Commuter reads: Only Ever Yours – Louise O’Neill

[As always, possible spoilers]

I had heard so many good things about this book and I can honestly say I was not disappointed. It may have been marketed as a primarily YA novel but I definitely think everyone needs to read and understand this.

Only Ever Yours is an extreme reality of gender roles and the consequences of enforced gender identity and female competition. This book is an exaggerated version of patriarchy at its worst. I was repeatedly shocked at the passive compliance to an inherently misogynistic way of life, and even more so when I realised the entire novel is a concentration of patriarchal voices that unfortunately are still present today.

freida and the rest of the eves live in a school for girls, not at academic school, but a school to teach them how they will conduct their lives in the service of men. The three categories they become reduce women to the sex which serves men. Companions will have husbands and produce as many offspring as possible, but only sons are born as female bodies have been genetically designed so their bodies are taught that a female baby is a parasite. Concubines serve men purely for their pleasure. Chastities are pure and teach future eves how to be perfect for their future roles in serving men.

The thing I love in this book is the detail. Immediately I noticed no female name is capitalised; women are the inferior sex. There are mirrors everywhere; body image is everything, there is a special sickness room which essentially provides the facilities to encourage bulimia after a meal. Hormones are medicated, periods are prevented, outfits are preselected. This is a world based on aesthetics and looks. The girls are rated every morning after they dress by the unknown men watching them from the outside world (hello creepy). These men will select their wives after the 16 years of ‘eve training’. The number one eve holds the most power and the rating system fosters rivalry and the worst kind of bitchy competition between the girls.

This again is another clever exaggeration of our own reality. The rating system is exactly like the ‘lad culture’ that perpetuates giving women a rating out of 10 solely based on their appearance. While it may not seem as extreme to us, women are constantly rated and judged for there outfits and looks in magazines, social media and newspapers. The inescapable idea of the ‘ideal woman’ does leave women feeling so unhappy with themselves that they develop eating disorders or feel the need to compete to be the prettiest, slimmest, best dressed etc

Phrases drilled into the girls minds: “There is always room for improvement” and “Always be willing” are horrifyingly uncomfortable sentences that overtly reveal the aspects of our society that tell women they can be prettier, or the rape culture which normalises victim blaming and the acceptance of male violence and abuse.

The difference between this book and our own world is that patriarchy is more covert for us. Gender stereotypes are in the process of being broken down but they are not non-existent. Louise O’Neill simply, and brilliantly, lays out bare the faults and disgraces of sexism and misogyny at its worst.

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