The Mud and Stars Book Blog

thoughts from a girl who spends her days in other worlds…

My thoughts on the fabulously feminist, fabulously funny, and just generally fabulous “What’s a Girl Gotta Do?” by Holly Bourne

on November 11, 2016

whatsagirlgotta

What’s a Girl Gotta Do? Holly Bourne. Usbourne. August 2016.

HOW TO START A FEMINIST REVOLUTION:

1. Call out anything that is unfair on one gender

2. Don’t call out the same thing twice (so you can sleep and breathe)

3. Always try to keep it funny

4. Don’t let anything slide. Even when you start to break…

Lottie’s determined to change the world with her #Vagilante vlog. Shame the trolls have other ideas…


Trigger warning: I will be talking about sexual assault in this post (but not in graphic detail).

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know how much I love Holly Bourne’s ‘Spinster Club’ trilogy, about three girls who set up their own grassroots feminist group. What’s a Girl Gotta Do? is the third instalment in this series, but it could certainly be read as a standalone too, and I would urge you to pick it up, even if you haven’t read Holly’s other books, because it’s quite fabulous!

Each of the books in this trilogy is told from a different girl’s perspective – the first Evie’s, the second Amber’s, and now it’s Lottie’s turn. I loved Lottie as a narrator because she is the female protagonist we have all been waiting for in YA (and books in general!) She’s smart and confident in herself, she’s not afraid to acknowledge the things she is good at, and she is determined enough to speak her mind, even when others try to silence her.

This novel follows Lottie as she embarks on a month-long project to call out every incident of sexism she witnesses. Lottie’s inspired to do this after being sexually harassed by two men in a van on her way to college (an experience which, Holly explains in her letter at the end of the book, is an almost word-for-word retelling of something which happened to her). Lottie decides that enough is enough – it’s time to stop letting things like this slide, time to make a stand, time to aim the spotlight at sexism, and start using her voice for good.

One of the things I loved most about this book was how it drew comedy from something so serious and important. I loved that Lottie honked a big clown-horn every time she witnessed something sexist, and I love that she cream-pied her vile ex-boyfriend Teddy when he shouted ‘slags’ at Lottie and her friends as he walked past. Lottie makes a promise to herself before beginning the project that she will try to keep things light and funny, for fear of coming across as a ‘whinging feminist’, and I can completely relate to that fear, as I’m sure many other girls and women can too. We can so easily be shamed and shut down for speaking our minds, which can be all the more damaging when it relates to the bigger issues (which sometimes get overlooked because of all the negative press the smaller ones receive.)

This book makes a powerful and convincing argument that we can and SHOULD use our voices, no matter the opposition we face. If something’s wrong, we need to call it out. We need to make things like street harassment visible, because otherwise nothing will change. I know first-hand how nasty it can be to have things shouted at you about your breasts when you’re walking down the street, and after enduring years of sexualised bullying at school – having boys, girls, and sometimes even my own friends (who are not my friends anymore, obvs) making nasty comments about my body, I cannot advocate enough the importance of books like this one. I wish I had read something like this when I was a teenager, as at the time I was too afraid to even tell anyone I was being bullied, let alone understand the sexism ingrained in the type of bullying I was experiencing.

Sexist incidents DO happen, no matter how much we try to deny and trivialise them, and we need to start speaking out about them, to make it clear that they’re not okay. We are living in a world where a man who has openly bragged about ‘grabbing’ women ‘by the pussy’ has just been elected president of the United States, over a woman with 100% more political experience than him. Well, I know first-hand how degrading it is to be grabbed Trump-style when you’re minding your own business, dancing with your friends in a nightclub… and I also know what it is like to have somebody try to sexually assault you in your own room. I can probably count on one hand the number of people I have shared that experience with, because I spent a long time thinking that it was my own fault (even though I actively said the word NO), feeling embarrassed and ashamed, and questioning whether anyone would actually take it seriously, because it wasn’t rape, and I did invite him into my room…

But both of the incidents I have just mentioned are a part of rape culture, and an important part of smashing that is speaking up about the smaller incidents, and recognizing that neither of them were my fault. The election of Donald Trump seems like a massive ‘fuck you’ to anyone who has ever been touched without their consent (well, that’s only the tip of the iceberg concerning all of the people it’s a massive ‘fuck you’ to…). I don’t know about you, but I’d like to say an even louder ‘fuck you’ right back. This book has empowered me to do so.

