Women Don’t Owe You Pretty is the debut book of feminist writer Florence Given. Her new bestseller encourages readers to dump the men in their life who expect the world from them and offer back nothing in return. Can’t argue with that. It’s a beautiful and encouraging read that, crucially, acknowledges the great debt owed to the earlier work of queer, trans, non-binary and BIPOC writers. The book’s bright illustrations, familiar to those who follow Given’s Instagram artwork, make it bold, fun and accessible to the casual reader and the feminist theory enthusiast alike.
Although I’m now happily settled on the ‘wrong side of twenty-five’, with most of the book’s dating advice already learned through experience (for better or worse), the content did still lead me to reflect in new ways on my true motives in relationships. However, instead of romantic connections, I’ve been pondering my purely banterous ones. Ms Given is correct, women don’t owe you pretty, and I’d like to add to this wise tenet that women don’t owe you witty either.
In Lysistrata, a play by the ancient Greek comic playwright Aristophanes, Greece is at war, and the wives of the generals on both sides decide to hold a sex strike until their sparring husbands reach an agreement. Similarly, I’ve started withholding jokes in social contexts that don’t serve me. Of course, this new rule does not apply when I’m literally booked to do stand-up, but instead, comes into play in the everyday situations where my potential audience isn’t vibing with my gender, politics, and/or my general existence.
My previous policy was to keep on wisecracking regardless, numbing myself with pints of overpriced lager to the pain of repeatedly dying on my ass, before resigning myself to an emotional hangover spent scrolling LinkedIn for an ill-matched new career in finance. And so, my radical feminist intervention was to just…stop doing that.
We tell jokes to make ourselves and our friends feel good, so why is it so tempting to waste time trying to entertain people who are never going to enjoy the simple pleasure of our company, let alone the ecstatic pleasure of our zingers? It’s a zero-sum game that is rigged for us ladies to lose over and over and over again. Like online Bingo. And the solution seems simple – don’t play.
But – much like how the Greek women of Lysistrata felt about their sex strike – I don’t want it to be this way! I am an adult and, when I’m in the mood, I love getting laughed at, hard. I love it so much I’ll do it with a room full of strangers whenever the occasion arises. I fantasise about it during the workday. I’m insatiable – just DM me a time and a location. Another big problem is that I don’t foresee any ‘peace’ at the end of my one-woman humour strike either, as me being not funny is exactly what the offending parties want. And so, inevitably, the house wins again.
For every one of us who drops out of a gig, there will be ten men named Dan waiting to take our spot so they can give an exciting new angle on a story about wanking.
So please, funny womxn and femmes and non-binary friends, don’t feel bad about protecting your energy where you have to, but never think that it’s you who has to change. Read the book, or not. Join my humour strike, or don’t. You do you. You don’t owe me anything either.
Florence Given: Women Don’t Owe You Pretty is available to buy now!