Note: This analysis is pretty lengthy. Head to the Epilogue if you just want the tl;dr version.
Back in 2013, in my third year creative writing class, the tutor was giving us some inspiration on how to write literary fiction with meaning. She mentioned the recent Steubenville, Ohio, rape, and its effects on modern society. There was one woman she keep adamantly mentioning—some writer and feminist from this site called Daily Life who had published an article on rape culture and Steubenville that changed her life. I left a memo in my notebook with the name: Clementine Ford. I forgot about her for a couple of years after that, until she started gathering some momentum on the internet for getting a man fired who called her a slut on Facebook; protesting against morning show host David Koch with #heysunrisegetfucked on her chest, and generally wreaking havoc. In September last year, her first book Fight Like a Girl was released, and I finally got around to reading it this month.
Put simply, Clementine Ford’s Fight Like a Girl reads like a teen self-help book with gender studies needlessly attached. There’s a lot of buzzwords you’ll only understand if you get the social justice/feminist lingo. She quotes that bell hooks line about the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy they all like to mention. Patriarchy is mentioned like the word is going out of fashion, and I kept looking for it on every page like a game to amuse myself while plodding through the book. Despite disagreeing with a lot of what Ford has to say, I tried to read the book open to her message, while also immediately skeptical of her us vs. them mentality that was obvious from the first page. However, it really does read like a self-help book with feminism. Here’s my review of each chapter in more detail (especially Chapter Eight):
Chapter One and Two
She starts off her manifesto under the guise of helping young women everywhere, using excerpts from her life. You’re meant to empathise with her anorexia and bulimia, constant criticism of her figure from her mother, how she used to be an anti-feminist but suddenly wised up when she conveniently undertook gender studies (read: indoctrinated) and discovered the whole world of evil, white men who were out to subtly destroy her. The bit that scared me in this chapter—and all subsequent ones—is her use of manipulative us vs. them language. Take, for example:
I didn’t even realise this pervasive use of persuasive language half the time; I generally found myself halfway through a paragraph nodding in agreement (because Ford’s memoirs are something most teenagers and pre-adults deal with; doesn’t necessarily mean it’s feminist) before realising, oh crap, she’s doing it again. I started to discover a pattern. It started off with an anecdote of Ford’s, generally about being sexually objectified. Then suddenly, it was: We all deal with this. Or, alternatively: they don’t like being publically associated with their vile misogyny. It’s textbook Year 12 language analysis. Appealing to the reader. And it’s not just unique to Ford. But this writing style employed in the beginning set off the tone for the rest of the book.
This chapter was where the book started getting interesting. Ford claims it’s because of patriarchy that all us women—because yes, we’re all just Midwich kids who act and feel the same—are taught to hate our bodies. Because Ford has a traditionally unfeminine body, she bore the brunt of this evil Freemasons/Illuminati secret society in the form of teenage boys and men judging her body. She’s correct her body is uniquely hers (page 36) and she’s free to enjoy it, but it’s not a conspiracy by the patriarchy to hate women’s bodies: it’s gossip magazines, run primarily by women; the fashion industry, trying to make some moolah; and because it’s cheaper to have things in set sizes, because we know big business will do whatever it can to save money. This is the same for both men and women: gendered products exist for more reasons than to make our lives difficult. Usually, because a lot of men I know, know crap all about beauty and will just get whatever off the shelf, whereas generally women care more about their appearance. And that’s not because society says so, that’s biology, and the fact women want to look nice 1. for themselves, 2. to attract mates (biology), or 3. to compete for whatever reason. Guess what, you don’t have to buy Miracle Face Crap. Walk away from the consumerist crap and do what suits you. If you’re comfortable with yourself, end the consumerist cycle.
She goes on to say what I’m saying is invalid because apparently patriarchy only listens to men, so ignoring this culture just validates it. With pop culture, apparently only men watch TV and movies, and refuse to watch anything with women in them, because their fragile egos only pretend to understand women. She then says only men judge women’s bodies, and it’s because of male gaze, which is negated by the fact both genders spend equal time throwing metaphorical poop on each other, and yet again that comes down to biology and competing with each other for genetically compatible babies.
