An invigorating controversy over the oppression of women: Vicky Allan returns to Something Out of Place by Eimear McBride

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Review by Vicky Allan

Novelist Eimear McBride, whose fictional tale of Irish youth, A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing, won the Woman’s Prize, made her first foray into non-fiction, writing a short controversy that addresses the questions of objectification and oppression of women, mainly through the prism of disgust.

Its final pages are a postscript written following the murder of Sarah Everard. We might not immediately think of the word “loathing” when we think of this recent horror, or the reaction to it, but McBride makes the connection – she has already done over 160 pages – between the violence to which women are subjected, the fear in which they live and a particular understanding of disgust.

She observes: “Misogyny has always been the most socially acceptable hatred … The men who murder it are not seen as representatives of a deep-rooted institutional blindness to essential humanity, rights and good. -being women. They are excused and explained as oddities and anomalies. Their hatred of women, their desire to harm their bodies, either physically or sexually, is not taken seriously. It is not even considered hate, and more often than not it is considered to have been provoked in the first place.

The disgust his book focuses on is more than the mere terror we might feel at the consumption of pathogens. It is a “consciousness of being defiled”. Why have we seen this loathing so heavily applied to women and their bodies?

To figure this out, McBride looks at something we commonly look at with disgust: dirt. She quotes British anthropologist Mary Douglas, who in her book Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo, wrote: the question is out of place.

Just as dirt is “misplaced matter”, so too are women who express themselves or do not conform to stereotypes imposed on them.

It often feels like McBride’s big thoughts and slender phrases need more room to breathe. She goes through several current feminist issues from #MeToo to porn, but where she’s at her best is talking about that visceral aspect.

I was drawn to Something Out Of Place because I think you have to resist the disgust of almost any guy. Before reading it, I might have said that I didn’t have a strong sense of disgust to resist.

But McBride’s controversy reminded me of how much absorbed disgust directed at women still resides in me. As McBride writes: “The loathing I wrote about, which has been so successfully deployed in the war on women, creating and naming our own places in the world, has surrounded us and has even succeeded. to slip inside us.

I wish McBride had gone deeper and deeper into this visceral subject, digging deeper into this dirt, because it is this aspect that sets her book apart as a feminist polemic.

I would also have liked her to examine what this “something irrelevant” might add to our understanding of the toxic debate around trans rights, since cis women and trans people of all gender identities can be considered. like plus or minus degrees “irrelevant”.

But, those questions aside, this is an invigorating call to reject the disgust directed at women at every turn. It’s also a reminder that it’s not about you, it’s the system, an aspect of patriarchy and a whole way of thinking that treats us women like this irrelevant matter – and that can only to arm and strengthen us all.

Eimear McBride will speak about his new book at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Thursday August 26

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