We are still looking at how we bring Bookclub to you…and yet we are still horribly bad at technology. SO we did what we do best and Danielle has written up the March bookclub! You can send us your thoughts by writing to us at Dear Gazella. Or see us at our next Bookclub for Craig Silvey’s ‘Honeybee’.
We sat In Flagstaff Gardens, on a very beautiful March evening, not knowing we had sat in a section of the gardens that was the dog park! So the recording is replete with constant sounds of dogs running through our group and us either freaking out, or cooing over cute fluffy things.
Before we get into the transcription, a little bit about Clementine Ford and her new book. I must admit – today is a long piece so strap in! Or save for later.
Clementine Ford ‘How We Love: Notes on a Life’
Clementine Ford, born 1981, self-proclaimed ‘hag mother’, author and strong feminist voice. She grew up in Oman, moving to England at 12, before spending most of her teenage years in Adelaide.
Suffering from body dysmorphia and an eating disorder – something she writes about openly in her books – she took a gender studies course at the University of Adelaide, which served as a catalyst for her work as a women’s rights advocate.
Her career started with her writing a column for the Sunday Mail in 2007. Her column was personal and many found it ‘controversial’ – including topics such as abortion, the politics of pro-choice movements, and the online abuse she received.
In 2016 she wrote Fight Like a Girl and in 2018 Boys Will be Boys, focusing on toxic masculinity and the patriarchy. She runs the podcast Big Sister Hotline and is super active on socials, with my favourite Friday Night Bites on Instagram.
She is a divisive figure, frankly because she speaks openly, and isn’t afraid to throw shade. Through the pandemic Sally Capp called her ‘deliberately divisive and incredibly unhelpful when we are trying to keep our community together.’ Despite Ford’s support of local business, her honesty with her own mental health and the supportive community she has created on Instagram. Ford admits that sometimes she says something and it is a misjudgement – but that she is a big enough person to admit when she gets it wrong.
Of her new book, The Guardian wrote that it is ‘strikingly devoid of politics and reveals a surprisingly softer more self-doubting side to Ford.’ And this after ‘a decade embroiled in highly public controversies, most of them attempts to silence her no-holds-barred brand of popular feminism.’
In The Guardian piece, Ford also notes that ‘As much as I’m impervious now to people’s opinions of me, I also feel the same human instinct and need to be understood, which is what so much of this book is about: to be loved, to be known, to be seen.’
She calls How We Love a ‘natural companion’ to her political work, especially after the strong, angry, so-called ‘man-hating’ of Boys Will be Boys. The latter came out as the breakdown of her relationship with her son’s father occurred – sending Ford into a mental health spiral. This book could be seen as an antidote in my opinion.
In more recent times she has addressed her white, largely cis, privilege and lent her large social platform to smaller, less privileged spaces. She has stated that whilst she doesn’t want to be ‘palatable’ it’s important that she diversify her voice and her writings, to be more well-rounded.
Rosie: There was one bit in the intro that I liked. It was about – and I’ve heard the quote before – I don’t think she made it up that we might forget the details, but we never forget the way they make us feel, which is that whole thing around you may not remember what someone said, but you remember how you felt in the moment.
Danielle: Starting with her mum was nice. I think the perception was that this book was going to be a book that was similar to a lot of books that have come out by feminists recently – just about romantic love and Tinder dating and stuff. I think having the mother story first based the book on all types of love.
Justine: And I think that’s how she ended it as well, talking about being a mum, which was nice. I found it really sad. I guess I was drawing parallels with myself and it made me feel guilty about not spending more time with my mum.
Danielle: I had the same feeling, just thinking about my Dad. It’s very hard to always be there when someone is dying.
Rosie: That was really relatable. When she went on holiday, I did the same thing. I went on holiday and got the call to come home. Reading that whole thing, made me sad.
Justine: I obviously haven’t had a parental death, but it was more just sadness for her, and me reflecting – ‘oh I’ve got to spend more time with Mum’
Danielle: It’s human too. If I was dying, would I want people there all the time, just watching me die?
Rosie: She spoke about it in a really beautiful way. There was this quote there when she spoke about the funeral. So many people say this to you ‘oh if it was me, I could never handle this’, or ‘you’re doing so well, if it was me I’d be such a mess’ it’s coming from the right place, but it makes you feel like, am I not a mess enough? Am I not grieving right? Are you passing judgment on my relationship with my mother, that your relationship is stronger, better, more important? Which she wrote about really well.
Hayley: I think the saddest bit was the phone call. I guess she was really honest in that part. It’s kind of hard to watch someone die. You’re waiting for it to happen. So she’s going about living her life and she is waiting for it to happen. And the part where her mother doesn’t want her to be there for when she passes away, that was pretty devastating. But understandable I guess.
Rosie: That’s incredibly brave. I don’t think I’ve heard of a story where someone has made the decision to keep their family away.
Justine: It’s really deep.
Rosie: It’s incredible writing.
Danielle: I think it’s one of the strongest pieces and she started with it.
Justine: But also set the tone for the following love stories, as well.
(A fluffy chihuahua walks in with a pink dyed tail).