Chapter Four and Five
Chapter Four is more of the same of Ford’s memoirs from the early chapters, recounting her first orgasm, among other things. Five is where I actively started cringing at her words. I know she is coming from a well-meaning viewpoint—explaining how she used to be an anti-feminist in her latter years of high school; by saying it was only for men’s attention. That’s a whole big can of worms I’ll explain later.
She quotes a chunk of bell hooks again, saying patriarchy teaches women to be woman-hating and to pretend to like men for attention and procreation. The truth is: this is not a patriarchal issue, unless hooks was claiming patriarchy is our innate biology. Women contest other women because back in the old days of early human civilisation, they had to fight each other for the best men, because the best men ensued their survival. You can’t control something that’s so deeply entrenched it is part of our human makeup. She also assumed teenage girls are anti-feminist because boys. A lot of the time, that is true. I have no idea; despite being what she describes as conventionally unattractive, Ford has a lot of experience with men. At that age, I only conversed with a few guys, and we didn’t generally talk about sex and stuff, because it just never entered the equation. A lot of girls more popular than me did this stuff, and I see younger relatives doing it all the time just to fit in. It’s part of trying to fit into the real world and appearing like an adult. The rest of the chapter is on how patriarchy causes big divides between women, which is open to interpretation. I understand how awful this cattiness can be: most of my bullies throughout school were girls, not boys. This dwindled away by Year 12 as we matured (or they dropped out), but Ford just proves this divide never really went away, by dividing women into feminists (good) and anti-feminists (evil traitors of Internalised Misogyny to the Sisterhood). She claims to be for Sisterhood, some mysterious sounding cult where all women are the exact same and get along perfectly. The important takeaway is to have a Girl Gang (page 64), to just hang out and relax, which is a good idea, but has some interesting connotations, 1. you can never truly be safe around men, and 2. only girl gangs can provide a safe haven from the world, and everyone in the gang will always agree. That’s not true. Women aren’t all the same, and won’t always agree on the same thing.
Chapter Six and Seven
Chapter Six is just Ford talking about abortion, which is an important feminist issue. I can understand: I support abortion rights because it’s far better to have abortion legalised to a certain term in the pregnancy (or late-term, if the mother’s life is in danger) than to have secret coat-hanger abortions in back alleys and women risking their lives. However, Ford claims anyone who is a “I support abortion, but…” is not a true anti-pro-lifer, and might as well just want it banned like the evil Nazi alt-right. She compares her two abortions in her twenties to her current pregnancy, and also laughs at the MRAs, because it’s become par for the course for this book.
Chapter Seven is Ford’s discussion of mental illness and how, because of patriarchy, women have it worse, despite mental illness not being a discriminating illness. It affects everyone, it’s still stigmatised, which means a lot of people are too scared to come forward. There’s some studies to show women have it worse, but gendering something as awful as mental illness is dangerous. She cites her diagnosis of mild depression and anxiety; refusing to use anti-depressants but accepting Valium, alcohol and cigarettes, which aren’t any better, and probably more addictive. Efforts to protect men and women; people of every skin colour; LGBT or straight people; it all should matter.
This is where Ford undoes all her hard work about women and solidarity by saying anti-feminist women are just sad sacks who are doing it for boys and attention and don’t understand real feminism. For the first seven chapters, she says patriarchy makes men hate women, and women hate women in some universal circlejerk, and then proceeds to do exactly the same thing. She does everything she accuses her enemies (the crazy MRAs and incels, and the regular anti-feminists, who she can’t tell the difference between) of. She bases anti-feminists on their appearance, being just young and naive and not knowing any better. Why would you be against yourself? It’s divided into three parts to tell those stupid Right-wing (sorry, I’m centre-left, Clementine), middle-class (nope, not living an upper-middle-class privileged life in Brunswick like a certain privileged auth…oh wait) white straight women (then who are shoe0nhead [bisexual], Blaire White [trans], and Ayaan Hirsi Ali [black woman]? Must be a figment of my Stepford blonde [nope, I’m a natural brunette] imagination).
