Thursday, 27 October 2016

Book-dowsing: Animal by Sara Pascoe

The Blurb:
Take a funny and illuminating tour of the female body with award-winning comedian Sara Pascoe.
Women have so much going on, what with boobs and jealousy and menstruating and broodiness and sex and infidelity and pubes and wombs and jobs and memories and emotions and the past and the future and themselves and each other.
Here's a book that deals with all of it.
Sara Pascoe has joked about feminity and sexuality on stage and screen but now she has a book to talk about it all for a bit longer. Animal combines autobiography and evolutionary history to create a funny, fascinating insight into the forces that mould and affect modern women.
Animal is entertaining and informative, personal and universal - silly about lots of things and serious about some. It's a laugh-out-loud investigation to help us understand and forgive our animal urges and insecurities.

For the past couple of months, each time I've seen Sara Pascoe on TV I've thought 'I must get hold of her book'. As Suffolk Libraries seem stubbornly opposed to purchasing a copy, I have done that rare thing and actually bought my own. 

From adolescence onwards I was raised in a single parent household, that parent being a midwife by trade who was terrified that one of her three fatherless daughters would become a teenage pregnancy statistic. The prevention plan she implemented involved getting us to watch live birth videos with a helpful commentary along the lines of ‘this is what sex leads to’ and ‘did you see, that woman pooed in the birthing pool. That’s what happens when you have a baby’. The other supplementary aids she used as part of her no-pregnancy-under-my-roof programme was showing us plaster cast models of the female hips and using a plastic baby to graphically illustrate how narrow a space there is for a baby’s head to get through.

As a result of this and the fact that mum would answer any questions about female and male bodies that came her way I have always had a good grasp of the female reproductive system - there were no teen pregnancies in the house, in case you were interested. I tend to take it for granted that other women have the same level of knowledge and am often stunned by how inaccurate an assumption that actually is. I recall being greatly shocked when a girl at university stated that a woman peed out of her vagina. For all you girls and women out there who have questions about your lady garden area and what it does, Animals is an excellent place to start. It is one of those books I keep loudly recommending to female friends. I learned lots of useful things and enjoyed the way Sara delivered the lessons. Sara also grew up in a single parent household with two sisters so it was easy to envisage a house riven by oestrogen.  I’m a comparable age to Pascoe so got all her references – a teen or twentysomething might not. On a random note, she championed Virginia Woolf on Radio 4's Great Lives which is another reason why I’m disposed to listen to her.

This book isn’t some dull, scientific treatise on the female body. It is a user’s manual. It doesn’t just deal with your body for its reproductive purposes, which is how I remember anything at school to do with the female body was framed. Sara discusses not just the physical realities but also the perceptions of that body in the media and in society. Abortion, female genital mutilation, rape and the issue of consensual sex feature – how could they not when this book is an overview of female experience?

There was lots to laugh about in this book, interspersed with some sober and thought-provoking moments. The last few pages of the book have links and details to charities that Sara refers. There are historical snippets of information, and while the book has a western world bias as that is Sara’s primary experience there is material about women in the wider world too.

If you’re a woman, I’d recommend it as an entertaining read. If you’re a man who wants to know more about the female body than you picked up at school then I’d recommend it to you too. I want to say something here about transgender individuals – how if you are transitioning to a woman then this book would be of interest to you perhaps not so much for the internal physical aspect but the external implications of what living in a female body can be like. Is that flippant? I don’t know, I certainly don’t intend any offence. I’m just thinking who else would gain useful information and ideas from reading this book.

This feels like the kind of book review to end with a picture of cross stitch vulvas.

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