I read about Holly Bourne in a BuzzFeed article a few days ago, and instantly hopped over to Amazon to download the first book in The Spinster Club series. Holly Bourne uses her books to call out sexism? Now that sounds like my cup of tea.
As you probably know, The Bandwagon is not just a book blog. It’s a blog of all things feminism. I’m a member of the Women’s Equality Party, and a rather loud, rampant feminist. I blog about society policing women’s bodies and sexual harassment, body-shaming and voting, and anything else that I feel needs my voice raised against or for it. So Bourne’s books seemed like the perfect series for me to get my teeth into.
The Spinster Club series is comprised of three books:
#1: Am I Normal Yet?
#2: How Hard Can Love Be?
#3: What’s A Girl Gotta Do?
And I’m going to discuss them all.
Am I Normal Yet? introduces us to the soon-to-be Spinster Club, by following Evie and her struggle with OCD, on top of being a teenage girl. For those of us who know what OCD really is, Evie’s story is powerfully true. At first, I was kind of annoyed at Evie for having the most stereotypical type of OCD there is – constant hand-washing, a fear of germs, and a suspicious lack of tics. And then I ate my words, because Evie got annoyed with herself for having the most stereotypical type of OCD there is, and developed tics, like touching lampposts six times (my own “OCD number” is 5). Bourne writes about OCD with a steady hand, and an almost insider-knowledge on the disorder. Representation is important – you rarely meet a protagonist with real, full-blown OCD, and I hope that more authors take the opportunity to educate people on how debilitating this disorder can be.
Am I Normal Yet? is also a story of friendship, of sisterhood, of knowing your own boundaries. Evie discovers how messy teenage relationships can be, and struggles with keeping her own issues a secret. She gets involved with Guy, a textbook arsehole if I’ve ever read one, who proceeds to treat her like crap. I was groaning despite myself, almost seeing teenage-Vikki in Guy’s bedroom, wondering what the hell I was doing there. Bourne reminds us, we women in our twenties, of scenes from our younger years that we’d rather forget. Nonetheless, I read it in a few hours, and did a rare squeal of excitement when I discovered the next book was available to download.
How Hard Can Love Be? follows Amber across the pond to America, and her estranged mum. She starts working at the summer camp her mum and new husband, Kevin Bumface, own, and meets a host of characters who are decidedly American.
Having been separated from her mum, a recovering alcoholic, for two years, Amber finds it difficult to connect with her, and so begins a few weeks of drinking on the sly, meeting a hot American hunk, Kyle, for stolen midnight kisses, and thousands of screaming kids. Amber’s mum doesn’t seem to want to spend any time with her, pushing Amber away and making her bitter. It all kicks off when Kyle is sacked for being out with Amber (and leaving a cabin full of said screaming kids alone all night), and Amber decides to take off with him on a road trip across America.
Much to her surprise, Amber’s mum follows her, and they have the showdown you’re expecting. Throughout How Hard Can Love Be? you get snippets of Amber’s childhood, with dealing with an alcoholic mum. Tackling the issue of your parent(s) not living up to your expectations or being less-than-perfect is important, as many kids deal with such parents every day (and some deal with much worse, of course). Amber’s mum, the expert at gaslighting and manipulation, actually explains and apologises for her behaviour. Amber, vindicated and calm, forgives her mum, but still proceeds on her trip with Kyle. Amber’s in love! But is such a long-distance relationship destined to fail? I guess we’ll find out.
Despite work rudely taking up most of my time, I managed to read What’s A Girl Gotta Do? within 2 days. And I have a lot to say about Lottie’s story.
I’m the kind of woman who wears shirts that say “I hope you like feminist rants because that’s kinda my thing”, and calls out every incident of sexism in the workplace. I’m a loud, unapologetic feminist, with dreams of getting into the House of Commons and shouting MR SPEAKER! at snoozing politicians. So what happens to Lottie at the start of What’s A Girl Gotta Do? is reminiscent of something that happened to me only a few months ago. Lottie is accosted by two men in a van. Here’s a scenario we’ve all witnessed, eh, girls? These men say some nasty things, cat-calling and the like, and then block the path so she can’t get past. Lottie freezes, understandably scared, and darts away when she gets the chance.