1. Retribution These females are too scared to be feminists, because of men treating women like Ford so badly. I’ve never heard such tripe. It’s considered the natural way of things to support feminism. See: Trump winning the election and his subsequent inauguration. You’re supposed to be a true and honest feminist, otherwise you’re immediately labelled a Nazi racist sexist. In the 21st century, it’s easier to identify as a feminist. You get applause, and only some people, largely ignored by the media and public, disagree with you. You get publishing deals with big houses with little effort. You get positive coverage all over the mainstream media, who lampoon those evil men and their fragile masculinity. I support equality for everyone, but denounce the radical ways of feminism. That’s not new to intersectionality: r.e. Emma Goldman, Valerie Solanas, Andrea Dworkin, etc, prove radicalism always existed. But the radical overtook the mainstream, and now feminism doesn’t stand for equality. I’m not scared to be a feminist because of the men (maybe the male allies), it’s the radical feminists. They scare the crap out of me.
2. Negotiation These females just victim-blame to deal with their horrific oppression in the First World. It’s easier to pretend to be one of the guys, because then you don’t have to deal with the shit. First of all, the first- and second-wave gathered momentum thanks to the fact they got the powerful white men to support them. That’s how you get equality. It’s why Martin Luther King Jr. gained traction over Malcolm X in the ’60s—he was peaceable, likeable and able to get the white people to go with him, and that’s why Civil Rights was a success. Now, that doesn’t mean victim blaming is acceptable, because it’s just an excuse for people who don’t want to blame a rapist for being rapey—basically, being scared that humanity can actually be evil. Negotiation, used positively, helps all of us.
3. Wilful, Selfish Ignorance These females are just too stupid to know what’s best for them, and choose to ignore feminism. They ignore the Dictionary Definition because they’re too privileged
This furthers the message intersectional feminism gives zero fucks about helping women. She says later on she’ll fight on behalf of these silly women, but keeps criticising them nonetheless, because the best way to bring about equality is to insult women you disagree with into submission. She assumes Women Against Feminism will fail, and it probably will, because it was a hashtag, not a movement. Those women call themselves egalitarians or whatever, or nothing, because labels don’t matter. She says if you aren’t routinely checking your privilege, it’s easy to believe oppression isn’t real. That’s funny, coming from a privileged white woman, who can afford to live in the inner-city and travel internationally regularly. My life situation is not excellently comfortable, which was a strange assumption (that anti-feminist women are comfortably middle class) of Ford to make. The world is not black and white, it’s actually got shades of grey in it. For example: I can like parts of what Ford says in this book, but disagree with others.
After Chapter Eight, I became completely disillusioned with Ford. In Nine and Ten, she critiques the men who harass her on a daily basis. Some of the comments are pretty disgusting. Some of them are just men responding regularly. Some of them are just her baiting them and shouting harassment because of the replies. It’s all just a big joke, she says, and the man-babies can’t take a joke—the hypocrites! Fighting sexism with more sexism is apparently the battle plan for fighting like a girl. They have no lives being up at late hours, because Ford assumes everyone has 9-to-5 jobs and/or lives in the eastern states of Australia. I understand why she’s mad, to some extent. She assumes everyone who’s not 1000% supportive has to be a neckbeard Nazi virgin—that there are no shades of grey in between. Nearly half of the people (mostly male) are saying some pretty disgusting words, but a lot are just saying that because they know she’ll react. She’s a lolcow ripe for the milkin’, as the internet says. That’s not necessarily any excuse for their behaviour, but awful people will always be awful people. That’s not victim-blaming, that’s reality. You can’t stop a sociopath or a narcissist—I’ve dealt with narcissists in this world; it’s ingrained behaviour—but you ignore it best you can and move on. Block if you want—just don’t block 120,000 people because of a malfunctioning blockbot that blocks people who don’t even identify with politics just ’cause they follow someone you dislike.
