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What links an 18th-century aristocrat, a chain-smoking Lancashire footballer, a breastfeeding politician, a South Asian branch worker, the hunger-striking babe of an earl, a lesbian Labour MP, a Jewish housewife in New York and a Scottish medical student?

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Being difficult, of course.

As altitude change, pandemics and the fracturing of backroom drive us into ever-tightening circles of despair, there has never been a added important time to apprehend Helen Lewis’s message: you don’t accept to be nice to be great. You don’t accept to be a bodies pleaser to accomplish article that will account millions of people. Added fundamentally: “You aren’t advantaged to animal rights based on how blameless your behaviour has been.”

In Difficult Women, her aboriginal book, Lewis archive her own history of feminism through “11 fights”, adulatory the challenging, sometimes militant, sometimes hypocritical, generally abhorred women who fought for change. The book, which is disconnected into capacity on divorce, the vote, sex, play, work, safety, love, education, time and abortion, doesn’t airbrush these women into paragons of sisterly righteousness, soft-focus saints or cosy affectionate puddings. Did Marie Stopes blame of her daughter-in-law artlessly because she wore glasses? Perhaps. Did she change the accompaniment of changeable rights for women? Yes.

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As Lewis states aboriginal on, shadowboxing her absurd critics: “I’m not a historian, and this is not a accepted history.” If this is a partial, imperfect, claimed history of feminism, again those gaps, writes Lewis, will hopefully be apparent as invitations rather than deficiencies. It opens up the anecdotal of what a beat political amount looks like; it takes us off the angle of assured all accessible abstracts to accommodate to an approximate arrangement of perfection; it hopefully galvanises us to see the change that we can make. As Lewis writes: “Feminism is not a autograph for ‘what women think’ but a political movement committed to the adequation of the sexes.” If that agency demography up the billy from addition with whom you allotment little abroad but a accepted cause, again so be it.

Of course, there are affluence of women in the book that you will love. Annie Kenney, the astral banal woman in the suffragettes, who had herself delivered to a affair in a bassinet to abstain the police; Jayaben Desai, who led the 1976 Grunwick bang in north-west London of abundantly South Asian women adjoin the atrocious assignment practices of the photo processing branch in which they worked; Tess Gill and Anna Coote, who in 1982 led a wine bar escapade pointing out the petty asininity of El Vino’s activity of not acceptance women to chain at the bar but instead authoritative them delay at a table for men to buy them drinks.

Does it amount that Annie Kenney went on to change her name, and alive the calm activity of a wife and mother? Does it amount that Desai’s bang ultimately failed, area eight years beforehand the women at Dagenham had succeeded? Does it amount that Gill and Coote were advancement in a airing of activity active about absolutely by middle-class, educated, white people? Does it amount that Lady Caroline Norton, who campaigned for the affectionate and banking rights of affiliated women, was a affiliate of the aristocracy? Does it amount that Stopes beatific a aggregate of her balladry to Hitler with an adherent note? Does it amount that Erin Pizzey, who opened and ran the country’s alone women’s ambush in 1971, is now a men’s rights activist? Not to Lewis: “Each one has article to advise us, after us defective to airbrush out the difficult $.25 of their biographies.”

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The book is abounding of Lewis’ short, aciculate political observations: “Every feminist activity provokes an equal, adverse reaction”; “campaigners accept to be disruptive”; “The aforementioned force which radicalises so abounding women – the accountability of contributed caring labour – additionally hampers them from accomplishing annihilation about it”; “Work is not what creates amount for an employer. It’s what creates a society. It’s what takes up your time.”

Her footnotes are about consistently as funny as they are informative. When autograph about the actual attrition to women’s football, she quotes a bi-weekly letter: “Sir, if she can advance an eight-pound babyish through her pelvis, it can allegedly handle bumping into the opposing winger.”

And, aural these belief of added difficult women, Lewis confronts her own allegedly arguable cachet – she has been alleged “problematic” for arguing that the acceptance audition of US Supreme Court appointee Brett Kavanaugh had angry into a media bazaar and that ‘“even those accused of animal advance deserve better” – and refuses to aback abroad from the issues that still vex her. She writes about the “strange country” of motherhood after authoritative any affirmation to absolute claimed experience; she writes about how race, wealth, clearing cachet and affliction affect animal discrimination, alike admitting she is a white, educated, middle-class woman.

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That should not abate her appropriate to be heard. Rather, it proves her point; that we all accept article to apprentice from anniversary other, if we can accessible our minds to the true, complicated attributes of humanity. After all, as Lewis writes in her epilogue: “Difficult Women can change the world.”

Difficult Women by Helen Lewis, Jonathan Cape, £16.99, ebook £9.99

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