New Book Encourages Women to Give Zero Fucks
When Amy Kean chose to write a book about female empowerment she decided that making it rhyme and giving her protagonist a 'zero-fucks' attitude was the way forward...
When Amy Kean, VP strategy and planning at Beamly, got angry about the way women, and especially young girls, were often treated, and about the fact that the barriers they face are often wider and higher than those faced by men, she decided to try to do something about it.
Rather than retweet a link to a petition or post a rant to Facebook she chose to be more pro-active and created a fantastically clever, funny, irreverent and insightful book called The Little Girl Who Gave Zero Fucks that looks to embolden women, both young and old, to give, well, zero fucks.
Below she talks to shots.net about her idea, why she needed to act on it and what she hopes it will achieve.
"Armchair activism has become our social media comfort blanket: we share, and trick ourselves that we’re being productive."
Above: Amy Keane introduces her new book, The Little Girl Who Gave Zero Fucks
What was it that made you want to write this book?
Anger, mostly. And I got bored of bitching and moaning on Facebook, which I do a lot. Most of us share articles on social media about causes we care about. Armchair activism has become our social media comfort blanket: we share, and trick ourselves that we’re being productive. But I wanted to try and help, so wrote a book about a little girl in a fictional world who one day decides to be brave and break some rules.
About a year ago I went to see a confidence coach and he talked about this idea of having a ‘remote control’. There’s a remote control for each individual with buttons that dictate your emotions. He told me that, too often, I give my remote control away to other people and let them completely determine how I feel.
As cheesy and cringe-worthy as that sounds, I liked it. It inspired me! So, in my book, every little girl has to carry around a basket with her every day which contains fluffy creatures called fucks. When a person makes her upset or angry or embarrassed or doubting of herself she has to take a fuck from her basket and hand it over to them. By the end of the day, all the baskets are empty and that’s rubbish, because no one wants an empty basket.
"At one place I worked, every time a guy left the company someone would give a speech listing all the ‘slags’ in the office he’d shagged; humiliating them and high-fiving him. Nowadays, feminism feels urgent."
What was the process you went through to create it?
I originally wrote it a year ago as a short story for a book of short stories about ‘modern ills’ I’d been writing. Pretentious? Very. That book’s on the back-burner now. For anything I write I have a focus group of one, my friend Anna who I’ve been friends with for over 20 years. She’s brutally honest with me. She said: “It’s a great message, but it’s really boring. I thought you were going to make it rhyme.” So I made it rhyme! And it started to sound really fun. That’s when I knew I had something that might resonate, could be performed, and most importantly stick in people’s heads.
How much of the content, if any, is based in your own experiences?
Every single word! Apart from the part where she gives zero fucks. I still give too many fucks. I wrote a book about who I wished I was and how I wish I’d behaved when I was younger.
I’ve been a feminist ever since, at 16, studying for an A-level in sociology, I learned what feminism was. At the time, the term was still synonymous with ‘burning bras’ - a joke - so I didn’t feel a sense of urgency about it, just that it was another concept that could sit within the set of values I was nurturing as a late teen. I grew up in a family filled with three strong, intelligent women and a supportive dad, went to an all-girls’ secondary school and had a bunch of silly, loud, confident mates. I felt equal to men, and back then I didn’t realise I wasn’t.
That all changed when I left university, started working in advertising and hopped on board the ‘banter bus’ where men reigned supreme. At its worst, men hold court and women compete with each other for their attention. As a woman, it’s common to have to work twice as hard to get recognition, and to be ignored or talked over in meetings. The amount of times I’ve apologised before offering an opinion is embarrassing. I know many women who’ve been sent home from work because the CEO didn’t like what they were wearing. At one place I worked, every time a guy left the company someone would give a speech listing all the ‘slags’ in the office he’d shagged; humiliating them and high-fiving him. Nowadays, feminism feels urgent.
Above: A image from The Little Girl Who Gave Zero Fucks, featuring Beyonce.
It’s obviously a provocative title; what age group is the book aimed at and do you think people are overly concerned about children swearing?
I’m saying the book is PG13, but there’s loads of parents who give zero fucks and want to read the story to their four-year-old daughter right now. Good for them! That said, I don’t judge anyone who doesn’t want to hear or read certain words, in the same way that I don’t judge anyone who believes in God. We have a clean version with all the swears blocked out, because [crowdfunding publisher] Unbound and I decided that maybe the message was too important to restrict, although I’d still prefer that people bought the explicit version.