Later, she’s angry. But not just at those horrible men – Lottie is angry with herself. She’s angry for analysing what she was wearing, as if she were to blame, and she’s angry for not standing up for herself. A few months ago, I was stuck in the usual rush hour traffic on my way home from work, and a van containing three men was in the lane next to me. I had the radio on so I didn’t hear the first shout properly, but I glanced over to see them all leering and laughing, and making obscene hand gestures at me. Angry, I turned the music down and shouted, “what did you say?”, which only caused more gibberish and hilarity. Thankfully, the traffic started moving, and I got away from them, but I remember a sick, scared feeling in my stomach. I was terrified. And then I analysed what I was wearing – t-shirt and leggings, most of which was hidden by the car door – and thought things like, but I’m not even that pretty, why would they target me? Horrible, disgusting, playing-into-the-patriarchy’s-hands thoughts. Because you don’t have to be pretty to get cat-called. Or, I should say, getting cat-called isn’t about being pretty. It’s about some arseholes exercising their perceived right to objectify me and comment on my body. And I know that.
I was also angry with myself for not practicing what I preach. I’m loud enough in safer environments, calling out misogynists online and at work, but when confronted with one of the very reasons why feminism is necessary, I froze. I was useless, weak. In What’s A Girl Gotta Do?, Lottie marches up to the van the next day, wearing next-to-nothing, and calls the men out on their behaviour. She phones the work number emblazoned on the side of their van, and threatens to call the police if they harass her again. She’s tough, she’s feisty, she’s brave. I did a little cheer when I read it. But a little part of me was also worried. What if they attack her? I thought. What if she gets hurt? That niggle is what stopped me from stepping out of my car and leaping at the men in the van. That niggle might be what keeps me safe. But am I safe? If three men can sexually harass me while I’m just sitting in my car, singing off-key and simply just occupying space, then why shouldn’t I – we, women of the world – stand up for ourselves? While I wouldn’t recommend putting yourself in danger, you also have the right to speak up when something is wrong. If more of us join our voices together, we’ll be harder to ignore.
Due to her campaign, Lottie becomes the target of online harassment, receiving rape and death threats – the usual crap vocal women have to deal with. This is a very current and poignant issue, that needs to be discussed over and over again, until it’s no longer acceptable to threaten to rape a woman who speaks out. Against all odds, Lottie gathers her strength and, with the help of her friends, dusts herself off and carries on. She realises that her campaign has reached many people, and is making a difference, albeit a relatively small one in the grand scheme of things. Such strength and courage is what’s needed to encourage the rest of us to carry on, to keep fighting. To read the author’s note at the end, which explained the incident with the men at the beginning of the book is something Bourne herself experienced, only further proves that we desperately need feminism.
Since reading Bourne’s trilogy, I have come to the conclusion that she has created three characters out of me. I have OCD, I was sexually active as a teenager, I’m a loud, somewhat angry feminist. I’d choose a nice cup of tea and a chat over a party any day. Okay, maybe two-and-a-half characters, as Amber and I only have wild hair and the habit of lecturing our friends in common. And I would totally have made those Spinster Club membership cards. Okay, no, I’m all of them.
The Spinster Club series raises questions about feminism that even the most hardcore feminists ask themselves on occasion. Am I a feminist if I wear make-up? If I indulge in girl-hate, do I have to give up my feminist card? Do my conversations with my friends pass the Bechdel test? Evie, Lottie and Amber all slip from time-to-time, as do we all, but they are three fierce young women, who I secretly envy. I wish I was more forward when I was younger – I’ve only become more vocal in recent years – but maybe books like these will help more young women to be confident, at an earlier age.
Photo: The Bookseller
Holly Bourne is this generation’s Louise Rennison, but with a stronger feminist flair. Her Twitter is active and engaging, her blog is interesting and witty. And her books are definitely worth reading, whether you’re 14 or 40. If you’re a woman who’s passionate about the world she lives in, or a man who cares about women’s rights and sexism, read The Spinster Club series. I foresee these books inspiring a whole new generation of feminists – and from the reports of Spinster Clubs cropping up as a result of these books, I’d say it’s already started.
Now, who wants to start a Spinster Club with me?