Danielle: I thought this chapter was really funny. And I thought what she was trying to say is that I guess all those young loves, or crushes, was where she found herself. Where she figured out a little bit of who she was before she went into adulthood. Which I thought was probably pretty true.
Rosie: I have two things I underlined in this chapter: “It’s a terrible thing, this view we have as young girls that our real lives – our happy lives – are sitting just over the horizon, waiting for us to become small enough to fit into them.” You’re always looking over the horizon for a time when you will be skinny enough or pretty enough.
Danielle: Like my best life is ‘just over there’. I just need to be a bit more for it. I think for her, she suffered from an eating disorder, she links it very much to her feelings of being inadequate as a teenager.
Rosie: I also underlined “Ask anyone who survived the trauma of high school and lived to see who the Beautiful People became and you’ll hear the same thing: nobody wants to peak when they’re fifteen.” Beautiful. Right!?
Danielle: I have another one on that theme, “Popular girls can be many things – boring, cruel, vapid – but never are they allowed to be anything less than physically angelic”, which I think is maybe not completely true, but gives an interesting view into her mindset. She was so focused on that image of what she thought a popular girl was.
Hayley: It’s interesting reading this book compared to her other ones. Because after reading them and seeing her from her Instagram page, it’s nothing like what I imagined I’d read in the book. You can see it was quite a journey – she wasn’t as strong as she is now, when she was younger. She really cared about appearances, what people thought of her, I was really shocked how much was in the book that she battled with and how she is now.
Danielle: I think you see she had a lot of insecurities, whereas she comes across as a strong public figure now. I think she talks about her insecurities a bit now, but maybe that she also doesn’t give a shit about them.
Rosie: I think that comes across in the next part of the book. Dating. When she was in a long distance texting relationship. Where she is doing so well, with this amazing career, and yet she is still insecure that she isn’t pretty enough.
Danielle: It’s so sad. Especially now she is a public figure. We think that these public figures don’t have these feelings of inadequacy.
Justine: I feel like I got something completely different out of this chapter. Which was the treatment of women by men, right from an early age.
Danielle: It’s poor.
Justine: I was more focused on when she declared her love. First there was that guy who lulled her into a sense of security and was like ‘you can tell me how you really feel’ and then betrayed her and her crush. And when she declared her love to this boy, he just walked away and didn’t say anything. I was just so distressed by it. From day one, they already have an ingrained sense of being able to do whatever they want.
Rosie: I think that’s good that you picked that up. I think I read it and thought ‘that’s normal’.
Justine: Well I wasn’t around boys at that age. I wasn’t allowed. I didn’t have that rejection so early. Just some of the disrespect I think that I picked up so early. That it is culturally accepted to have that disrespect. I’m sure it’s very common. If the opposite had happened and a boy had had a crush on a girl, it would be that she must be ‘so happy’, there would never be a girl that would reject that love from a man.
Danielle: And if she did, she’d be called ‘frigid’ or ‘a bitch’…
Hayley: I didn’t expect him to be nice about it. But I didn’t expect him to say nothing and walk away. I don’t know which is worse? Probably walking away and completely ignoring you.
Danielle: One thing I thought that is really interesting when someone writes a book like this, is that you don’t get any response from the men. I just read My Body from Em Ratajkowski and it’s very similar in that she ‘outs’ some of these men as ‘bad people’ but they don’t get a chance to respond. It’s in a book now. Clem Ford got to do this too. She gets to say that her partner was basically a shit partner, in writing.
Danielle: But it’s her telling of the story and her perspective. Who knows what he was going through.
Rosie: It’s like that quote at the start, you don’t remember what they said but you remember how you felt. Maybe he did say something, but it wasn’t the ‘right’ thing.
ENGLAND & INNOCENCE
Danielle: I thought this was very much about her finding herself ‘cool’ or at least accepted. I think it’s very much about the cost of her self-worth. Or the cost of her innocence.
Justine: Every chapter was just so depressing for me. I mean, I know these experiences are really common, but like I could just feel her wanting to get the attention from this guy and just thinking ‘what a dirtbag…ewww’.
Danielle: It’s the classic tale of an older man preying on a younger woman starved of romantic love. Or acceptance.
Rosie: I love that in that chapter she goes ‘don’t worry guys…nothing bad happens’
Justine: I know! I loved that…
Danielle: It’s terrible, but it’s a story of what does happen. Let’s be honest. It’s her first taste of what real men are like. Not just boys.
FIRST ADULT LOVE
Danielle: I didn’t get much from this. I feel like this was Clem Ford’s revisionist history of ‘look how cool I am, my first love was a woman’…that’s just how I felt…I mean maybe it’s authentic.
Rosie: I think I didn’t know she was bi.
Danielle: I think she would generally call herself cis? But has had relationships with women?
Justine: It felt like it was an intellectual relationship rather than physical.
Danielle: I mean, I think it was physical? But I think I would agree that it seems like she found someone who matched her on an intellectual level.
Hayley: I thought that chapter was interesting too, because as you said, the book is not just about romantic love, and relationships of men and women and marriage. It can be just as complicated to have relationships with someone you are really close with, on an intellectual level, it can be just as toxic as any other relationship.