Swearing as a concept is so weird. It’s bizarre that we live in a society where words – a combination of random letters – are considered good or bad in isolation of context. “You can say these words, but you can’t say these other words, even though they exist.” The word ‘fuck’ comes from 16th century Germany and was used by monks to describe the unsavoury behaviour of other monks. For example, if some renegade young monk was chatting up a local woman after service, his more conservative monk mates might say that he was “fucking.” So 16th century Germany monks are allowed to swear but I’m not? No deal.
"The word ‘fuck’ comes from 16th century Germany and was used by monks to describe the unsavoury behaviour of other monks."
Do you think that the message of gender empowerment for younger children is improving?
A bit, not much. When you’re young you don’t always see it: the injustice and unfairness and the things being done to you. You don’t notice when the damage is being irreparably done. It’s impossible to see, with the naked eye, your self-esteem being chipped away by all the things girls need to deal with; Being told to behave. To be quiet. Desperately seeking the approval of boys. Obsessing over your dress size. Not being listened to. Not being trusted. Being called names. My word, the names!
Now, I see it. My 13-year-old niece refers to herself as a feminist and the boys at school laugh and they scoff and they ostracise and they write rude comments on Instagram and it feels like nothing’s changed. It’s obviously their awful dads passing down these views like a shit, dusty heirloom that needs to be thrown away. I wrote The Little Girl Who Gave Zero Fucks to reassure her and her friends that they’re right, and brilliant and powerful and to remind them to care less about what toxic people think. Women should act as a team, and so I wrote something really accessible that every woman (over the age of 13!) can read, and remember.
"I only used profanity in The Little Girl Who Gave Zero Fucks because there was genuinely no other phrase that worked as well to describe the process of women letting go of their unnecessary anxieties."
The book is illustrated by Jess Milton; how did that partnership come about and had you worked together before?
A friend of mine introduced us after he’d read the story because he thought Jess and I were ‘on the same wavelength’. We’d never met each other before. I gave Jess the words, asked for a ‘dystopian Milly Molly Mandy’ and she delivered sketches which are exactly how the book looks now. There were no second or third drafts, she nailed it immediately. I remember being totally blown away when I saw the first round of her illustrations, that something I had written had inspired someone to create something so beautiful.
But my feedback is appalling. I’ll say, “can we have more mayhem” or “it needs extra whizzing” or “I think that playground scene should be more socialist” or “can you make the character look a bit pissed off in a happy way?”. And Jess delivers every time. We’re working on loads of cartoons together now, and I’ll just sketch my thoughts and she turns it into something incredible that gets shared hundreds of times in social media.
"Zero Fucks domination would just be fun, it’d probably do some good, too."
What do you hope the book will achieve?
I want women to worry less, and I want them to understand why they worry so much. And I want feminism to be more fun. I want thousands of women to read it, and then give it to each other as presents! Some girls need to read it more than others. If you’re born into a certain gender, or a certain race, or a certain social class, looking a certain way, you’re automatically at a disadvantage and that’s one of life’s greatest tragedies. Zero Fucks domination would just be fun, it’d probably do some good, too. Already, in 11 days, the book has reached Canada, the Philippines, Malaysia and New York, which is impressive not least because the shipping costs just as much as the book itself.
Above: An illustration, by Jess Milton, from The Little Girl Who Gave Zero Fucks.
Do you have any plans to write another book?
I have a sequel of sorts to this one: The Boy Who Told The World. It’s about feelings. Specifically, men having feelings. I only used profanity in The Little Girl Who Gave Zero Fucks because there was genuinely no other phrase that worked as well to describe the process of women letting go of their unnecessary anxieties. The Boy Who Told The World is about all the weird and wonderful feelings guys have and how they need to share these feelings more, to normalise discussions about emotion. I’m also half way through a novel about voluntourism which, in my opinion, is one of the most twisted, exploitative industries I’ve been involved with. It’s based on my time spent in Kenya working in a school.
If you would like to purchase The Little Girl Who Gave Zero Fucks you can do so via the Unbound website and by pledging money from a choice of various rewards.
- Chief Strategy Officer Amy Kean
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