Girlcrush wanted to be everything at once. A dystopian Black Mirror episode. A guide to anti cancel-culture. An exposure of the dangers of social media. An ode to bisexuality. Everything has already been said and written online regarding Florence Given’s ‘sexy, feminist’ debut. Being released at the beginning of August, the press called it a summer read, associating it with a ‘hot, dark’ story, but also a page turner, an entertaining read. I hardly believe that anyone who has actually read it would qualify the book with these adjectives.
In Girlcrush, based in a dystopic 2030, we follow the story of Earthea, ‘the voice of a generation’ (does it remind you of anyone?) - who is in a toxic relationship with a typical ‘soft boy’. Earthea has had enough of mothering her boyfriend (something I´d find quite unusual for a Gen Z in 2030.. One would hope that in 8 years our relationships wouldn't be as dictated by patriarchy and heteronormativity as nowadays) and she breaks up with him. Earthea travels to Wonderland, an alternative reality, or metaverse, where she shares a coming-out video which goes viral and gives her massive exposure.
Earthea’s mental health quickly deteriorates: One can note a poorly written and particularly cringeworthy example of Florence Given's depiction of mental health, towards the end of the book, where Earthea is yet at another public event, stating: “My forearm comes out of my sleeve as it extends to grab the champagne and I catch her looking, she opens her mouth to speak. ‘CATS!’ I gesture, making a claw with my fingers.”
Given's allusions to the topic of mental health were very distressing to read as someone who suffers from chronic anxiety. I find it imperative to center this topic in public conversations, unfortunately Florence Given's attempt to do so lacked thematic and stylistic accuracy.
In my critical review of Girlcrush I ought to stress the fact that I do not intend to bring another woman down. We are all aware that’s what the patriarchy aims to: The patriarchy finds delight in seeing us tearing each other apart. I am here to hopefully give you some constructive insights of my reading of Girlcrush. I am here to write a nuanced review. Nowadays, the internet (and Western heteropatriarchal society) does not allow us to voice any nuances. To step out of the binary. You are only given the opportunity to either like or dislike a person, a topic, a political discourse. There seems to be no room for contradictory emotions. However, we are all layered human beings. We have all different backgrounds, education, and privileges.
I myself am a cis white able-bodied woman. When I first discovered Florence Given on Instagram, I could obviously relate to her. I remember my 15 year old wounded self thinking: “Wow, I didn’t know you could be a feminist AND tick all of the boxes.” I guess this wounded part of me wanted to be Floss, because she was a skinnier, wealthier, smoother, doll version of me, a version I will never be.
When Women Don’t Owe You Pretty came out, an introductory feminist guide to the younger audience, I met the book with enthusiasm and thought it was a great way to meet people where they are at - at the time I was not aware yet of the accusations of plagiarism by The Slumflower.
As a radical feminist, with my own intersection of positionalities I am here not to critique a woman for her success, but to look into a more complex social problem at its root. Florence is a pawn, like the rest of us, in this ridiculous, tentacular, mischievous machinery that is the patriarchy.
Indeed, like every other industry, the publishing one is white and male dominated, perpetuating Western white middle class heteronormativity. Why do we have influencers such as Given at the top of the Sunday Times’ Bestsellers weeks on end when some writers wait a lifetime to receive a bit of acknowledgement? Bernardine Evaristo, a Black woman, wrote all her life and she became successful only with Girl, Woman, Other - at the age of 60 years old.
Not that I am trying to compare something incomparable, but just to put a bit of perspective.
I do not judge nor blame Given's desire to live off her art. In a society where rich, successful, cis hetero men are considered to be powerful and ambitious, and where successful and rich women - and queers alike - are usually heavily criticised and perceived to be too vain, too shallow, too superficial, Given's own influence and public presence is outstanding.
In her case, though, it's her very status of - a white and pretty- influencer that allowed her not only to write a book - with zero writing skills-, but also to create a whole merch line evolving around Girlcrush’s universe: Totes, stickers, prints… Reminding everyone that the publishing industry is first and foremost a business, and that being a writer is becoming more of a capitalistic project, and less about sharing writing and creative skills.
I argue that Florence Given could have been better off writing an essay on her own relationship with social media, her mental health and the drama with The Slumflower instead of trying to sugar-coat the reality into a poorly written work of fiction with multiple, unfinished storylines.
Finally, I finished reading Florence Given’s book wondering if she had to cut her sentence short because she was about to miss her deadline. I felt vaguely entertained, but also disappointed and annoyed to have wasted my time.