I have to admit that I did find some of the things Lottie called out in this book a little extreme. For example, I have never believed ‘manspreading’ to be sexist – I’ll admit it’s annoying when someone’s taking up part of my seat on the train, but I don’t consider it to be in any way related to oppression. I absolutely consider myself a feminist, but I do sometimes take issue with the battles we pick. As I’ve mentioned before, I fully appreciate and applaud the point this book is trying to make about the smaller things adding up to create a culture where the bigger things are permitted to happen more easily, but I just do not see a man making his junk a bit more comfortable on the tube as a feminist issue. I also wasn’t comfortable with the way Lottie called out her teacher being called ‘Mrs’ as sexist. I understand the reasoning behind it, but in Britain, we have the choice of using alternative titles if we wish, and we have the choice not to take a man’s second name and keep our own if we wish. I don’t think calling out a woman for her own choice of marital name is fair. Feminism for me is all about freedom of choice.

There were certainly a lot of points in this book I did relate to. I particularly loved when Lottie and the girls went round a cosmetics shop in their local shopping mall and called out all the bullshit products, like ibuprofen with a more expensive price tag dressed up as ‘period pain tablets’ in a pink package, and cellulite cream, which only exists because women have been made to feel that something perfectly natural that can happen to their bodies is gross and needs to be dealt with. I was reading this part while I was watching some on-demand TV, and it made me sit up and take notice of all the ‘anti-wrinkle cream’ adverts which came on in the break, and which, surprise surprise, were only targeted at women, because only men are allowed to age, obvs.

I think one of the most interesting things about this book was how we got to see the impact of campaigning on Lottie’s mental health. She almost burns herself out in the process of standing up for what she believes in, and I found the section where she is dealing with all the online trolls after she appears in a national newspaper to talk about her project the most illuminating. We see cases like this so often online, particularly when women write articles about feminist issues and end up receiving rape and death threats from perfect strangers via Twitter. We think ‘how awful’, but rarely do we delve deeper and think about how devastating and scary it must be to actually go through something like that.

As with all of Holly’s books, what I loved most about this one was Lottie, Evie, and Amber’s friendship, which even though there is a romantic storyline in this book, takes centre stage. These girls are so relatable, intelligent, and hilarious, and they genuinely feel like they could be your best mates. I’m going to miss them, and this series, loads, but I’m so excited to see what Holly writes next; it’ll undoubtedly be an auto-buy for me. If you haven’t already, please do pick up the fabulously feminist, fabulously funny, and just generally fabulous all round Spinster Club Trilogy.

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26 responses to “My thoughts on the fabulously feminist, fabulously funny, and just generally fabulous “What’s a Girl Gotta Do?” by Holly Bourne

  1. Awesome review!! I’ve seen Hanah Witton talk about these books on her YouTube channel; definitely adding the series to my list!!

  2. Amazing review, Jess! I’m so glad you loved this book. It’s one of those reads that I think will stick with me for a very long time to come. I agree that Holly Bourne writes friendships and women so incredibly well – it’s one of the things I love most about her books. I’m sorry to hear that such awful things happened to you, but pleased to hear that you’re okay and speaking out. Doing that is brave and will help many other people! Xx

    • mudandstars says:

      Thanks Sammie! 🙂 Me too, all of the books will stay with me for a long time – I think Am I Normal Yet? was my favourite of the three, but this one probably has had the biggest impact on me overall. Holly’s writing of friendships is fabulous, I can’t wait to see what kind of book she writes next. And thank you, I really appreciate that. Originally I wrote this review without mentioning those things, and I almost didn’t include them as I was worried it was a bit too personal and might make people feel awkward, but all of my anger over the election has made me realise that those things are important to acknowledge. To be honest, I don’t think I even really realised what had happened to me was a form of sexual assault until I read Everyday Sexism and saw other women sharing their experiences. I mean, I knew it was wrong and made me feel horrible, but I didn’t realise that I actually had the right to call it out for what it was. I am okay though, and I’ve realised that I actually don’t need to feel embarassed about sharing this, because it most definitely was not my fault! xx

