Do it Like a Woman by Caroline Criado-Perez

Review published on June 20, 2015. Reviewed by sara garland

Nudge Reviewer Rating:

I often wonder how I would have behaved at the time of the suffragettes. I suspect I would have had strong views and wanted women to get the vote, but whether I would have been strong enough to drive the change, in all honesty? I think it unlikely.

How women have asserted themselves to be treated as an equal, to crush deep seated views about what women can and cannot do, to break boundaries and shift attitudes that many off us now take for granted is fascinating. There are varied views about feminism and the role it has to play in modern times, but the Criado-Perez’ book shares the stories of women in very recent times that have still faced entrenched views and barriers to aspirations. It captures what is to be a woman breaking the mould in the 21st century.

Criado-Perez is a British journalist and feminist activist, who was involved in the campaign to get Jane Austen’s head on the new £10 note. She was then was subject to public abuse and threats. To her credit she has been awarded Human Rights Campaigner of the Year.

Most of the stories were immensely impressive. Take Latifa, the first female military helicopter pilot in Afghanistan. To achieve this in a country where women are still oppressed, she faced intolerance, anti-women views/behaviour, and injustice. How she and her family had to deal with being sought out by the Taliban sounded terrifying. Also shared is the story of Felicity, the first woman to travel 1744 miles across Antarctica alone. She explained how having 7 years’ experience in such conditions she was overtly not assigned to skilled tasks, even though she was beyond doubt the most experienced to undertake these. Sometimes, even with 6 years’ experience [over others in the team] she was directed to complete menial tasks [rather than] being allocated some high risk tasks.

To this end it yearns to be like an antidote to prevailing culture that has acted to constrain women. The introduction is tough, energised and a touch aggressive. Some observations about behaviours and attitudes acted to raise awareness, others I thought held a low tolerance for natural human behaviour. It is however good to reflect, to consider behaviours and approaches that we are immersed in and conditioned to operate within without due awareness.

Stereotypical issues such as how it is argued women are over emotional, prone to demonstrating this through tears, yet the emotion associated with men being angry and aggressive is still associated with being more rational are captured. Therefore begging, at times, that the way gender is depicted and used does represent a value judgement.

Phrases Criado-Perez picked up throughout the stories include such as: ‘that’s just the way it is, it’s always going to be there, it happened back then’ were reflected by these advancing women. This was suggested to be negative and a weakness, but in reality reflects that advancements and breakthroughs will be incremental and that we do need to recognise people will adapt, grow and accept change at different rates. With advancement there needs to be determination, but tolerance also. An educational approach is also needed – it is not necessarily about seeing the strides to be made as a battle.

An interesting story depicted a female graffiti artist who strived hard to become accepted, but then put down other girls coming up through the ranks, displaying behaviour not dissimilar to that of other male graffiti artists when she was trying to gain acceptance herself. This begs the question as to whether barriers faced are more about power rather than gender per se and care should be taken not to presume it to be anything else.

Certainly influencing where women haven’t previously can be difficult and it takes time for confidence in abilities to grow to enable default assumptions to be eroded. There is no doubt that the women who shared their life experiences are women of conviction.

The book certainly gets you thinking. Some of the stories are more engaging than others. They did roll into one another and so I would have appreciated the use of more chapters and sub-headings that made it easier on the eye, improved readability and would have enabled the book to be broken down into clearer themes that Criado-Perez clearly wanted to convey. Overall plenty to chew over and debate if you enjoy this kind of subject matter.

Sara Garland

Do it Like a Woman by Caroline Criado-Perez was published in pbk by Portobello Books on May 7th, 2015

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