Tuesday 15 August 2017

The Gender Games by Juno Dawson

The Gender Games: The Problem with Men and Women, from Someone Who Has Been Both'It's a boy!' or 'It's a girl!' are the first words almost all of us hear when we enter the world. Before our names, before we have likes and dislikes - before we, or anyone else, has any idea who we are. And two years ago, as Juno Dawson went to tell her mother she was (and actually, always had been) a woman, she started to realise just how wrong we've been getting it.

Gender isn't just screwing over trans people, it's messing with everyone. From little girls who think they can't be doctors to teenagers who come to expect street harassment. From exclusionist feminists to 'alt-right' young men. From men who can't cry to the women who think they shouldn't. As her body gets in line with her mind, Juno tells not only her own story, but the story of everyone who is shaped by society's expectations of gender - and what we can do about it.

Featuring insights from well-known gender, feminist and trans activists including Rebecca Root, Laura Bates, Gemma Cairney, Anthony Anaxagorou, Hannah Witton, Alaska Thunderfuck and many more, The Gender Games is a frank, witty and powerful manifesto for a world where what's in your head is more important than what's between your legs.

Part autobiography, part social commentary, Juno writes like we're having a chat over a cup of tea - frank, funny and rude. She looks at all aspects of gender at all stages of life, from first toys through to puberty and experimenting at university, and shows how it screws us up at every turn - limiting our choices, making us victims for bullies, and making us doubt ourselves.

Juno spends a lot of book analysing the media, especially the token female in TV shows and the "strong female character" that is only popular because of physical strength, a typically male attribute. Having grown up in the 90's, Juno had different role models, namely the Spice Girls (as she mentions often). But now, teenagers have a worrying amount of pressure online, from instagram-famous people looking polished and perfect. Many, Juno included, would think that these filtered and cropped photos are something to aspire to, no matter what, and that can be a source to great mental and physical upheaval. Alongside to social commentary of the lack of diverse role models, Juno links all this to her teenage ambition to be famous, for no other reason than "it looked like a lot of fun". 

One of my favourite chapters was where Juno discusses sex and the promiscuity of gay men, having been one and definitely living up to the stereotype! Juno also talks about the concept of virginity and the social construct that is "slut"; as men can sleep around but women apparently can't, this is another way that gender messes with our perceptions of self-worth and sexuality. As a feminist, but also a cis-woman, this chapter, along with "why men need feminism too", meant a lot and also explained a lot about gender stereotypes and different perspectives of how assumptions can harm all genders.

I completely loved this book. Parts might have been a bit uncomfortable or crude, but it was a very funny and clever dissection of how modern society's gender notions whether consciously or not - and how it damages us. Things like male entitlement, segregation in PE lessons (and apparently gendered sport, like rugby and netball) to feminism and diversity in the media, Juno tackled a lot while still remaining funny, clear, a little self-deprecating, and non-judgemental. She makes it clear she can only speak from her own experiences and many others might have different ones, but everyone can learn a little something from her (even if it's just how much she loves the Spice Girls!).

Published 1st June 2017 by Two Roads.

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