Reading the Marginalized Voice: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
By Hannah Oliver
‘I learnt first hand how women are discriminated against, which is why I became a feminist… an intersectional feminist, because it’s not just about gender but race, sexuality, class and other intersections which we mostly unthinkingly live anyway.’
As the world gradually opens up to the wide acceptance of feminism (and I believe it slowly is), there has never been a better time to remind one another of this fundamental statement: it’s not feminism unless it’s intersectional.
Bernardo Evaristo’s ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ completely embodies that.
‘Life is an adventure to be embraced with an open mind and a loving heart.’
The novel strongly intertwines the lives of twelve different characters who are mostly women, mostly British, and mostly Black. At its core, the novel tackles the issues that come with being anything other than a heterosexual, middle-class, white man. However, laced within the broader themes of race, gender, class and sexuality are many more subtle issues that are often linked to the aforementioned factors. These include the problems faced by immigrants, transgender people, minority group students, victims of sexual and emotional abuse, and people from a low socio-economic background, to name just a few.
This mix of heavy subjects may make the novel seem like an uncomfortable read at first glance, and I suppose it is, but only to an appropriate extent. Evaristo is not trying to show society in a completely dark light, but rather expose them sad truths that come with simply existing in a world where your genetics set you up for discrimination. Being uncomfortable at points in this book simply means that you recognise this discrimination.
‘The Barbies with their stick legs and rocket breasts were another problem Megan had to endure. She was supposed to spend hours dressing up or playing house with them, including the darker ones she was supposed to find more relatable. In a fit, she’d once tried to commit Barbicide, defaced them with coloured marker pens, chopped off hair, extracted eyes with scissors and de-limbed a few… The Barbie invasion proliferated on birthdays and at Christmas, relatives talked about her incredible collection, as if she’d actually chosen to have them in her life.’
The novel’s focus on society’s expectations of women is a theme that particularly hit home for me. From the forced love of barbie dolls and playing dress-up which is commonly projected onto little girls, to the judgement faced by young mothers, and the stigma surrounding sexual assault, I really felt that I could relate to and empathise with the feelings and experiences of many of these characters. However, that relatability was somewhat stunted by the character of Yazz, the protagonist Amma’s daughter, and her group of friends. As much as I was reluctant to admit it, as I love the book as a whole, I did have some issues with its representation of young people.
Yazz is a nineteen-year-old English literature student. As a nineteen-year-old English Literature student myself, I found that her character, whilst not completely unlikeable, was simply unrealistic. In my opinion, Evaristo is a little too on the nose with her efforts to portray Yazz as the negative stereotype of a ‘young liberal’. From the cringe ‘cool girl’ attitude, as she demands that her mother refers to her friends as her ‘squad’, ‘the Unfuckwithables’, to her questionable views on feminism, as she refuses to label herself as a feminist, saying that the term is too ‘herd-like. Evaristo gives the impression that young, politically engaged people are unwilling to partake in a respectful debate, unbudging in their views no matter how correct, and unreserved in their hatred of men, the rich, and anyone over 40. In a nutshell, Yazz and some of her friends are the embodiment of how Piers Morgan sees any ‘snowflake’ who votes left and is under 25. Quite honestly, I didn’t enjoy the perpetuation of this stereotype at all.
However, that being said, the general message of the book is one I can completely get behind. Even the novel itself is a symbol of the changing place of women in society, as Evaristo is the first black female winner of the Booker Prize. The novel was also named one of Barack Obama’s 19 Favourite Books of 2019, and Roxane Gay’s Favourite Book of 2019, a triumph I’m sure Evaristo is extremely proud of, as her novel itself makes reference to the work of Roxane Gay many times.
For anyone looking to begin their journey into diversifying their reading list, I’d definitely recommend this as a good place to start. It delves into so many different sections of society that it’s impossible not to feel as if you’re really embarking on a journey with Evaristo herself through every bend and corner of modern Britain’s streets.
For me, reading this soon after leaving sixth-form college, ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ was a turning point in discovering what exactly I enjoyed reading, and I’m excited to see what else Evaristo has to offer us.