I've never written an unhappy book review. If a book's bad, I just can't finish it. And if I can't get through it, basic integrity also demands that I don't write about it.
And yet, I suffered through Polly Vernon's Hot Feminist, because I earnestly wanted to like it. I skipped pages furiously, with the desperate hope that at some point through her 366 pages of near-garbage, she'd throw something awesome at me. One thing. Anything.
Here's what reading her felt like:
The girl you had to hang out with in the ladies restroom because her boyfriend knows your boyfriend. Who won't shut up about how she put on three kilos and now is only four kilos underweight instead of seven and how it's starting to show when she wears a jumpsuit. A person who makes self-deprecating jokes while quietly sneaking in the fact that she's a brain surgeon. And then she'll say,
(Giggle) It's not like I'll ever win a Nobel (giggle)
And if her cutesy, pseudo-self-deprecation isn't enough to give you a nosebleed, here's what her book is essentially about:
She likes make-up. Obsesses over her very fine body. Makes (largely) impeccable fashion choices. And also happens to desire equality for women.
That's all. She's hot and a feminist. She thinks this is a talking point. She thinks it's worth an entire book. It isn't.
You think we don't know feminists can be hot? You think we're still in that stage of human existence where feminists are viewed as hairy, big lesbians who could never fit in? B**ch, we've seen Beyonce.
The most spectacularly annoying chapter of the book is called WAGs. Here she talks how she once dated a very hot football player. She begins by explaining that she doesn't understand football.
"Men run this way, then they run the other way, and the most you can hope for is that a ball gets projected in the back of a net, maybe 3 times in total, and that someone falls over. Seriously?"
Aww. Such a perfectly-manicured cutie!
Then she proceeds to describe her and "footballers" unabashedly unromantic and steamy affair (snuck into brackets) twice in the same page.
"When I was doing whatever I was going with my footballer (an exercise in mutually beneficial lechery? Erotic rug staining? Blatant star fucking?), the phenomenon of being romantically involved with a footballer hadn't yet been enshrined in popular culture as a desirable, or risible, or generally fetishise-able, notion. "
And she brings it up again, one paragraph later:
"When I was doing whatever I was doing with my footballer (showing off to my mates, reluctantly eating KFC, trying and failing to care about the offside-rule), football was still somewhat niche and its players weren't in any sense mainstream celebrities, which meant their lifestyles weren't scrutinized and obsessed over - which meant that their women were inconsequential irrelevances."
Was her editor snoozing?
And after putting us through the tedious, uninspiring rant about hooking up with a footballer, this is the lesson she seeks to impart:
That we shouldn't hate on WAGs. WAGs can be more than wives and girlfriends. They can be feminist, ruthless and amazing. Intelligent too. And we shouldn't bring them down or tear them apart. Because that's mean and myopic.
Ladies, she's screeching. Wives and girlfriends are human too!
Searing insight indeed.
And that's at the heart of this truly horrific piece of feminist literature. Vernon is bringing up archaic myths about feminists that few believe anymore. And then disproving them so that she can talk about her steamy sex life.
If you're still sticking with this and need further convincing, the book gets marginally (but only marginally) worse. Polly Vernon decides to give us her dictionary of what-to-call-a-significant-other.
That's right, a Vernon special on labels for the man of the hour. These are the labels she does not like:
'Boyfriend'? Daft. 'BF'? No. 'Boyf'? Better than BF, but not really. Fiance? Too French. Husband? Might be arrogant. Lover? Obnoxious. Bo? Only if you're Nelly. Bae? Only if you're Beyonce. Special Friend? Too coy.
Here are the ones she likes: Piece. (Oo!) Ball and Chain (how much fun is it to reverse-gender-stereotype!) Male Accoutrement (lovely reverse objectification). Boy Toy (you go girl!)
I have no idea what to make of it.
The kindest olive branch I can lend her is this: she was commissioned a book and all she had material for was a tweet.
The first chapter deals with how, when the first edition of Hot Feminist released in the UK late 2015, Vernon was called out on Twitter and torn down. She breathlessly narrates how she felt hurt and humiliated and judged by angry feminists and how she cried to herself, Why are women bringing each other down?
A large part of why I suffered through Hot Feminist to the end was because I was rooting for her. I wanted to tweet her and say, "Hey Polly, I think your book is fabulous." I wanted to undo the hurt she'd been caused. I felt almost responsible for salvaging her sense of self, by writing a glowing review of her feminist book.
That cannot happen because the book is, above all else, dishonest and arrogant. Arrogant not because she's hot. Arrogant because she's saying nothing - but saying it with an excess of confidence.
There is no hint of intellectual curiosity or willingness to question herself. She's brandishing from the rooftops everything we knew, long before Web 2.0.
The humour is dated. And the meat of it - her thoughts and ideas - reveal nothing that any consumer of Taylor Swift, Beyonce and Posh Spice doesn't already know.
Her thoughts are dull precisely because Vernon has never questioned herself. And the ability to question oneself remains the thing I love most about feminists.