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Becoming Unbecoming by Una – Book Review

This is a graphic book – a genre (I vaguely think of comic books) new to me.  It is beautiful to handle, with inky images you want to touch and narrative that falls into prose.  It is also a harrowing and politically sharp book that weaves a woman’s tale of adolescent awakening in the context of 70s/80s’ version of (the usual) sexual double standards – the hexing of women’s bodies – with a frosty account of the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper.  The anger is subtle and the images speak as loudly as the words.  Its subject may be in the past, but its feminist ire is entirely present – relevant now as it was then (ladybird Summer, Madness, vinyl, learning to be a nice girl).  It seems a travesty to call it ‘history’.

The Yorkshire Ripper is now history – it is my history that I share with Una, the author.  As a young teenager in West Yorkshire during the suffocating height of Sutcliffe’s (let’s give him his real, human name shall we?) incomprehensible brutality against women, I too lived for a decade with the normalising of female fear and the media, police and public constructions of ‘innocent’ and ‘not innocent’ women victims.

Una nails it.  The memories come flooding back.  Women were encouraged to maintain a curfew (and the feminists really blew their stacks), not men, amongst whom the perpetrator walked and worked.  Prostitutes were seen as obvious victims (dead women walking) and shock only rippled through the press when the ‘innocent’ were targeted – surely a mistake, they said.  He must feel some remorse now.   The positioning of women, whose sex was bought by men, as non-innocent victims mirrors Una’s personal experience of being used and abused by older men, being sexually labelled and forced into a special caste apart from respectable girls. Did anyone know just how devastating and misogynist the term ‘slut’ was?  Do we know it now?

This book is compelling, not simply for its haunting illustrations and narrative, but for its unflinching reflection of the world I grew up in.  Keep your hand on your ha’penny.  Don’t go out at night.  Don’t dress like a slag.  Be a good girl. Lower your gaze.

This is a timely read.  Peter Sutcliffe has been declared ‘sane’ and will move from Broadmoor to a mainstream prison.  Of what kind of madness has he been cured?

Sharon Jagger

 

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Becoming Unbecoming by Una