Clementine Ford is one of Australia’s most well-known feminists. A columnist for Daily Life, Ford has become famous for her acerbic and dramatic writing style and for unashamedly publicly drawing attention to the horrific online abuse she receives on a daily basis. She’s just published her first book, and as the set book for Feminartsy‘s Read Like a Feminist bookclub, it was solidly on my list.
“Fight Like a Girl” by Clementine Ford is her manifesto on feminism. Drawing largely on her own personal experiences and knowledge, Ford discusses topics ranging from eating disorders, sexual violence, online abuse, abortion and sexuality. Part memoir, part statement of values and part humour, this book chronicles Ford’s journey towards finding her brand of feminism.
I struggled with this book. About halfway through I messaged a friend who was reading it at the same time to discuss it. I couldn’t really figure out what I was reading. It wasn’t a heart-wrenching, beautifully written memoir like “The Hate Race“. Nor was it an immaculately researched, clear and succinct guidebook like “Speaking Out: a 21st Century Handbook for Women and Girls”. My friend said it sounded like I was having trouble with the structure, and I think that was exactly it.
This book is loosely structured by theme, but there is a lot of overlap. It reads like a stream of consciousness. While there were some interesting insights and vividly described memories, there were also a lot of blanket statements, vulgarity and humorous hyperbole. Although I agreed with a lot of what Ford was saying, I’m not sure this is a book I would recommend. I thoroughly agree with the right for women to be as gross and loud and human as they like, but this book kind of reminded me a bit of an art exhibition I saw earlier this year. A film had been playing of a one-armed man who was vomiting blue dye. I could appreciate the art, but after I while I simply couldn’t look at it any more. I appreciate that the language she uses represents the language in which she is spoken to every single day, but after a while this book became a bit too abrasive.
Thematically, I think some of Ford’s chapters were stronger than others. I felt like her arguments about abortion, her exposé of online abuse and the hypocrisy of being called a “man hater” were her strongest chapters. She really hit her stride and stuck a great balance between facts and feelings, and wrote convincingly and evocatively. In some of her other chapters she was a bit more laissez-fair with facts and sources.
I also felt like this book was written for a narrow audience: Ford’s fans. Ford is critical of men, ranging from white (ribbon) knights to to MRAs, and fair enough. Ford is also scathing of women who “don’t need feminism because…” and rightly so. However, it’s a little hard to figure out who this book is for. Instead of hooking people with urgent and heartbreaking empathy like Maxine Beneba Clarke, or with cool logic and by being informative without being condescending like Tara Moss, this book seems to be written for people who already agree with her. While I agree that it’s not the role of women generally to educate men on the overwhelming social benefits of gender equality (that’s what the internet is for), I think as a prominent feminist Ford could probably have used her writing a little more effectively to spread her sound and valuable messages – especially to other women.
There was a lot in this book, and it gave me some stuff to think about and a few chuckles, but mostly I felt like I was the choir being preached to. Ford’s columns are great in moderation, but a whole book’s worth of sexist slurs (regardless of the irony with which they were being used) was a bit overwhelming and ultimately, this book was a bit of a slog.