‘Women Don’t Owe You Pretty’: Where art and literature ally for empowerment

“This is the book I wish I could have whacked myself over the head with before the worlds toxicity permeated its way into my life

Florence Given

After reading Florence Given’s debut novel, Women Don’t Owe You Pretty, this opening statement promised an exciting new generation of self-loving, bold, and confident feminists, equipped with this publication.

Florence Given is a 20 year old London based artist, social media influencer, and writer, whose unapologetic vow is to destroy the patriarchy. Through encouraging us to face uncomfortable truths, she has amassed a huge social media following and raging fan base. Given initially began to share her work on Instagram, before opening a shop that had a roaring success. Her art, characterised by swirling 70’s lettering and vibrant colour schemes, is accompanied by bold statements that would make your traditional grandparents cringe. Her debut novel, released in June 2020, takes all the work she has created in the past few years, and brilliantly encapsulates it into a succinct and accessible introduction to feminism.  

Given’s artwork is inherently feminine; unrestricted by patriarchal expectations, she creates a new language of aesthetically pleasing empowerment.  Subverting the ridiculed stereotypes of feminism, she celebrates unfiltered and authentic femininity. Her prominent phrases, “off for a shag” or “dump him”, seem radical and crude to some, but this criticism is exactly what pushes Given forward. Her art functions as a form of visual protest, through which she challenges the horrifying ideals that have sustained our patriarchal society thus far.

With the publication of Women Don’t Owe You Pretty, Given has certainly not outdated her artwork. By exploring the medium of literature, she has simply made her educational feminism more accessible.

Literature takes Given beyond the restraints of social media, where her audience was once limited to likeminded feminists, and allows anyone who reads or frequents bookshops access to a wealth of feminist knowledge. The book itself acknowledges the dangers of social media, outlining the very real threat of overconsumption, often leading to negative projections of the self or unhealthy comparisons to unrealistic feeds. This itself highlights exactly the function of the book; Women Don’t Owe You Pretty has not been made to overtake Givens artwork in its importance, but exposes the subtleties, the messages, and the depth of knowledge which her artwork explores. 

Much like her artwork, Given’s book presents us with a refreshing outlook on feminism. Her view constitutes activity and personal accountability; she is an advocate for personal growth above the patriarchal ideas that permeate society. Women Don’t Owe You Pretty has been written to make us uncomfortable and check our privilege, whilst simultaneously allowing us a safe space for women taking this difficult journey. The medium of literature pushes us in this direction – by actively purchasing her book, Given encourages us to take accountability for our actions and choose to educate ourselves about feminism, instead of passively absorbing information on social media (something she herself explores in Chapter 7, ‘Stop Scrolling In The Mornings’).

As an artist, she argues that the subjectivity of art is truly the act of projecting your insecurities on others. The activist acknowledges that when we interpret art, we project out emotions, experiences, and values on the art to analyse it. She argues that in the same way, when women judge other women, we are conditioned to project our insecurities onto them, thus degrading them based on our own emotional vulnerabilities. She advocates for accountability, and realising your judgement of others comes from judging ourselves, yet also highlights that despite this criticism, art and people never change. Florence Given’s art, despite the criticism it gets from those it makes uncomfortable, will always be the art she made, with the purpose she gave to it. With active feminism, we have to engage, understand, and work with this art correctly in order to change ourselves. 

The feminism Florence Given promotes in her debut novel is dynamic and fresh. But it is not exclusive. Her novel, foregrounded by her artwork, explores how the patriarchy is entrenched and will not change with inactivity. Her art empowers us and her literature educates us on how we are disempowered; together they make us comfortable with this realisation, and give us the resources to take the power back. 

By Phoebe Vickery

Image: by Harriet Fisk, BAbble’s Art Editor

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