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A gripping set of stories about the forces that shape girls and the adults they become. A wise and brilliant guide to transforming the self and our society.
In her powerful new book, critically acclaimed author Melissa Febos examines the narratives women are told about what it means to be female and what it takes to free oneself from them.
When her body began to change at eleven years old, Febos understood immediately that her meaning to other people had changed with it. By her teens, she defined herself based on these perceptions and by the romantic relationships she threw herself into headlong. Over time, Febos increasingly questioned the stories she'd been told about herself and the habits and defenses she'd developed over years of trying to meet others' expectations. The values she and so many other women had learned in girlhood did not prioritize their personal safety, happiness, or freedom, and she set out to reframe those values and beliefs.
Blending investigative reporting, memoir, and scholarship, Febos charts how she and others like her have reimagined relationships and made room for the anger, grief, power, and pleasure women have long been taught to deny.
Written with Febos' characteristic precision, lyricism, and insight, Girlhood is a philosophical treatise, an anthem for women, and a searing study of the transitions into and away from girlhood, toward a chosen self.
Febos (Abandon Me) recounts her traumatizing adolescence in eight revealing essays. As she writes in the introduction, "I was a happy child. The age of ten or eleven... marked a violent turn" in which the harsh realities of true "girlhood" began. She then comments on the horrific ways in which women are bent from an early age by the male ego, citing examples from classic literature ("I recently reread Edith Wharton's House of Mirth and found it almost too painful to finish"), film, and behavioral research. In "Kettle Holes," she recalls how, at 11, a neighborhood boy repeatedly spat on her for reasons she still cannot comprehend. In "Mirror Test," at 12, she submitted to the groping of a friend's brother and his friends as part of a "game," and it's moments such as these, she writes, that "trained her mind" to embrace values "that do not prioritize safety, happiness, freedom." Over time, she adopted false "stories about ," which led to heroin abuse and a harrowing stint in sex work. She closes with "Les Calanques," in which she describes her recovery in the South of France on a monastic writing retreat. The prose is restrained but lyrical throughout. Raw and unflinching, this dark coming-of-age story impresses at every turn.
Helpful for men too
I learned about boundaries, consent and respect for all women. I was raised by a mother and sister and was receptive to the messages of Febo’s essays.
When I tell you I cried
I’m 23 and this book was everything I needed my mother to tell me but never did, everything I am still in the process of learning, everything I hope my older, wiser self would say to me in a time traveling letter… I‘ve yet to fully internalize most of its messages, but this book gave me hope that I someday will. Thank you thank you thank you.
I read Melissa’s first two books so i got this one. Great read! Highly recommend!