Books

Clementine Ford
Fight Like a Girl

“I can’t remember the first time I was called ugly, but I can remember the last. It was today,” writes Clementine Ford in Fight Like a Girl.

In her new feminist manifesto, the popular – if controversial – Fairfax columnist remembers pinning her self-worth as a teenager to what boys thought of her. She believed she was “ugly, unwieldy, fat, monstrous … a failure at all the things that girls were supposed to be”. Namely, that they should be polite, deferential and agreeable, and must not, under any circumstances, “threaten masculine power”.

Now Ford has discarded politeness in a bid to overturn the status quo and upend the patriarchy she believes still pins women down. Fight Like a Girl is a call to arms, “a love letter to the girls”. In the vein of other recent feminist books, such as Lindy West’s Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, Ford makes her story deeply personal. She charts everything from a confidence crisis growing up to the abuse she receives daily online. “Nothing,” writes Ford, “feels better than unleashing your voice.”

That voice is unleashed in full. Ford’s main thrust is that liberation will not result from coaxing. Instead of being inclusive to men, and trying to do better in a flawed system, women need to be demanding, to shout louder, in order to shatter the glass ceiling that holds them down. Niceness is not going to get women anywhere.

But righteous anger, even if justified, does not automatically translate into good writing or nuanced arguments. Particularly grating is Ford’s insistence on diminishing human beings to their sexual organs. “Our bank balances rise and fall based on how fuckable we are,” she insists. Eager to redress the balance, she writes that “the threat of some dude’s disapproval or disappointed flaccid cock doesn’t tie me up in knots anymore”. Does scornfully reducing all males to their penises really help? It reads disagreeably like revenge. She holds particular venom for men who declare themselves feminists and expect a welcome reception.

Fight Like a Girl is less funny and less profound than books such as Shrill. West’s vulnerability is more honest and engaging, where Ford’s talk-to-the-hand monotone can seem contrived. She sees herself like a “camel crossing the desert … starting to feel the rumbling strain of thirst”. It will be interesting to see how many drink from her particular brand of hot-fire feminism.  EA

Allen & Unwin, 304pp, $29.99

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 8, 2016 as "Clementine Ford, Fight Like a Girl". Subscribe here.

Reviewer: EA