Emily Maguire’s Princesses & Pornstars is a call to arms. It’s a highly intelligent, entertaining, and sometimes endearingly awkward rant. To have a feminist stance is not just to talk about women, Maguire argues, it’s to talk about equality for all. It’s to talk about the end of prejudice. It’s about fairness. Sometimes Maguire runs into small walls which are often her own desires and emotions, but reading a political book so personalised is to make you go Yes, that’s me. Or I haven’t felt that but now I know. Maguire is a truly fair, empathetic person, getting inside the heads of women from all shades of ordinary. One of the opening chapters is a refreshing questioning of why promiscuity is often perceived as such a terrible thing. She looks at the myths of ‘loose’ women, and the way a woman can be labeled a ‘slut’ even if she’s never had intercourse, due to an item of clothing she is wearing. I like the quote she uses from a woman safely enjoying her promiscuity – ‘A slut … is just a woman who has more sex or more sexual partners than whoever is doing the labeling thinks she should’.
She explores where the danger lies: in women and female sexuality being perpetuated as a commodity. She gives examples from past to present, and she explores the way it’s still taboo for a woman to talk about her needs, even to a long-term partner, and how the mainstream media and literature still focuses on the generic, as opposed to women as individual creatures who have different desires and needs. This chapter is called ‘My Vagina is not Like a Car’. She looks at the problems associated with ‘femininity’, including relations between little girls dressing ‘frilly’ or ‘raunchy’. She talks about sexual education in schools, and one program that she deems successful (and was controversial) in South Australia. She said that this system included the usual lessons on ‘puberty, reproduction and STIs’ but also lessons on ‘body image, the social construction of gender, the influence of drugs on sexual decision-making and how to negotiate for safe sex’. It was lessons on masturbation and sexual diversity that sadly provoked an outcry.
She also highlights positive developments in some countries for paid maternal, and paternal leave, such as the system in Norway, and wonders about the old-fashioned policies in Australian and other political systems.
She finds the bombardment of ‘advice’ to women from all arenas leads to the message ‘that a woman is never okay as she is. There is always something about you that could be made better, thinner, prettier, smoother, neater, sexier.’
There are great chapters sticking up for feminism, debunking the view that feminists are man-haters. This is ridiculous, as feminism is about equality and fairness. Feminism is also not biologically determinist – many men in Maguire’s life would call themselves feminist. And why shouldn’t you? Do you really think women shouldn’t be equal and happy in every right? Maguire also argues against the fact that some people see the feminist label as irrelevant, and wrongly associate it with a kind of stereotype. Maguire proves in this book that the battle for equal recognition continues, even in the personal sphere. She also finds it delusional when people think women had it easier pre-feminism when they had a defined role and place in society. Maguire says ‘freedom and equality are human rights, not lifestyle choices’. Saying women had it easier pre-feminism is like saying slaves had it easier as slaves. She explores reasons why not to blame feminism for childless women. And one of her key points ‘Feminism is about increasing options for women and men. It’s about destroying the idea that there is a correct way of being female or male’.
I’m really simplifying here, but it’s just to give you an idea of some of the topics covered. And there are many more. It’s well worth picking up the book for a different perspective, whether man and woman, and no matter what age. Since reading it I have been much more vocal about things I normally hold behind my tongue, more willing to be myself, in a way. And I’m thankful for Maguire for giving me this confidence to stick up for myself and other women, even over small things. I think she is essential, and I love the way I can relate to her through her personal admissions. It also means, if she continues to write on the topic (and I hope she does) she is flexible to acknowledge evolutions of opinion due to her own life-factors. Her readers get to know her and understand where it all comes from – something you wouldn’t get in a drier handbook. I would really like to read more of Maguire’s fiction, too, as I’m sure it would be forceful, raw and honest. She has a novel due out later this year…