Written by Lucile De Pesloüan; Illustrations by Genevieve Darling
Review by Tess Tabak
What Makes Girls Sick and Tired is a new picture book intended to introduce young adults to basic feminism. It’s essentially an illustrated list of challenges women and girls around the world face. The author, Lucile De Pesloüan, cuts straight to the heart of feminist issues: “Girls are sick and tired because women’s bodies are always an issue, whether they are covered by yards of fabric or completely revealed.”
While the issues discussed are for the most part real concerns, it’s hard to imagine an audience for this book. Almost none of the statements are backed up with any examples or evidence (a handful contain footnotes with sources). If you’re already familiar with basic feminism, this book offers nothing more than a list of things you likely already know, written in a fairly repetitive way (every sentence contains some permutation of “girls are sick and tired”). On the other hand if you haven’t been exposed to feminist ideology, the book doesn’t really offer enough on its own. A reader would have to be curious enough to look up other sources, at which point, why not just read a more thorough text to start with?
The issues range from the severe to the mild, sometimes in the same breath. I think the author intended to show that the issues of sexism, big and small, are all important, but this sometimes produces a tone-deaf effect. For example, she writes “Girls are sick and tired when they think about pre-pubescent girls being forced into marriage to men they’ve never met. They feel sick to their stomachs for the women who are sold as mail-order brides. Girls are sick and tired when they hear some guy bragging that he ‘scored with a chick.’” By stringing these together, the author seemingly links these issues. However, one of these things is not like the other. The first two are akin to sexual slavery. Men bragging about sex with women using language like this is degrading, yes, but it’s not quite the same as human trafficking.
Also, by giving only one brief sentence to each of these issues, I fear that some of the messages may be misconstrued. One of the pages shows a woman curled up in bed with a hot water bottle, captioned “Girls are sick and tired because it is often physically painful to be a woman.” The myth that severe period pain is normal is already a huge problem for women with conditions like endometriosis and PCOS, who risk having their pain brushed off as ‘no big deal’. Teen girls need to know that if they’re experiencing debilitating pain during their period, they should see a doctor. The way the author skims over this complex issue is an example of how little substance the book offers.
One of the book’s positives, I guess, is that the short length and charming illustrations by Geneviève Darling may appeal to the internet generation’s attention span. The book ends on a nice hopeful note encouraging girls to stand up and support all women and girls, everywhere.
However, this is undercut by an author’s note at the end apologizing in case she has left out any woman or girl’s experiences. The book covers such a wide range of people already, I can’t imagine anyone not being able to see themselves reflected in the pages, but even so, it’s a ridiculous task to try to cram every single facet of human experience into such a short book. One thing this woman is sick and tired of is seeing women apologize for things that aren’t their fault.
To its detriment, this book doesn’t credit its young readers with as much nuanced understanding as they’re capable of.
What Makes Girls Sick and Tired will be released March 4, 2019 from Second Story Press.
The Furious Gazelle received a review copy in exchange for an honest review.