In Chapter Eleven, she states the only reason people dislike feminism is because they benefit from patriarchy and rely on it to survive. Eleven chapters into this book, and I keep finding myself questioning how Ford knows so much about this secret society. She claims patriarchy tells women our value is based on what patriarchy deems acceptable because patriarchy patriarchy. The problem with this incessant repetition of the word—as she’s done throughout the whole book—is how someone who is a supposed outsider to this insidious, destructive force is able to know exactly how it works. She even claims to know how it succeeds. My only guess: Clementine Ford is, or at least was, a member of the Patriarchy. How else is she able to describe in perfect, thorough detail the exact ways in which patriarchy hurts us and demonises us? It’s not like regular citizens know the inner workings of the Freemasons, the defunct Illuminati, private social clubs and the said people in these societies. All we can do is guesswork. However, Ford claims her knowledge of the patriarchy is sound with what I can only guess is an insider’s look. Maybe she’s one of the people she describes as “patriarchy and the people privileged by it”?
She then lists all the regular insults from the loser manbabies. She compares Feminazi and FeminISISt by saying the only difference is calling her a feminISISt is racism (which implies she has sympathy for IS because racism) I’ve never heard the second one before, and feminazi is a pretty useless, melodramatic word. Then there’s bitch, which she pretends is a female-only insult with no male equivalent (hey, bastard, where’d you run off to?) Fat is laughed at in both genders (see her previous critiquing of the fat, loner neckbeard). Prior to industrialisation, fatness was also seen as a sign of wealth (read: privilege), so some of that antipathy still remains etched into the human subconscious. Hairy, lesbian, ugly, are generically useless insults that have been around since Second Wave. She also mentions slut/whore (assuming every woman’s been called a slut a million times), frigid, bitter, mentally unstable (she mentions Salem, which was instigated by young girls, and proceeds to misuse the definition of the word gaslight to simply define people who disagree with feminists), little girl (paraphrasing of the first two chapters), in desperate need of a root (generally only Cashed-Up Bogans say this, and they’re too busy reading the Herald Sun/Daily Telegraph and complaining about Australia Post delivery times and pollies rortin’ the system and have never heard of Gender Studies 101 buzzwords like cis-het, heteronormative and patriarchy), and man-hater/misandrist (she claims her instances of “misandry” are just jokes, but employing the same tactics as the sexists does not a good argument maketh [where’s ironic misogyny?] and claiming to be a feminist while being an alleged misandrist is damn near impossible). Also: Casual racists isn’t a real thing. It’s employed to ignore a dissenting viewpoint. Just call them “racist”.
In Chapter Twelve, she finally starts to talk about a group of people that irk me greatly: male allies. She claims the feminist movement needs to be more inclusive of the different groups of women before men are included, and I’m reminded that Clementine Ford used to be a TERF and not inclusive in any way, and it’s amazing how much people can change. She defines feminism as liberation again. She jokes about #NotAllMen, because the thought that all men aren’t the same is about as funny as all women being a Midwich hivemind. She implies in her snarky way that all men are complicit in some way in ruining women’s lives, because they just can’t help it and because patriarchy. At least we can agree on one thing: Male allies are generally awful human beings who are willing to throw women to the ground just to get a few likes and adoration and a potential screw. They shouldn’t be supported for simply agreeing with radfems, because that’s plain silly. She’s furious only 40% of White Ribbon (an anti-domestic violence charity) male ambassadors identify as feminist, but why is this a good thing when so many male feminists aren’t the goody-goodys they claim to be? I’m immediately suspicious of those who claim they are feminists to want equality—it sounds to me like they’re virtue signalling and are all talk, no action. It’s the same for male and female feminists. I’ve known male allies—both online and in the real world—and they’re the first to judge, berate and harass by calling me passive, naive, just trying to make my partner like me, among others. This is not acceptable. Ford is correct—male allies need to be held accountable. And Good Guys really need to stop thinking virtue signalling is best.
