I ordered it through the UK publisher during lockdown and waited for it to be delivered by one of the many key workers that kept us all going during these strange and lonely times. I was really looking forward to beginning the book, hoping that the particular and specific issues facing women during the pandemic would be explored. On a personal level, I was already dealing with some of those issues as a divorced parent of two teenage boys: trying to keep them motivated to homeschool, trying to find a scrap of positivity amidst the debris of cancelled exams, trying to form a defensive shield around their increasing feelings of purposelessness, all the while dealing with my own sense of isolation, inertia and increasing anxiety.

But when the book arrived in the post, it was as though I was hit with a cannonball of contempt and a huge fiery blast of anger exploded in my chest. Why? Because they sent it with a postcard proclaiming that the fight for transgender equality is a feminist cause. My first thought: ‘You have got to be fucking kidding me.’ I wanted a book with a powerful statement about women’s rights, and the peculiar challenges we face during the Covid pandemic. What I did not want is a political statement effectively guilting women into thinking that they should fight for the rights of what seems to be predominantly males who choose to identify as women. Why is it women’s responsibility to fight for this? And while we’re at it, can someone please explain to me what the hell transgender is without reverting to “feelings” of wanting to put on a dress and lipstick, or play with dolls. I really thought we’d moved past these regressive sexist stereotypes that have proven to be so limiting for women.

In many ways, it is a shame my view of the book was coloured by that wretched postcard. Because, the first three pieces are excellent, and really spoke to me about what it was to face this pandemic as a woman. It also captures this unique moment of history, sharing the individual perspective of authors, while at the same time, it is almost as if each piece is simply a mirror reflecting back at the reader our own experience of the pandemic, with all of the other issues and global events that seem to have come with it, everything from the #BLM movement growing as a response to the murder of George Floyd, the clapping for the NHS and the great toilet paper shortage of 2020.

I was particularly moved by the interview with Laura Bates, who founded the Everyday Sexism project, because what shines through in every response that she gave is that sex matters. Women are disproportionately bearing the brunt of lockdowns. Yet at the same time, the questions she was asked, were framed with the word ‘women’ replaced with ‘womxn’, as if the word ‘women’ has somehow become inappropriate or dirty. Did Laura ask for it to be written that way? If not, why did some editor choose to do so. What is wrong with naming women for who we are?

The thing is, of the first three pieces all the authors know what a woman is. They might not say so, but they don’t need to. Because they know. They know that there are specific challenges facing women, and how devastating this pandemic has been for women’s progress towards greater equality in all aspects of life. And unfortunately, as the book progressed, with only one or two exceptions, it just got to the point where it was bordering on unreadable dross, with far too much self-absorbed naval gazing, while wagging the finger at women for not placing the needs of everybody else first.

Let’s talk about the highlights first. Catherine Cho’s piece is remarkable, and it is shame it gets lost in amongst the rest. It simply shines as a stand-alone piece, and it deserves to be read, and seen. The strength and power of her voice was a well-needed antidote to the antipathy I was sliding into as I tried to get through the rest of the book. Gina Miller’s piece too was superb. Dorothy Koomson’s piece is also excellent, and actually speaks to what, at heart the book was trying to do – actually propose a solution to how we come back stronger. Lisa Taddeo’s piece is striking – and honest.

But as to the rest, it either had me indifferent or utterly fuming. Fox Fisher’s piece – the absolute word salad of a title of Trans Rights are Women’s Rights Are Trans Rights, in which Fisher self-describes as a ‘brown queer trans feminist’ (another word salad, and I am not entirely sure what they are). In the piece Fisher moans about anti-queer sentiment (without defining what queer means), anti-trans protestors (particularly those at the 2018 pride march where lesbians protested against their erasure by trans-activism), before claiming that there is a false narrative being spun that transgender rights are in direct opposition to the safety of women and girls. But there is no evidentiary base to support this claim – WHAT MAKES IT A FALSE NARRATIVE FOX? It is clear to any woman seeing more and more intrusion by males into women’s spaces and services that there is a conflict. Our spaces and services are being colonised. You call it being inclusive, but we see it as being intrusive. This, and the fact that Fisher misrepresents the import and intent of the Equality Act, relies on the evidence of the lobby group Stonewall, and then argues that abusive men pretending to be women is nothing more than a myth (hello? remember Karen White) makes their piece in this book nothing more (and a reminder this is not an academic review but my personal opinion), than self-indulgent twaddle. The publishers in effect gave Fisher a soapbox on which to preach to women – the very women it was supposed to be supporting as they struggled through the pandemic. Let me say, on behalf of all those women who were working from home while homeschooling, just fuck off. It is not our job to fight for you. It is not a feminist cause. (I haven’t even begun to talk about the almost complete erasure of working-class women from this piece, but there is only so much dross I can contend with). Oh, and the whole wrong side of history argument… I study history. I know which ‘side’ I would rather be on, and that is the side recognises that the modern concept of gender is one which does nothing more than than reinforce systemic sexist stereotypes that prop up the patriarchy.

The book should also hang its head in shame for demonising JK Rowling through the mouthpiece of a ‘genderfluid cis white lesbian’ who attempts to shame Rowling for the effect that her words would ‘inevitably have on trans people’s well-being,’ before pontificating about a lack of empathy.

It is so frustrating to have to write this review. This book could have been so much. It could have given much needed hope and inspiration to the army of women who were working from home, while homeschooling, wondering how they were going to keep their bored and restless children from sinking into ever further despair as the world around them descended into crisis. This is not a feminist book to be celebrated. Like much that was taken from our lives as the pandemic raged, it was yet another opportunity lost.

View all my reviews

Published by Deborah Siddoway

Dickens enthusiast, book lover, wine drinker, writer, lover of all things Victorian, and happily divorced mother of two lovely (and very tall) boys.

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