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Book Review: Girl Up

Posted by on in Teens and Tweens
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teenage girls

"You've been getting messages since you were a baby. Messages about who you are and what you're good at, about how the world sees you and what you should do if you want to succeed ... They said you need to be thin and beautiful ... They warned you if you're strong, opinionated, or take control, you'll be shrill, bossy, a ballbreaker. They asked you why you can't take a joke ... Well,[ f**k] that. I'm here to tell you something else."

So begins Laura Bates' Girl Up, an unsentimental and honest follow-up to Everyday Sexism that works as an introduction to feminism and as a guidebook for young women navigating the realities of misogyny in  the digital age. Bates offers advice on a range of issues from staying safe online and understanding the differences between sex and porn, to speaking up in class and challenging authority.

Girl Up starts with an examination of sexism in social media in which Bates clarifies many double-standards with which many young women are already acquainted:

Step 1: Select your avatar

For guys: This can be pretty much any nice picture of you. +10 bonus points for getting started so quickly.

For girls: Think carefully. This picture will have a serious impact on your success as you proceed through the game. What?! NOT THAT ONE! Are you serious?

#3 points if you reveal some flesh

+5 points if you reveal cleavage or legs

-5 points if the cleavage is too low and considered slutty

-10 points if you reveal both legs and cleavage

+6 points for an arty Instagram filter

-8 points if your picture looks too filtered and fake

You just lost 5 hours' sleep and skipped 3 homework assignments: LOSE A LIFE

Bates offers concrete (and humorous) tips for responding to unwanted advances, decoding sexist dress codes at school, and dealing with awkwardness. It will also help young women make sense of gendered societal expectations and prejudices that they are likely to encounter at some point in their lives. It also includes tips for men (ex: the "friend zone" is not a thing; read to find out why. Your attractiveness to women decreases when you harass women on the street. I hope that you do not need to read to find out why).

Disclaimer: It's not too difficult to imagine many teachers, parents, and even students balking at Bates' frequent use of the "f-word," frank discussions about sex and masturbation, or her use of dancing lady body parts as illustrations. Girl Up is designed for mature readers, and if censorship is an issue in your school district, then Girl Up will likely cause controversy.

However, if you work at a school like mine that allows for a wide range of reading material, then this book is a worthy addition. Girl Up is designed to help readers recognize and address sexism in empowering ways; it's a tool that will help readers to disrupt status-quo thinking about misogyny.

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Amy Williams holds Masters degrees in English and teaching. She was a New York Educator Voice Resident Fellow in the 2014-15 school year, and was a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar Grant recipient in 2014. Her writing and lesson plans have appeared on ReadWriteThink, EdWeek Teacher, and in other publications. Amy was a tenured educator in New York where she taught grades 10, 12, English electives like Mass Media & Society and dual-enrollment courses with Tompkins Cortland Community College. She now teaches at an IB World School in Germany.

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Guest Friday, 22 March 2019