I don’t read non fiction very much, but when I’m travelling on a train, I’ve discovered it’s the best kind of read – you can dip in and out of it at a moment’s notice and quickly pick up from where you left off as you jump on the tube.
The only trouble is I don’t travel alone on a train very often.
For the past four months I’ve been reading Animal by Sara Pascoe – which may seem like an odd choice for a gay man, seeing as it is, as subtitled An Autobiography of a Female Body.
Pascoe, however, has always made me laugh, so I thought I’d give this a go, and I wasn’t disappointed.
The book is a semi-autobiographical exploration of what it means to be a woman in the twenty first century. It’s told through the guise of explaining how the female body works, but in reality, it is a story of how it got to where it is today, and how it works in a modern context.
It’s split into three sections: Love; Body; Consent
Love is perhaps the most interesting, exploring the concept of why women – and to a lesser extent men – fall in love with the people they do. It explores the evolutionary advantages of falling in love, and has a stab at explaining why we do it and other animals don’t.
Body, as you might guess deals with the parts of the body that are female specific, and the processes that occur in them. There’s a lot of talk of vaginas in it, which is an area I have very little experience with – nor do I want much experience with.
I don’t like thinking about other people’s bodies but Pascoe’s humour dealt with it in the right way, letting me learn about the whole topic without making me too uncomfortable. However, I think the only way I got through the page with the sketch of a vagina on it was the clear discomfort of the businessman who happened to be sitting next to me.
Consent was perhaps the most powerful and thought provoking section of the book. It investigates the laws around rape and considers the concept of consent, as well as the age of consent.
For instance, consider the following questions:
- In the UK, a person who is fifteen years old and eleven months cannot consent to sex. A person who is two months older can. What happens in that two-month period to educate them? If there is no difference between them – at what point is a person physically and mentally able to consent to sex?
- Person X wakes up next to Person Y who is still sleeping and proceeds to wake Person Y by initiating sex. Person Y is literally – as Pascoe says – shagged awake. At that point, Person Y joins in, passionate and enthusiastic. But Person X did not gain consent until the point at which Person Y was awake. Prior to that, was the act sexual assault? Can consent be given retrospectively? And does this precedence give Person X permission to try the same thing again the next morning?
This is all quite heavy stuff, but Sara Pascoe presents it all with a humour that makes it readable in a way that makes you not quite realise that it might be changing the way you think – not necessarily just about consent, but about all manner of things.
It would make a fascinating read for any person, I’m sure, but for men this provides an incredible insight into worlds we know nothing about.
Plus it’s funny.