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How “The Female of the Species” Captures Rape Culture Perfectly

TW: rape, mutilation, slut shaming, violence, child molestors 

I’ve been thinking about a way to start this article for a while now, and so far I’ve come up with nothing. So this is a little bit of a cop out. However to sum up intricately woven literature to an adequate degree is always hard because one might feel as though they need to match the tone or the beauty or perhaps even the message that has been portrayed in what they just read. This was an important, amazing book and this article is going to be explaining why girls everywhere NEED to read it. If you’re interested, please read the synopsis here. They may be some minor spoilers in here, but nothing should ruin your experience of reading the book.

Emotionally, this can be a difficult book as it deals with some very real, very disturbing topics—but that’s also what makes it so brilliant. High school parties won’t always be safe, your next door neighbour won’t always be a eccentric grandma who loves giving people food and someone draping toilet paper over your house won’t be the most frustrating thing to happen while you live there. There are bad people out there. People who don’t care if you’re under 18 or if you’re so intoxicated that you can’t move. Through the eyes of three seniors in high school, these are the terrible people that McGinnis shines a glaring light on.

A small but immensely impactful thing the author does is point out the double standards between men and women. Reading through the book I had a revelation—I wasn’t alone. McGinnis points out simple everyday things and has her character critique or compare the situation to one lead by a woman. The results are outstanding for the minimal amount of lines that they’ve been given which is perhaps why they managed to be so impactful.

But 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.

A second small, but very important issue that is highlighted in the book is that of respect. Three out of four (arguably 4.5) main characters are female, and sometimes they have issues with each other. It would be so incredibly easy to write a stuck up pretty girl and the goody two shoes preacher’s kid because isn’t that what everybody does? Well yes, but that’s not what happened. The preacher’s daughter isn’t in the right when she calls the pretty girl the slut, and the stuck up pretty girl isn’t arrogant in assuming that she’s better than everyone else. Instead they’ve be written as real people. Crazy, isn’t it?

They may not completely get along—but McGinnis has Alex, her previously isolated main character, point out that they were angry at the wrong person. They were fighting over a boy who had done them wrong, but neither of them had really been angry at him – instead choosing to take it out on each other. Not only does this bring up the need to respect other girls around us, even if they love to sleep with other people and it makes us uncomfortable, but it also deals with the issue of girl-on-girl hate. It points out how unneeded, unfounded and uninformed that it can sometimes be.

“You shouldn’t be that way about her,” Alex says. “I hear what people say and I bet half of it isn’t even true. And even if it is–fine. She’s no different from you and me; she wants to have sex. So let her.”

This acceptance, the instinctive reaction to blame women over men or to furl our eyebrows up at women but laugh when men do the exact same thing shouldn’t be a part of our everyday lives, yet it is. Let’s face it. Even our language is riddled with words that may not be consciously used to degrade women—language that sometimes successfully warps our vision of ourselves and others around us.

Language is very male centric in nature, which can sometimes be seen in “comedy.” Rape has been made into trashy jokes in locker rooms as are, without their knowledge, the women who have had the misfortune of sleeping with them. To quote Donald Trump, too many people see this as simply “locker room talk” and as something that is acceptable.

They said bitch. They told another girl that they would put their dicks in her mouth. No one protested because this is our language now.

In this quote, two boys had drugged a girl into a stupor and no one reacts until her friend stops them and uses the word “rape” in describing what they were going to do to her. Everyone freezes, because no one had been taking it seriously before that even though the boys had been saying the exact same thing, using different vocabulary, not seconds before.

Needing consent for something is always a must and this book blasts it’s importance from the top of the tallest skyscraper that it can find. Trigger warning-wise, there are attempted rape paragraphs that are not going to be discussed more in this article as I’m not sure that I’ll be able to properly write about it. However I would like to stress that the messages and ideas that this book shares are values that all people, female or male need to have. Some other key ideas that haven’t been discussed in this article but are in the book include slut shaming, anger issues, the ability to find love and support in hard times, how one should be prepared and the idea that people all think they’re invincible and why that assumption might do more harm than good.

Overall, I would recommend this book to everyone. There is a lot of blood and traumatic scenes, so please use caution going into it – especially if you’re under 16. Having said that, you will face a lot of these issues prior to your sixteenth birthday so this should in no way dissuade you in reading the book if you think that you’re ready. This review may not have done the book justice, but once again, I would like to reiterate how the important messages that this book sends.

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A seventeen year old IB student with a passion for books and speaking her mind.

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