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Girl Trouble: Panic And Progress In The History Of Young Women
by Carol Dyhouse
(Zed Books, £8.99)
IN AN age of twerking and in-your-face sexuality, young women are still being made to apologise for their status in society.
They can work, vote and make choices in their personal life which were unthinkable to many women a mere century ago. Yet it is almost exclusively women who are asked questions like: “How do you reconcile work and family?” If the the latter is not the case, they are invariably asked whether they want to get married and have children.
It is also women — especially young women — who see their appearance and behaviour scrutinised to an infinitesimal degree on mainstream media across the globe.
The backlash to Robin Thicke’s song Blurred Lines was in no way comparable to the amount of bullshit Miley Cyrus had to take when she got a new hair style and dropped the virginal and “wholesome” US teenager look.
Bearing these realities in mind, it is timely that historian Carol Dyhouse has written this book on 100 years of rebelling women.
Looking retrospectively at all the things women have been — and often still are — reproached for daring to do, Girl Trouble assesses the monumental achievements of feminism.
From smoking and sporting shorter skirts to challenging tenets of femininity and scaremongering myths around fertility, each decade meant a new battle for women wanting more than society prescribed.
Dyhouse recounts with engaging simplicity the adventures of 1920s flappers and the misadventures of 1970s dolly birds. There are references to seminal feminist works by Simone De Beauvoir, Judith Butler and Sheila Rowbotham and anecdotal reporting of the great and small rebellions of “badly behaving” girls.
Importantly, she highlights how the social understanding of women changed radically. Between 1907 and 2014 girls went from impressionable beings susceptible of kidnap by any smiling “white slaver” to commodified academic achievers, often preferred by the media to illustrate A-level success.
Girl Trouble gives readers a simple yet comprehensive view of how political and cultural events shaped the various feminist movements and vice versa.
It shows how, following each victory for women’s rights, there is a retaliation from patriarchal bigots and retrograde conservatives of both sexes.
Above all it demonstrates and even urges feminists today not to “surrender to complacency” in the face of seeming progress.
In a time where emancipation is likened to personal office space, as it is in Facebook boss Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, or a series of witty tweets — according to the Vagenda blogger’s new book of the same name — Girl Trouble is an unassuming but extremely pertinent gaze at women’s history.
Indeed, it is a testament to why women still have to bear the pivotal role of shaking the status quo.
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