What follows is not an academic review, but the review of an ordinary (middle class, middle-aged, white, so therefore boring) woman, fairly new to feminist activism, wanting to explore different feminist view points and learn. And Julie Bindel’s book, which claims to set out the real route to liberation, seemed like it should be on my required reading list.
From the outset, Bindel is on fire, furious at her assessment of the state of modern day feminism, that ‘bends over backwards to accommodate the rights and feelings of men but leaves women out in the cold.’ And as I started nodding along in recognition, I was grateful for the definition of feminism that she also outlines at the beginning of her book. Put simply, feminism is the quest for the liberation of women from the patriarchy. With this definition firmly cemented in the mind of the reader, the book reads as a battle cry against the progressive, woke definition of feminism that seems to centre every other group, identity, or ideology, yet keeps failing women time and again, as women’s sex-based rights are eroded.
Describing her own introduction to feminism, we get a real feel for why the issues are so important to Bindel. It was easy to relate to her journey, while at the same time be in awe of it and when she moved on to her chapter of “Are We Nearly There Yet” questioning whether or not feminism has reached its goals, I had to concede this was a question worthy of being raised, because when I hit university, in the early 1990s, I personally believed that the feminist job was done. I thought that we were there. I was wrong – very wrong – but it would take a while for me to figure that out. But that is my story, so I will leave it out of this review.
Bindel goes on to explore issues including pornography, the sex trade, the normalisation of sexual violence against women, surrogacy and in a distinctly uncomfortable analysis, explores the backlash against feminism by women such as Naomi Wolf, amongst others, with their development of the concept of ‘power’ feminism, which draws attention away from women’s oppression and effectively accuses women of embracing victimhood to their detriment. Going on to link the development of ‘power feminism’ with the current plague of eroticised sexual violence, which has been normalised, putting women at risk of injury or death through a narrative that endorses all sex as good sex, Bindel goes on to deconstruct this narrative, as she returns to one of the key aims of feminism – giving women the courage and the strength to say no to men.
Plain speaking is very much Bindel’s forte. She aligns the human rights movement with men’s rights, attacks the appropriation of intersectionality which she argues is used as a tool to silence women, and explores the TERF wars, unequivocal in her analysis of trans politics. Drawing on the experience and the feminism of others, such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Karen Ingala Smith, and Vaishnavi Sundar, Bindel’s is not one voice shouting into the void, but becomes a striking testament of the state of modern day feminism and the discourse around feminist activism today.
The book is not without problem, but that says more about the state of identity politics, and the way in which language is misinterpreted, misconstrued, or misappropriated in the battle to subvert the gains that have been made by feminism over the decades. One example is her description of Paris Lees as a ‘white person raised as a boy’. But what does being ‘raised as a boy’ actually mean? Are we saying that Lees was born male, and is now a trans woman? Or was Lees a ‘natal’ man, which is a term Bindel also uses, before reverting to ‘raised as a man’ in her description of Shon Faye? Given her later analysis of the necessary distinction between sex and gender, her assertion that the misuse of language causes ‘insidious, seeping, corrosive rot’, and her pointing to the sex stereotypes that serve to keep women subordinated to men, the terminology Bindel used could have done with being a little more consistent. As for pronouns, I can only assume that the following sentence was deliberate to make her point about liberal feminism: If a trans man who’s had HER breasts and ovaries removed is being told in HER LGBTQIAA+ group that SHE has to shut up because, as a trans man HE (emphasis mine)… It really does say it all about pronouns.
The book is timely, albeit with a pink cover (in an almost farcical visual affront, given the pinkification culture that Bindel rails against in the book). Easy to read, spoken with heart, honesty and anger, Bindel rallies women of today to move away from meaningless superficial feminism, reestablish the principles of liberation feminism, and move forward with purpose with a feminism organised by women for women. With her book, Bindel is true to the words of Maya Angelou, whose words preface the book: ‘Every time a woman stands up for herself… she stands up for all women.’
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