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Book Review: Difficult Women by Helen Lewis

The history of feminism in 11 fights….

Dear Difficult Women,

The trail blazers.

The angry women.

The badly behaved women.

The women who fought for the vote, wanted equal pay, wated to become doctors, wanted to get divorced. 

The women who wanted more, the women who asked for more, the women who’d had enough of being ignored, the women who decided to fight. 

The women who did not play by the rules. The women who got things done and predictably ended up being punished or air brushed out of history because that’s what society does.

The feminist fight’s come a long way, led by Difficult Women, the 19th and 20th centuries have afforded us victories that at times are taken for granted….

We can study without men protesting against it.

We can access birth control, have an abortion, have a say over our bodies.

We can have our say at the ballot box.

We know our value in the workplace – we’ve forced the gender pay gap on to the agenda and can rightly be pissed off about it.

But it hasn’t been easy.

Those who got angry before I was even dreamt of, have had to resort to underhand tactics, they’ve been locked up, broken the law and at times used violence to get what they want – despite what Mary Poppins would have you believe, the Suffragettes didn’t wear sashes and dance around singing to get the vote. They were locked up, went on hunger strike, were force fed and embarked on violent campaigns to have their voices heard.

The women’s refuge movement started as an illegal set up in London by Erin Pizzey – she decided to help victims of abuse escape – she did that through squatting. 

These are actions that changed the world for future generations of women, for that I salute you…..flaws and all because you are flawed.

You aren’t saints, you aren’t on the moral high ground, you’re complicated, your views are controversial, in most cases activists “aren’t nice” and that’s what we need to remember.

Marie Stopes founded the first birth control clinic but was anti-abortion and a supporter of eugenics.

Erin Pizzey may have set up the first refuge, but she holds dreadful views on domestic abuse – she believes there are two types of victims – the innocent and those who keep going back because they’re addicted to violence. It’s a galling statement and belief to have considering everything we now know about abuse; it is victim blaming of the highest order. 

She’s woman who infuriates me, she’s a woman I don’t agree with, she’s a woman I don’t like, even so she can’t be written out of history she has played her part. Her shelter led to the creation of the charity refuge, she did shine a light on the very real, very serious problem of domestic violence – she is the embodiment difficult, good action, really shitty views.

Feminism isn’t about being ‘nice’ and ‘polite’. It isn’t about 50% of the world’s population hero worshipping each other, it isn’t about being sisterly and agreeing with each other on every single issue.

It isn’t about having perfect poster girls throughout history for the movement. 

It’s about giving a woman the right to act and be whoever the hell she wants to be – flaws and all.

Feminism is filled with complicated, difficult women who aren’t likeable – I’m not sure there’s a single one in this book who I’d go for a pint with.

The fights have always been hard, change never comes easily, the powers that be never decided to meet demands after one well-mannered meeting.

Sometimes, in the fight for equality, you’ve got to be a difficult woman.

So here’s to the difficult women, thank you for being complicated, thank you for fighting for change and thank you for reminding me that sometimes, those who have made things better for the rest of us…..can be and are dick heads too.

Sarah x

radiosarahc View All

Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm

12 thoughts on “Book Review: Difficult Women by Helen Lewis Leave a comment

  1. I might have to get this, most people who get stuff done, aren’t the most popular and it can be annoying when people do such amazing things in one way and awful in another, makes me want to shake them x

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was so interesting, mostly because we either put people who have fought for change on a pedestal and conveniently forget about their questionable actions or write them out of history.

      I don’t think the woman who fought for divorce rights for women would have identified as a feminist, in fact I think she’d have hated the title

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, nobody is a saint, we have to separate what they did good and what they did bad, feminist is a title hated by lots because of what they think it means x


  2. Sounds likes a book that everyone should read. But women have been taking on the male establishment long before the 19th and 20th century. Does the book explain how come it excluded other historical female figures predating the 19th century?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agreed! It did touch on earlier women taking on the establishment but not as comprehensively. Each chapter looked at different fights and the history of those fights such as divorce, sex, the vote etc and focussed mainly on those who were pretty complicated when it came to views and actions.
      I loved the fact that it drove home the point that no one is a saint we’re all a complex bag humaness 🤣

      Liked by 1 person

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