Dear Holly: What’s a Girl Gotta Do?

Dear Holly,

I was 20 when I was assaulted on my way home from work. This was not the beginning of my anger at the world, but it was certainly the catalyst. In some ways, feminist Twitter is lucky. There’s a nice little echo chamber. People who’ve banded together because we all get it. We want equal rights for everyone. We want to be safe and heard and to live without fear. Outside the echo chamber is a world filled with angry people – angry men, usually. Angry White Men, who’ve never experienced prejudice or fear at the hands of another human being. We talk and talk in our echo chamber and the words follow us, surround us, comfort us. We are not alone. We have each other.

It takes a good deal of courage to step outside the echo chamber. It takes courage to put pen to paper and painstakingly detail every single instance of what it’s like to be a woman in the Western world – something Angry White Men can’t understand, and will ridicule, because we’re women and don’t we know that other people have it so much worse? It takes immense strength to write something that is to go to print and be there, in the world, ready to be seen by those Angry White Men. Ready to be criticised by those ready to criticise. The ones who hide in their own echo chamber, where the resonating slaps of high fives comfort them as they go to sleep, knowing their nefarious tweets or emails to people they don’t know have been supported by someone just as ignorant as they are.

What’s a Girl Gotta Do? Is the third book in the Spinster Club series and features Lottie, my favourite of the three OG Spinster Club members. It’s not often I see myself in characters. We talk about representation so often that I think people forget that the point of it is not just to see skin colour, sexuality and cultures represented, but to see a reflection of oneself in lit, films and TV (which I know is coming from a point of privilege seeing as I am white and have had umpteen chances to see myself represented in books. My point is, I have never seen myself in a book before. What does it say about representation if a middle class white girl had never seen herself in a book until the age of 22?). Lottie is angry. She’s passionate and driven and smart and stubborn and angry, angry, angry at the world. She’s human and compassionate and ready to fight for what’s right. She’s brave and strong and she cares. Oh god, does she care. And because of this, I see so much of myself in her. From standing up to the van men at the beginning of the book (I chased the guy who assaulted me down the street screaming at him that I’d ‘fuck him up’ if he tried to touch me again (before dissolving into sobs and then being afraid to leave my house alone by myself for a year)) to just refusing to give up on what she believes in, I could identify with her so much more than any character I’ve ever read before. Angry girls in books are usually treated badly for being angry, or treated as though they need to explain themselves. They’re portrayed as people who are not deserving of love, or friendship, or a resolution to their anger. It is usually their own fault for being angry. With Lottie, it is so evident that for every hare-brained-seeming scheme she comes up with, despite possible eye rolls and people wishing she’d tone it back a bit on being so angry at the world… she’s loved. She’s so loved and supported by the people who believe in the things she’s fighting for, and while her friends, particularly Amber, despair at her from time to time, they actively encourage her to be herself. They treat her like she’s worthy. They treat her like she’s human.

What’s a Girl Gotta Do? Was hard to read in places – particularly the trolling chapters. A few weeks ago I tweeted about the abortion laws in Ireland and had hundreds of people telling me I was a baby killer, a liar, and a hysterical feminist. I was told I was stupid, a slut, and other words I won’t repeat because they don’t deserve to be immortalised in print again. The pain of being gradually worn down by hundreds of strangers wanting to rip away a piece of you until you crumble was tangible in the chapters where it happens to Lottie, plus the despair of knowing that reporting the tweets or the emails does nothing but earn you a nice ‘this doesn’t violate our terms of use’ response email some hours after the damage is done. For Lottie, she was afraid to go to the police because she didn’t want to be told she’d brought it on herself. We see the realities of that every day. We know that going to the police is fruitless unless one of those who send threats try to act out on them in person. It was heartbreaking to read an accurate reflection of something which happens to my peers on a daily basis. It was heartbreaking to realise that trying to incite change, both fictionally and in the real world, drums up a violent, aggressive response from those that don’t understand. Young people across the world are trying to make a difference despite – and I guess, in spite of – being sneered at, belittled, threatened, put down. They are trying to make a positive change. Lottie may not be real, but she feels like the vanguard success story for everyone trying to do something about the world we live in.




As with all the Spinster Club books, the sex positivity in What’s a Girl Gotta Do? is incredible. Growing up in a Catholic country, particularly one where abortion is condemned, sex positivity is not a regular part of our education. Sex education is barely a part of our education. We were taught scaremongering abstinence instead of the positive benefits of sex. When Amber and Evie walk in on Lottie and Will, they don’t make her feel bad for having sex with someone they don’t particularly like. Lottie doesn’t regret having sex with anyone. Her self worth is not wrapped up in what other people think of who she’s had sex with, and that is, I think, the ultimate measure of positivity – not the number of partners, but the ability to separate social constructs from identity, and it’s been happily consistent throughout the Spinster Club series. Not only that, although each member of the Spinster Club has a boyfriend by the end, the obtaining of said boyfriends are neither prominent nor belittled aspects of the books, which tells us one main thing: Feminists ain’t man hating eejits, guys. They just don’t suffer fools gladly.

I’d been trying to eke out the second half of the book for as long as possible as I didn’t want it to end, but yesterday I finished it on the train home. I had music playing, and ‘Too Young to Feel This Old’ by You Me At Six came on. Amid the joyous pride I felt at how successfully portrayed feminist activism was throughout the book, the song hit me in a way it wouldn’t normally have. We are all too young to feel this old. The media is content with bashing Millennials and insisting that they’re useless, coddled, sensitive creatures, but we are the first generation that has the ability to be constantly switched on. We are the first generation that has the ability to see exactly what’s happening in the world, call bullshit on it, weigh it up, evaluate what we can do. We are the first generation that can fight for what we believe in in a way that can cross oceans. I wake most days feeling tired at the world. We are all too young to feel this old, and yet there are days where we wake and feel the weight of the world on our shoulders. The amount of work to do, the amount of vitriol to wade through, feels too much. But once we have each other, and once we can mind ourselves… change will happen, and What’s a Girl Gotta Do? is a shining example of that. If, after reading, even one person feels that they too can make like Lottie and try change the way the world sees its people, then that will be the biggest change of all.

And so, Holly. Thank you. For the Spinster Club, for the laughs, the cheesy snacks… and for giving us a voice.


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