      • Welcome! 😁 AINY? Was my fave too, closely followed by this one! I agree with you in the sense that this is one of those rare books that I feel has changed me in some way. Me too! Hopefully she writes another soon! People should speak out and I’m glad you did, because most, if not all women have experienced sexual harassment/abuse/assault on some kind of level. You’re totally right – you definitely don’t need to feel embarrassed or that it was your fault because it never, ever is. You go girl! *cheers* xx

      • mudandstars says:

        Thanks Sammie! 🙂 Absolutely, it’s something which happens to so many people, and yet so many people feel they can’t talk about, because it’s just become the norm – but we should call people out for shouting stuff at us in the street, because it’s unacceptable and can be really upsetting! Have you read the novella to this trilogy? I haven’t bought it yet but will be doing so soon 🙂 xx

      • You’re very welcome. 🙂 Absolutely, I know I definitely need to get a bit better about calling people out, because like Lottie I always feel really frustrated when something like that happens and I don’t stand up for myself and my gender in general. Not yet! I really, really want to but Xmas shopping has emptied my bank account haha. It’s been a while since this comment, have you managed to get your mitts on it yet? 🙂 xx

      • mudandstars says:

        I’m the same – I often just let things slide to save the confrontation. This book definitely inspired me to stand up for myself! I haven’t managed to pick up a copy yet – I’m also a bit poor after Christmas shopping, so I’m going to wait until I have some Christmas money and treat myself then 🙂 xx

      • Ditto! I’m glad it made you feel that way – it did the same thing for me. Haha that’s exactly what I’m doing at the moment – I’m literally so skint right now I’m kind of crawling towards pay day and hoping for the best. I can’t help but spoil my loved ones at Christmas though! 🙂 xx

      • mudandstars says:

        I know how you feel – Christmas shopping has wiped me out! And I’m unemployed at the moment. Yet still I can’t resist Waterstones, I need help for this addiction haha. xx

      • Haha, no you don’t! You never need help for indulging in books. It makes us the very best kind of people. 😉 I hope you had an amazing Christmas! xx

      • mudandstars says:

        Haha, that definitely makes me feel better about the 8 books I have purchased SINCE Christmas! 😛 Hope you had a lovely one too! xx

  3. Fabulous review, Jess! In light of recent events, I am trying to find more feminist fiction or books that celebrate PoC identity… I think we need more of these books now, more than ever.

    From your review, I have a feeling I’d love this book, particularly for the messages that it sends. I think we need to read more of these books – books that educate us on what we CAN do but also have a realistic portrayal of our challenges. I’m going to remember this recommendation – thank you!

    • mudandstars says:

      Thanks so much CW! 😊 I completely agree, and will be trying to do the same thing myself. If you have any recommendations, let me know! I think the one good thing to come out of all of this is all of the sharing I have seen on Twitter of recommendations for own voices books, and all of the people I have seen being inspired to write them. I hope you get a chance to pick up Holly Bourne’s books, they are fantastic – I haven’t come across many YA books focusing on feminism, but I hope we will see a rise of more of them 😊 and what you said about being realistic about the challenges we might face, that’s especially true of this book and I liked the way it was explored – it’s very honest about how difficult activism can be, but still manages to be inspirational.

  4. Great review! You said this can be read as a stand alone do I need to know anything about the others if I do pick it up on it’s own?

    • mudandstars says:

      Thanks Kirsty! 🙂 I think this book does a really good job of giving context from things that happened in the other books – each of the books follows a different girl’s story, so it can definitely be read as a standalone. There are references to the other girls’ stories, but only in passing, and it’s all explained, so would be very easy to follow if you haven’t read them 🙂 But I do recommend all of them anyway, as they are all fantastic!

  5. Great review- sounds like an interesting read 🙂

    • mudandstars says:

      Thanks so much! Yeah it really was – I’ve never read any other YA books like it before. I especially love that it focuses on friendship first and foremost – I feel there aren’t enough books that do this, and I really appreciated it 🙂

  6. Jesssss, please bug me to start reading this series! I already got books one and two with me, but I keep forgeting to grab them and this series sounds awesome!!!! Loved your review, as always ❤ ❤

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