New Year was bloody awful and I spent much of it under the duvet waiting for it to be over. My partner left me on New Year's Eve.
I mean, left, left.
I've just about sorted myself out, but I was not doing great at the time. When I'm not sure what to think - I try not to. I look for distractions, and that's what this book was. A brilliant distraction.
Sometimes it's hard to be a woman and sometimes it's time to be a hard woman... This is a book for all those times.
Once upon a (very very) long time ago Jo Brand was what you might describe as 'a nice little girl'. Of course, that was before the values of cynicism, misogyny and the societal expectation that Jo would be thin, feminine and demure sent her off down Arsey Avenue.
The plot thickened, when due to a complicated fusion of hormones, horrible family dynamics and a no-good boyfriend they hated, Jo ended up leaving home at 16. Now she's considerably further along life's inevitable bloody 'journey' - and she's fucked up enough times to feel confident she has no wisdom to offer anyone. But who cares? She's going to do it anyway...
Born Lippy is a gathering of all the things Jo Brand wishes she'd known, all the things she's learnt, and all the things she hopes for the future. A century after women got the vote (albeit married women over the age of 28) it's time to take stock of exactly what it means to be female today. And if there's one thing women are entitled to, it's having a bloody good moan about things big and small - so here goes...
I really like Jo Brand, and I listened to the whole thing in two sittings over New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. It was exactly what I needed at the time. No-nonsense, practical advice for surviving life.
It's true, books are there through the good times and the bad. Who needs therapy?
It opens with the line:
No men have been harmed in the writing of this book.
And goes on to say:
I worry about writing a book in which I impart my ‘wisdom’ to my ‘daughters’, or in other words, ‘females who are very much younger than I am and have some hope and optimism left.’
Preach away sister, it's running thin.
Excuse typos, transcribing again.
There were some great bits on language and female anatomy:
If we go back in time, language has always been sexist, misogynistic, and any other word you can think of for unfair etymological treatment of women. So, 'hysteria' comes from the Greek word for womb, and I'm sure you're all aware that if women lost their equilibrium in those days it was assumed that it was because their womb was wandering unhelpfully about their body and confusing them. Vagina is the Latin word for 'sword sheath' - ouch - and the term for the general genital area, 'pudenda,' literally means things to be ashamed of.
So let's start with the wonder down under. Vaginas are amazingly stretchy. Well, babies come out of them, and that's a conjuring trick far stranger than anything covered by the Magic Circle. But the really surprising thing is the clitoris. Although anatomists have known since the 1800s that the visible bit is just the tip of the iceberg, it has remained a medical curiosity unmapped by many a male explorer. Five points if you spotted the man-can't-find-the-clitoris joke. While the penis is described in exhaustive detail in anatomies and textbooks, as late as 1948 Grey's Anatomy chose not to label the clitoris at all. Maybe Grey should have gone to Specsavers. Ten points.
Apparently the clitoris has 8,000 highly sensitive nerve endings. Double that of the entire glands of a penis, and considering its much smaller surface area this makes it fifty times more sensitive. We are fantastic creatures.
Wouldn't it be great if women everywhere embraced the idea that their vagina could be such a powerful weapon, rather than something shameful that needed to be silenced, or at the very least some extra storage when you're shoplifting in John Lewis.
She also mentioned the tampon tax, which is something Rwanda abolished in December. Apparently, periods cost women an average of £18,450 over a lifetime.
Why are tampons luxuries? Because men don't have periods. That's why.
What she was saying about reading and the importance of reading was also good:
Most people I know who don't read books say that school put them off. The relentless, tedious analysis of character, motive and structure, and all those other things that thankfully I've forgotten, which shows how interesting they were. No one is denying that Shakespeare is a fantastic writer, but most kids come out of school basically wanting to shove his winter up his discontent.
I've had a bit of a gripe about this myself.
And I especially appreciated her chapter on How not to fall in love and other advice you'll ignore. How to avoid mooning about in 'a psychotic bubble of love' - it really isn't good for your health - and how to rescue yourself from yourself.
Of course, the reality is, we're forever being forced into boxes marked 'that's what you are,' and if we try and crawl out of them it makes some people's brains melt.
The book is full of coping strategies for life, disastrous relationships and disastrous jobs. At one point she quoted the statistic that 40% of bosses in big business have an identifiable personality disorder, and was surprised it was that low. For more on that, check out The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson.
She ends on the following thought:
I think what women would like is a world in which they can be lazy and average and yet still be superior to men, rather than having to be 2.5 times better than their male equivalent. This has been calculated by social scientists, I haven't just made this up, and if I had I wouldn't be quite so restrained. I'd be suggesting women have to be ten or even twenty times better than men. That's really shit isn't it? That we have to be 2.5 times better just to be equal. And the fact is that a lot of men don't like women who are more competent than they are, and that is why they regress to playground name-calling and attempting to belittle women.
But she also states that she has a lot of hope for the future, and I'm with her on that. I work with a lot of young women packing confidence, and a lot of young men with respect and decency. I think things are progressing. I've also been lucky enough in my life to have dated people with strong values and kindness, even when personal dynamics didn't always work out. Sometimes it's difficult to separate what feels personal from who a person actually is. Time helps.
Anyway, I really enjoyed this book. It was what was needed at the time. A bit of sound wisdom and some funny jokes. Things happen and we carry on, because women do tend to be resilient, especially when they have good friends, a good sense of humour and good gin.