A Book For Her
Book review by Steve Bennett
Written by Steve Bennett in Chortle on July 3rd, 2015
Given the context, it’s probably impossible to review Bridget Christie’s first book, about how she started incorporating feminism into her stand-up, without mentioning the c-word, so let’s get it over with: Caitlin.
Ms Moran captured, and indeed boosted, the long-overdue sea change that brought of feminism into the mainstream with an accessible, witty and timely bestseller that made its points with wit more than polemic – and made cautious publishers realise there may be a market here, among Britain’s 30million women.
Christie’s book is certainly of similar tone and along similar lines, charting how her personal experiences came to influence her views and career. ‘Oh God, I can hear you thinking, not another funny feminist book,’ Christie writes of her contribution. ‘We’ve already had one funny book about feminism – Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman – we don’t need another one surely… Jesus you’re thinking. These feminists will need their own bloody bookshops soon to fit these two books in.’ It’s typical of her withering sarcasm, but also typical of the voice of doubt in her own head as she tries to get to grips with a subject that seems intimidating unmanageable – both in terms of its vast scope and its entrenched ideological divisions.
Of course, those who would like to maintain the establishment status-quo – the mass media for example – have a vested interest in portraying feminists as a bunch of humourless, men-haters who like nothing more than debating the intricate points of intersectionality, hegemonic masculinity or post-structural discourse analysis. Such an image makes vital debate sound dry and intimidating, certainly not the sort of thing that would interest most people, let alone a clown-comedian who spends her nights going on stage dressed as Charles II, eating a stick of celery deliberately slowly or rolling Mini Babybels down a papier-mache representation of the hills of Gloucestershire.
This was Christie’s act… and it never proved very popular. But just as she was ready to quit her unsuccessful stand-up career for motherhood as she turned 40, she started talking on stage about what increasingly mattered to her, since she had nothing left to lose. And, as she would have it, it was all inspired by her comic rage at a man who had the audacity and lack of respect to fart in the women’s studies section of her local bookshop. Lo, a feminist cheerleader was born, with a bottomless well of material for her comedy, given the prevalence of sexism and misogyny, from the ridiculous (stupid yoghurt commercials) to the appalling (female genital mutilation), by way of inappropriately displayed porn magazines, body fascism and the marketing department of Bic biros
Many of her stories will be familiar to anyone who’s seen either of her last two, acclaimed solo shows – the Edinburgh Award-winning A Bic For Her and its follow-up An Ungrateful Woman – or heard her Radio 4 series Bridget Christie Minds The Gap. The routines are reproduced here, but not just as standalone matters of opinion. The way she came up with ideas, how she drew them together in a coherent show, how she balanced the gruesomely serious with the flippant, and how audiences reacted to them are all covered, making this a book for comedy aficionados as well as fans of equality. And for him as well as for her.
Christie’s inner critic asks: ‘Who are you, a daft comedian, to take on these mighty injustices alongside brave campaigners and intellectual heavyweights?’. That voice is also the voice of the status quo, saying nothing needs to change, that boats shouldn’t be rocked, that ballpoints marketed for women aren’t really that important. Such arguments are wrong, but they add to the book’s accessibility, reflecting the thoughts of many a woman who might be wary of identifying as feminist because they fear they are ill-informed or overwhelmed by the issues.
But Bridget’s voice arguing back is much more convincing. Her reasonable point is that feminism is for everybody, not just militant campaigners and selfless charity workers. at its most fundamental, all you need believe is men and women should be on an equal footing.
That means women are defined by their achievements and their personalities, not by their looks; not mistreated as men’s ‘property’ nor blamed for rapes; not patronised as vain simpletons; nor taxed for having periods since sanitary products are taxed as ‘luxuries’. And the premises should be embraced by the whole of society, including women – not just the male half who hold most the cards.
It doesn’t sound too unreasonable. FGM or teenage girls getting shot or kidnapped just for wanting an education on the other is so obviously wrong, but so too are countless lesser inequalities in the First World that might seem laughable if they weren’t on the same damaging and pervasive spectrum of discrimination. By playing the fool, Christie exposes preposterous prejudice to the mockery it deserves, but doesn’t shy away from highlighting issues that are beyond a joke.
She fears for her limitations, both intellectual and practical, when it comes to cheerleading for the cause, but she’s a charming, eloquent, passionate and knowingly ridiculous voice, in print as she is on stage, and that’s how you win people over. This is what a feminist sounds like.