“When animals make a stupid mistake, you laugh at them. A cat misjudges a leap. A dog looks overly quizzical about a simple object. These are funny things. But when a person doesn’t understand something, if they miscalculate and hit the brakes too late, blame is assigned. […] We have entire systems in place to help decide who is what. Sometimes the systems don’t work.”
The Female of the Species is an important book. It unapologetically talks about rape culture in the most relevant time of all, and doesn’t flinch away from being explicit. This book is sort of a revenge book, one in which our protagonist kills the man who raped and killed her sister, and vows to protect other women from going through what her sister went through.
In this respect, the book was absolutely perfect. It talked about rape culture in a brutal way, but one that is absolutely necessary. I couldn’t help but highlight lots of quotes in my Kindle copy, because the words just seemed to stick to you; you couldn’t help but agree with them.
“Boys will be boys, our favorite phrase that excuses so many things, while the only thing we have for the opposite gender is women, said with disdain and punctuated with an eye roll.
Not only that, but our protagonist, Alex? She’s amazing. I loved her rough on the exterior personality, her actually very kind nature. Alex was the voice of reason in this book. She would not stand for rape jokes or slut shaming or anything like that. Alex was the kind of girl that I’d love to be best friends with. (Her killing people is kind of a problem, but I love her anyways).
However, despite all the things I did like about this book, the problems I found in it slowly kept sucking my enjoyment of it, until I was left with a bit of distaste when I finished.
First of all, this book is narrated by three characters: Alex, Peekay, and Jack. Alex, as mentioned above, is amazing. I wouldn’t have minded if Alex was the only protagonist in this book, to be honest. Peekay slowly becomes Alex’s best friend, and Jack becomes Alex’s boyfriend.
Peekay’s narration is what first started bugging me. What we first learn about her is that her boyfriend dumped her for another girl, Branley: the popular girl. Thus, Peekay hates her. It’s understandable, really, I get being hurt because your boyfriend left you for someone else. However, Branley is absolutely crucified throughout the book either by her classmates or by the storyline, and I couldn’t get past that.
Here’s how Peekay talks about her:
“Branley, who everyone knows is a Friend to All Penises…”
While, Peekay eventually relents from calling her a slut outright, there was still a constant attack on Branley’s character that never sat right with me.
There is no doubt in my mind that Branley was supposed to represent slut shaming. But while Alex sometimes spoke out against slut shaming her, Branley was still seen as the easy slut. The story crafts her as a one-dimensional mean girl that only cares about how pretty she is. Then, the story just takes her character and pushes her through different demoralizing experiences so she could “learn”. Only after Branley’s character is destroyed emotionally does she get to “change” and become a “better person”. I didn’t like this, I thought that this went against what the book was actually trying to preach from the beginning. What did I understand from Branley’s character? That had she been more modest, wore less makeup, wore less provocative clothes, she would be a totally down-to-earth, relatable chick?
Jack is another nail in the coffin. Once Jack starts having feelings for Alex, he can’t help but put her on the biggest pedestal and wax poetic about her. Jack would basically say Alex wasn’t “like other girls”, and throughout the book everyone seems to think the same. Everyone who talks about Alex can’t help but make her seem like the ideal that other girls have to aspire to.
“Other girls push the dress code, showing a solid few inches of cleavage or legging that hug so tight you don’t need an imagination. The cheerleaders’ skirts are short enough you can easily pinpoint where leg makes the curvy transition into ass. But Alex is different, remarkable because her clothes are utterly nondescript.”
Another thing that I really didn’t buy was the romance. It didn’t have a lot of build-up, in fact, it seemed to bloom out of nowhere. Everyone said that Alex was damaged after her sister’s death, even Alex herself. At the beginning of the book you see that Alex is severely antisocial, closed in on herself. However, we’re supposed to buy that Alex all of a sudden wanted to be in a relationship with Jack, even when we’ve barely seen them interact with each other. Alex didn’t need a romance in this book, SHE NEEDED THERAPY! Alex was emotionally scarred because of her sister’s death: she had anger issues, she had depression, and apparently we’re supposed to believe that because she makes a friend and gets a boyfriend, she’s suddenly and all-new person. Nothing like the girl she was before.
I’ve been sitting on this review for a while, because I keep reading all the 4 and 5 star reviews and I can’t help but think that maybe I’m being too harsh on the book. Maybe I didn’t actually get it. So I’ll say this: by the end of the book, the slut shaming is properly addressed. In fact, all the problematic aspects are addressed in one way or another. However, it felt like it happened in the course of the last couple of pages, and for me it was too little too late.
Overall, this book has a strong message. It talks about important issues unflinchingly and honestly. I appreciated the release of this book in a time where rapists aren’t serving their sentences and women are losing bodily autonomy every single day. This was intense, dark, and realistic. I really did enjoy many parts of the book. Sadly I couldn’t get past the slut shaming and other problematic things, but I do recommend this book. It really does open your eyes and leaves you thinking about many things once you finish.
“Anna told me I would understand about boys one day. She said that everything would change and I would look at them differently, assess their bodies and their words, the way their eyes moved when they talked to me. […] A man took her before I learned any of these things. He took her and kept her for a while, put things inside her. […] Then my sister was gone and I thought: I understand about boys now.”