Emer O’Toole once caused a media sensation by growing her body hair and singing ‘Get Your Pits Out For The Lads’ on national TV. You might think she’s crazy – but she has lessons for us all. Protesting against the ‘makey-uppy-bulls**t’ of gender conditioning, Emer takes us on a hilarious, honest and probing journey through her life – from cross-dressing and head shaving, to pube growing and full-body waxing – exploring the performance of femininity to which we are confined. Funny, provocative and underpinned with rigorous academic intelligence, this book shows us why and how we should all begin gently to break out of gender stereotypes. Read this book, open up your mind and, hopefully, free your body. Girls Will Be Girls is a must-read wake-up call for all young women (and men).I’ve always been ultra-feminine. I refused to wear anything but dresses or skirts until I was about eight because trousers were for boys. I hated my short, curly hair because I was terrified people would mistake me for a boy. I once threw a massive tantrum because my poor dad tried to (sensibly) make me wear track pants on a cold winter day. Looking back, it’s absolutely laughable. It’s also frightening how ingrained these ideas were in three-year-old me.
I never questioned the role of femininity. There was no doubt I’d conform as much as possible, if only to avoid the embarrassment of being ‘different’. I think that’s what O’Toole captures so perfectly in Girls Will Be Girls: gender roles are so entrenched in society any non-conformity is often ridiculed, debated and ultimately shocking. Girls Will Be Girls was an incredible read.
O’Toole’s engaging, conversational style flowed beautifully. It felt less like reading and more like sitting down having a chat over a cup of tea. Which, quite frankly, is how more non-fiction should be written. O’Toole seamlessly blended theory and memoir to create a fascinating book, one which I know I will return to in the future. I took a lot away from reading Girls Will Be Girls. While I’m not necessarily going to stop shaving or give up my favourite floral dresses, understanding the reason why I feel so comfortable performing that role is massively eye-opening. Surely I can still be a feisty feminist with on-fleek brows, recognising the patriarchal structure underpinning the role of the female?
My own ideas of gender are so ingrained, have gone unchecked and unquestioned for so long, it’s going to take a while for me to unravel my thinking. One of the discussions I identified most with in Girls Will Be Girls was the idea that not conforming can be a lonely, emotional and sometimes heartbreaking experience. While I haven’t experienced this in quite the same way as O’Toole, I’ve certainly found it challenging to confront some of my dad’s beliefs about feminism and gender roles. (He’s slowly changing, or at least learning not to argue when I embark on a feminist mini-lecture). But even among friends, my feminist views can sometimes cause friction.
For most of Girls Will Be Girls, I found myself wondering why I’d never questioned gender roles. As O’Toole writes, it’s hard to imagine alternatives to these roles, but breaking free of this script is ultimately a more rewarding experience. I’ll be taking small steps, but I’ve got my red pen out and am starting the edits to my world view.