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BOOK REVIEW: Feminists Don’t Wear Pink and Other Lies by Scarlett Curtis

| 24 February 2019 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: Feminists Don’t Wear Pink and Other Lies by Scarlett Curtis

Penguin Books Ltd
October 2018
Paperback, $29.99
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo

Non-Fiction / Society & Culture / Feminism & Feminist Theory

80% Rocking

When writer and journalist Scarlett Curtis was told feminists don’t wear pink she was undeterred. In fact, she decided to challenge this thinking head-on. The result, Feminists Don’t Wear Pink & Other Lies, is an anthology in which 52 inspiring women describe what feminism means to them. The collection is complicated and multi-faceted and proves that feminism is not a neat and tidy one-size-fits-all thing.

Just as every girl around the world has her own unique story to tell, she also has her own particular version of what feminism means to her. No two people experience feminism in the same way, but each perspective is valid and important. Girl Up is a global leadership development initiative, positioning girls to be leaders in the movement for gender equality…We celebrate these stories and the diversity of our movement across our global community.

It is difficult to summarise this chorus of different voices, even if it can be quite UK-centric at times. There are happy stories and sad ones. Some contributors look at things through the prism of history while others are achingly personal and intimate in their approach. There are writers, activists, singers, actors, and comedians. Variety is the spice of life and that is the case here; this means some essays will resonate with certain readers more than others. The profits from this book go to charity and it’s great that all of these stories are gathered in this safe space to form one rich and complex tapestry.

Not many women are told they were born without a womb. In fact, only one in five thousand of us are. From the day we emerge from our mother’s womb, women carry the responsibility of holding another life in their own womb. We still live our lives according to the affirmation that women are mothers. Period (or, period-less). My sixteenth birthday present, along with a new pair of petal-pink Converse, was Mayer-Tokitansky-Küster-Hause syndrome. I was told I had been born without a womb; I would never have a period, I would never give birth, and if I wanted to have sex I would have to undergo invasive long-term treatment. So, if I can’t be a mother, if I can’t contribute to the tampon tax fund and I can’t be used for sex, how can I be a woman in this world?

One of the most visceral essays is by actress, Keira Knightley. She uses a stream-of-conscious-like prose to describe the primal, true realities of childbirth. She questions how she and her baby daughter are considered the weaker sex. She also asks how Kate Middleton could look so glamorous in the photos taken after giving birth. It is sobering stuff:

To my girl

My vagina split. You came out with your eyes open. Arms up in the air. Screaming. They put you on to me, covered in blood, vernix, your head misshapen from the birth canal. Pulsating, gasping, screaming. You were pushing yourself up with your arms, furious at your frailty. Wanting to see. Wanting to know. You latched on to my breast immediately, hungrily. I remember the pain. The mouth clenched tight around my nipples, life sucking on and sucking out. I remember the shit, the vomit, the blood, the stitches. I remember my battleground. Your battleground and life pulsating. Surviving. And I am the weaker sex? You are?

Part of this book feels like an examination of how far we’ve come. Some of the authors describe the suffragettes and the various waves of feminism. Readers also learn what we need to do for true equality. Actor and activist Jameela Jamil covers some of the same things Clementine Ford describes in her latest book, by examining how to raise boys.

All you have to do is tell him the truth.

Tell him what happened to us.

Tell him our whole story.

The contributors interpret the brief in various ways, using different tones and drawing on unique feelings. This means there are chapters dedicated to discovering feminism, emotions like anger and joy, actions and work, and how to move forward. Other contributors come to this set very much shaped by their own experiences. For Nimco Ali her work is to eradicate female genital mutilation after her own harrowing circumcision:

FGM has been around for over four thousand years, and in less than eight years my family and many of those I know went from 100% uptake of FGM to zero in a generation. In my birth country and across the world FGM could end by 2030. I started my activism with a #MittsOffMyMuff banner. I took another seven-foot-long banner that read ‘WE WOULD NOT CUT OFF YOUR DICK, SO DON’T CUT OUR CLIT’ to the centre of London. This was not all for show, and this started a conversation. A conversation that led to the UK committing £36 million to ending FGM. The Prime Minister said that he was ‘committed to ending FGM in a generation’ as a result of me turning up at Number 10 dressed as a fanny.

This collection is one that can be dipped in and out of. You can read some poetry at one sitting and a Q & A at another. There’s an interview between an author and her mother during one chapter, and there are lots of essays to choose from. Curtis hoped the anthology would bridge the gap between pop feminism and academia, and that feels like the case here. Curtis is the daughter of screenwriter Richard Curtis, and broadcaster Emma Freud. She compiled this collection for her fifteen-year-old self but it is one that can be enjoyed by young and old readers alike.

Books like Feminists Don’t Wear Pink are important because they challenge our thinking and help quash stereotypes. It means readers can develop a greater understanding and empathy for contributors by learning about their different backgrounds and experiences. We are often told that we should walk a mile in a person’s shoes and anthologies like this certainly enable that. They grant us access to private thoughts and inner worlds, and empower us to join together for a brighter tomorrow. At the end of the day it’s better to wear pink, than to have inertia that leaves you seeing red.

Category: Book Reviews

About the Author ()

Natalie Salvo is a foodie and writer from Sydney. You can find her digging around in second hand book shops or submerged in vinyl crates at good record stores. Her website is at:

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