Finally, 148 pages into the book, Clementine Ford finally admits she’s privileged, and I nearly fainted, but she uses it in a tangent about good behaviour being rights not privileges and not just for a pat on the back. She advocates for action instead of words, but then says we should “signal boost”, which is Gender Studies jargon implying the opposite. Basically: Ignore all men, even though without their “patriarchal” influence, previous waves of feminism wouldn’t have reached the levels of success they did.
In Chapter Thirteen, Ford claims the 2012 rape and murder of Jill Meagher that captured Victoria and Australia showed how horrible men were about rape and murder, despite a sheer majority of people being rightly horrified about what Adrian Bayley did to this innocent woman. She uses a few lone instances to prove rape culture. At the time, my second-year journalism class analysed the way the media reported Meagher’s murder. My journalism lecturers were all left-leaning—we watched ABC’s Media Watch seriously—and I recall barely a criticism of Meagher. Victim blaming exists—see Steubenville, for one—so I’m not disagreeing with that. And taking precautions isn’t victim blaming—it’s staying safe. Some of the “precautions” Ford mentions are absolute necessities if you’re living in a lower-economic suburb. You have to talk to the drug-addicted feral who asks for a lighter; otherwise you risk being bashed. It’s general street-smarts. Not sexism. Others, more obvious, are just victim blaming, like Ford’s Neil Mitchell example. A clear distinction needs to be made. She then says patriarchy’s (ah, I hadn’t seen that word in a few pages) bigger danger isn’t strangers, but close relatives, which is ignored by society. Nope. It’s taken seriously. But only domestic violence—man physically/sexually abusing his wife, and there was even a Royal Commission. What’s not taken seriously is other forms of abuse: mental, emotional, psychological, financial, elderly, and parental. Despite this, society seems generally only willing to accept women can be abuse victims, and I’ve seen family, family friends, co-workers and the like of both genders facing abuse. Stop gendering abuse. Help put a stop to it! The way to put a stop to abuse is to figure out how it starts—generally with emotional manipulation/abuse and alienating a victim. She mentions the oft-heard “don’t tell women to be careful; tell men not to rape,” which doesn’t work because 1. We already tell men not to rape, 2. Rapists don’t care about the law, and 3. Clearly, it doesn’t work, otherwise it would’ve already. Rape is basically a awful mix-up of the evolutionary traits of having sex and fighting predators, so my only solution would be to have heinous repercussions for rapists, or to give them lobotomies to change their brain’s makeup. Neither would likely be accepted by the general public. She then references a bunch of sports star rapists as “proof” of rape culture, not, say, that people hold sports stars to a ridiculously Godlike status and will defend them even when they do awful things. She ends by telling us how rape culture operates, because much like Patriarchy, she was a double agent who knew all its workings.
Chapter Fourteen has Ford telling us it’s okay to be angry, because men stand within a system that favours them so completely that their privilege can no longer be seen and allows them to laugh at marginalised and oppressed women burdened by said privilege. They’re simply hypocritical, self-loathing, oversensitive, racist, transphobic, misogynistic and that we shouldn’t make life easy for the privileged white cis-het sods who feminism already helps. Laugh at them. Viva la revolución! But what do I know? I’m just a young Stepford non-blonde fool with internalised misogyny who doesn’t know any better.
How to Fight Like a Girl:
- Be angry
- Laugh at misogynists
- Signal boost oppressed minorities
Clementine Ford ends Fight like a Girl by saying we as women are allowed to be mad. We should be mad! I will follow her words and fight—not necessarily like a girl, or boy, or anyone—because I still support equality. I just won’t be fighting for these useless “microagressions” like manspreading, mansplaining, men simply disagreeing with women, and the like, but I’ll still follow her words and fight for important women’s issues of the 21st century. The repetition of patriarchy became incredibly grating, alongside the divisive us vs. them language. Even if Ford’s book wasn’t for me, there are still some important lessons to learn. I can still be a strong, intelligent woman who doesn’t identify with a divisive, labelling, patronising, passive-aggressive post-movement. Thanks for that!