For Books’ Sake Talks To: Hadley Freeman

9th May 2013

Hadley Freeman by Sarah Lee

The last few years have witnessed a startling discovery by the literary press; funny feminists. Funny feminism is, apparently, a thing.

With the excavation of an early papyrus draft of Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman, some conspiracists are even starting to chin stroke over the idea that maybe feminists have been funny for a while. Maybe they were always funny.

Of course, to any regular readers of Hadley Freeman’s ‘Ask Hadley’ Guardian column this isn’t so much a revelation as a ‘yuh-doy’ moment.

Obviously all women should do and wear whatever they like, but that doesn't mean that all women will necessarily agree with their choices.If there’s one thing feminists do well (aside from fight injustice, have sex and rock out) it’s the funnies, and Freeman is the latest in a long line of very fucking funny women, from Ada Leverson through Fay Weldon to Moran and Tina Fey.

With the publication of Be Awesome; Modern Life for Modern Ladies (stay with me, I know you just cracked a tooth cringing over the title but ‘lady’ doesn’t always mean ‘vagina clamp’) Freeman has thrown her lady-hat into the lady-ring of lady-stuff.

When asked what inspired her to write this book / treaty / medley-o-musings in the first place Freeman says, “Just talking all the time about all of the things in the book with my close female friends and little sister.

Eventually I thought, ‘I’m just going to put all of this in a book and hopefully it will save some young women making the same mistakes as I have done.'”

‘All of this’ includes feminism, annoying scenarios the modern lady encounters and the Daily Mail (tip for skim readers; go for those bits first).

Freeman explains that Be Awesome is a book for all women, “and men, too.” She says, “I have female friends of all ages so as well as it being advice to me at 23 (and 34), it’s inspired by all of them, from 18 – 75.”

In between some very welcome analysis of Ferris Beuller’s Day Off and the impact of teen heartthrobs on subsequent romantic development, Freeman delivers a book with at least one sentence for everyone.

Chapter headings like ‘Beyond the armpit: a guide to being a modern day feminist’ place Freeman firmly on the Moran / Ariel Levy shelf of feminists reinterpreting feminism for today’s women.

As Freeman says, “Feminism is, in my experience, a pretty open church, really, and I happily don’t encounter too much of the judgemental kind.”

Which is just as well because we’ve all encountered the booming bozos who loftily inform you that you can’t be a feminist if you’re wearing a bra / make-up / smile.

Part of Freeman’s appeal is that she embraces what have previously been seen as non-feminists pursuits in her Ask Hadley column, including fashion and Bridget Jones (who gets a mention in the majority of Be Awesome’s chapters).

“I have my defences of both Fashion and Bridget Jones pretty well honed by now so it’s not a problem when I need to bring them out,” she says.

This interest in fashion and the way women are both buoyed up and weighed down by the concept has lead Freeman to dash out some controversial opinions on both women’s bodies and what they put on them.

Her recent column on Anne Hathaway’s extreme dieting was largely read as a criticism of Hathaway herself. As Freeman is quick to point out, “I wasn’t disparaging Hathaway’s extreme dieting – it was disparaging the media’s obsession with it and how the fascination with it would probably help to win her an Oscar.”

Therein lies the conundrum facing Explainers of Feminism. We are an open church and we do want everyone to join us at this amazing, self-esteem boosting, loltastic crusade.

But it’s easy for people to have their noses put out of joint by seemingly flippant opinions. A case in point being Freeman’s column against women wearing animal hats.

“That really is a personal dislike simply because it sets my teeth on edge to see women trying to make themselves look younger,” she replies. “In this case, to the point of pre-school age.I think that’s a pretty worrying trend.

Obviously all women should do and wear whatever they like, but that doesn’t mean that all women will necessarily agree with their choices. The freedom to choose is feminist but that doesn’t mean all of the choices are.”

Regardless of what you think of her feminism, opinions or misunderstanding of animal hats you can’t help but love her one liners. Long may they rain down upon our animal hat-adorned heads.

Be Awesome: Modern Life for Modern Ladies is published by 4th Estate and can be purchased at Foyles, Amazon, or your local indie bookshop.

Beulah Maud Devaney

(Photograph by Sarah Lee)