LEAVE YOUR HUSBAND
Danielle: After the chapter on her mother, I thought this was the most powerful piece.
Rosie: I would agree with that. When she talked about all the things she got caught up doing, you know she was this incredible feminist icon and to still be caught up in domestic duties, ‘running a household’ was pretty powerful to admit.
Danielle: I loved this quote: “I resented the ease with which he seemed able to return to life as he knew it, as if nothing of consequence had really occurred.”
Justine: I still felt a bit like she didn’t get down into the detail and I wanted to know the detail of what actually happened and a little bit of his perspective.
Danielle: You never find out if she addressed it with him.
Justine: Because in the acknowledgment – which I never read, but did here – she notes he is a good dad.
Danielle: I was like, should they not have had these conversations before they had the kid?
Justine: I just felt like I wanted more elaboration on situational stuff. And I don’t know why I needed her to justify situational stuff… but I just wanted more.
Danielle: I think it’s a topic most of her followers would be familiar with too, so I think you wanted to hear the gossip. You wanted more gossip!
Justine: Yeah maybe. I think she could have drawn it out for a few chapters and I would have been fine with her unraveling it. You know, I Googled him. I wanted to know who he was and why she fell in love with him in the first place. Even that was fleeting for me. He was a photographer that she met at a festival once…but like, tell me more! Why him? I wanted to fact check him.
Danielle: But you don’t get that, because you don’t get his side. You can’t fact check someone’s perspective.
Hayley: With this one as well, as soon as they split up, he sounds great and they become really close friends again.
Justine: But the dynamic changes.
Hayley: You never know, but did she ever really talk about it? From the whole book I get that she never really wants a relationship that lasts for ages. She wants to find someone and have them for a while. She comes off as that kind of person. I wasn’t convinced she had spoken about it a lot or that it was a given that he was ‘that bad’, or that he did absolutely nothing.
Justine: But maybe we are just being female about it and finding excuses for him.
Rosie: Yeah we talk a lot about the mental load – I mean why is that on her to educate him to be a better human.
Danielle: Yeah if she was feeling shit…she was feeling shit.
Justine: The trauma on her body – I was like tell me more.
Danielle: I read The Panic Years recently, and I think the nice thing about this was that she doesn’t come across in this book as petulant. She knows her privilege. She knows she is lucky to be able to have children. She knows she is in a relationship, but is lucky enough to be able to do it on her own. The Panic Years is so whiny – she is a white, middle class person with a lot of options available to her and she just whines about not having a partner and not having a kid. Clem seems a lot more aware of her privilege, that she is able to leave her husband and support herself if she wants. I liked that.
Danielle: There is a nice quote I wrote down, “I felt constrained by my own fear of what it meant to ask for exactly what I wanted, because I knew the likelihood of getting it was slim to none.” I think it goes back to what you were saying Justine, women learn to dampen their expectations in their teenage years and we never recover…
Justine: I guess she was talking there to the excitement of the banter of text, but then the pressure of meeting in person and not being able to back it up in an in-person encounter. It sounded very relatable.
Danielle: I mean, I’ve never dated online, so I’m assuming, but it’s so easy to hide behind a text. You can write it ten times.
Justine: One hundred percent. I remember doing that back in the day. You’d get your friends together, construct a text. You’d be witty. You’d use big words. It’s a more modern way of showcasing yourself.
Rosie: I like the bit where she was trying to kiss him in bed, and she included the sidenote about consent: “This is why arguments about consent and ‘confusing non-verbal signals’ are so infuriating. Because you know when someone doesn’t want you near them, you know< when the feel of your lips on theirs is met with revulsion. No one can have felt those things and claimed not to know, because there is no more obvious feeling in the world than sensing the tension in someone’s body as they will you to stop touching them.” I like that she did that. I liked that she owned that moment. That it didn’t feel right.
Danielle: It’s also another point where she doesn’t feel wanted.
Danielle: I think it’s nice to end the book with this. She talks a lot about her friendship with Alice Robinson, who has a great book The Glad Shout, by the way.
Rosie: Is Alice the only person she names?
Danielle: I think so. I think she dedicates the book to her too. And I think the rest is about the primal love for her son. I think it’s very typical in the sense of ‘a love like no other’. The theme I got I guess is about survival…getting through.
Justine: Also distressing, yeah.
Rosie: This was a very traumatic book for you, Justine.
Justine: Very traumatic.
Tori: I have a really big fear about getting pregnant. I’ve never read about this in a book, and it was nice to read someone go through this. And with anxiety it’s so hard to imagine the end. You’ve just gotta get there to the end, but the thought of nine months is harrowing for me. And she talks about the fact that once a thought gets into your head, that’s it. For me, once a thought gets in, fuck me, it’s really hard to get rid of it. And I thought the letter to her younger self was amazing. I’ve only known about Clementine Ford for a year. But I didn’t know she was a writer. I also feel like this was a book I didn’t want to end.
Justine: Yes, as I was saying – I wanted more! I wanted to know everything.