Welcome to another week of the How To Build A Girl readalong. Big thanks to Emily for hosting this bad boy and Harper Collins for making it possible. OBVIOUSLY thanks also need to go to Caitlin Moran for writing the book we're all talking about. If you want to join in the fun, you can pre-order the book at Odyssey. Unless you're in the UK, then you should probably just stroll down to your nearest bookstore and pick up a copy!
SPOILERS follow for everything in this book.
(whispers) I didn't really care for this part of the book.
Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed following Johanna as she experimented sexually and I thought Caitlin raised some fascinating points about traversing sexuality as a young woman but it just didn't hit the same highs as last week. Perhaps it was just that last week was so on point with the social and political commentary and Johanna/Dolly's adventures were so new and exciting. I just didn't find myself flipping the pages as quickly as I did before.
I also found that, for the first time, the tense changes were really noticeable. Before I noticed them but they never stuck out and forced me to notice them. And there were a lot of flashback-y "years later, during childbirth, I recognise the self-same noises" which works fine in How To Be A Woman but does definitely feel more out of place here. I also found some bits seemed...off. Like when she's dying of cystitis (which, ugh, is the absolute pits) in Al's apartment and suddenly talks about wanting to wear his cat which saunters into the bathroom with her.
I both appreciate it as an animal and would also dearly like to wear it as mittens, tippet, or hat. I would use the eyes as buttons. I want to wear this cat. This cat could be my best thing ever.
It sort of develops into a more coherent conversation between Johanna in pain and the hapless cat, but that little section about wearing the cat just felt so out of place and bizarre to me that I had to stop reading and check I'd actually read what I thought I'd read. You want to WHAT?! LEAVE THE CATS ALONE JOHANNA.
But enough of my complaints. I'm sure everyone this week is going to talk about Johanna having sex and the issues she's come across. I'm sure I've had most of those thoughts myself but seeing it on the page was quite confronting. Like yeah, what the F men?! Sex, when you're young anyway, so often does seem to be able getting the guy off. That's supposed to sort of be enough for the both of you, if the girl also manages to climax then the guy is a hero!* Of course, this doesn't mean guys actually think this way (although I'm sure some do) but Johanna is right.
There is very little female narrative of what it's like to fuck and be fucked.I think just about everyone mentioned this in the first week, but it was one of the very few examples of female masturbation I'd seen in a book. There were no candles or bitten lips as our heroine dreamed about her beautiful, forbidden love. It was just a straight forward depiction of a female urge. And this section reflected back onto this, because we see what happens when girls don't have some kind of outside interaction regarding sex. Johanna is well read and well acquainted with her body but she's still hopelessly out of depth when it comes to sex. You could definitely argue that because she's having sex with people almost 10 years her senior there is a power disparity which makes speaking up complicated, but I think what Caitlin is really suggesting is that while we're all fed a rather decent amount of sex in our films and books and television, it's all really in service of male pleasure. You rarely see a film when a guy asks a girl what he should do to make it more pleasurable for her, instead it's him dishing out the commands or taking control of the positions. It isn't hard to see why a girl would feel like she's just supposed to know intuitively how to make it work, or expect that her pleasure will come through his pleasure.
What I really want to talk about though, is Krissi. Or rather, his fantastic sass. I think I highlighted everything he said in this section, it was absolute gold. I wish I had been as witty an older sibling. I feel like I let my sisters down now.
"An animal, like Miss Piggy," Krissi continues. "You have the same ability as Piggy to laugh, piercingly and lengthily, at your own jokes. And," he added, leaving the room, slyly, "you've had a man's hand up your bum"I'm interested to see what happens with Krissi before the end of the book. Because we're gearing up for something to happen right? Johanna will find out he's gay, that's for sure, but will it be a simple coming-out-story or will it have a more sinister turn? I've known a fair amount about life in England during when the book is set but I have no idea what being gay in 1990s Wolverhampton meant. Were you likely to be ostracised by your friends and family? Or were they more accepting and encouraging by then? I know that in parts of Australia you couldn't book a single room with two beds for two men in a lot of rural Australia in the 1990s. Even if you were brothers, even if there was nothing to suggest you were gay, people were so horrified or perplexed by homosexuality that they just banned anything even tangentially related.
How did everyone else fare this week?
*Although if the stats are correct and as many girls are faking orgasms as reported, then the guys probably genuinely don't know they aren't satisfying them. Which sort of leads back into the main point that there isn't enough narrative on sex for women.