Book Review: The Good Girl Stripped Bare by Tracey Spicer.

The Good Girl Stripped Bare by Tracey Spicer
ABC Books RRP: $24.99 AUD

I’ve never met Tracey Spicer in person, but I really should have. I didn’t meet her way back when we attended the same high school; nor did we cross paths at a beach party or the local roller skating rink as we found our feet in seaside Redcliffe* north of Brisbane (read: bogan ‘Bevcliffe’, north of nowhere – insert teenage scowl).

She is a few years older than me, of course, but between doing her degree at QUT (snap!), having a father who worked at the airport (snap!), and being a generally swatty ‘good girl’ (snap again!) – it’s a wonder we’re not related.

So, it goes without saying that there were plenty of moments when Spicer’s new autobiography The Good Girl Stripped Bare struck a chord with me. But sadly, despite all the things Spicer and I might (loosely) have in common, the part that resonated most acutely was the book’s overarching feminist call to action. Like so many women I know, Spicer has experienced far too many examples of personal and professional sexism, misogyny and gender-based discrimination. She has come out all guns blazing – and this book invites YOU to do the same.

A life in media, from TV to Ted Talks

Spicer is a well-known public figure in Australia thanks to a substantial career in journalism. From hard boiled investigative exposes to lighter musings on so-called ‘women’s issues’, Spicer has appeared across many of our TV networks and most major print news publications, not to mention her online success stories.

If you have not ‘met’ Tracey Spicer via journalism, you may know her from a dynamic Ted Talk called The Lady Stripped Bare. In her presentation, she unpacks the ridiculous amount of time women spend on grooming routines (3276 hours over a lifetime apparently!) and questions why we conform to proscribed notions of beauty. As she elucidates the hours of lost productivity, reduced wages and decimated self-esteem that go with professional women’s efforts to ‘look presentable’, she wipes away her make up, frizzes her hair, and strips off her clothes.

That talk is just one of many iterations of Spicer’s keen interest in women’s rights. Over the years, this passion has spanned everything from fighting for her own right to return to work after having children, through to championing the efforts of nonprofits working with girls in the developing world.

It’s not surprising that the media can be especially brutal for women. Spicer was told she was too fat for TV (at a size 10), too old to present the news (at 37), and too dumb to do serious journalism (because she is blonde). She’s been groped, insulted, stalked and trolled; all this for being a woman who dares to have a public voice.

The good girl meets the butt-kicking feminist

In The Good Girl Stripped Bare, Spicer unpacks her personal life journey from ‘good girl’ to butt-kicking rebel. In actual fact, the rebel Spicer was always in there; but it took her some time to shake off the shackles of society’s sugar-and-spice-soaked expectations. Good-Girl-Spicer was ‘grateful’ for her early breaks in the media; trying to do a good job without making too many waves. She was always aware of the anachronistic ideas of femininity plaguing her profession, yet realised she would never keep her job without adhering to at least a few of them. In this, she is far from alone!

Rejecting the ‘good girl’ refers to Spicer’s developing confidence, as a journalist and as a woman. Even the rebels amongst us can be guilty of ‘doing as we’re told’; a subconscious ‘default position’ ingrained in us after being schooled on what is or isn’t ‘ladylike’. Don’t be ‘too loud’ or ‘too drunk’ or ‘too vulgar’ or ‘too bossy’ or ‘too outspoken’; Tracey has been all of these things, and these days she’s proud to admit it. She refers to this book as a ‘femoir’ – reminiscent of the ‘herstory’ movement popularised in the early ‘90s (when I was studying feminist literature at QUT!)

As a journalist, Spicer is in a unique position to look back on her life in the context of changing socio-political eras. At each juncture of her own story, she sets the scene with a nod to relevant political movements, music and the ‘big stories’ of the era. From the late ’60s to the recent past, the reader watches feminism itself grow and change alongside the author.

The sophisticated lady meets the bogan in disguise

Like a Disney DVD, this book is jam-packed with enough ‘Easter eggs’ to keep the biggest literary geek coming back for more. (Tracey, if you’re reading this, you had me at Gregor!) Spicer is clearly very well read; she also swears like a sailor. I thoroughly enjoyed the way her language swings from sophisticated French idiom to F-bombs; from political insights to bawdy gags.

Like her writing style, Tracey’s story is multifaceted. She covers floods, famine and war in her working life; whilst at home, she goes through relationship breakups, the loss of her mother, and the heartache of conceiving by IVF. This is a rounded picture of contemporary womanhood, no holds barred.

Join the movement – claim your space

So, back to all the reasons why Tracey Spicer and I should have been BFFs long ago. We both understand the true horror of an ’80s perm (take a look at the photos section of the book!); not to mention dressing in black and wailing to The Smiths whilst living in the Sunshine State! NB: Later, in her flat-sharing years, Tracey would own an actual cupboard that actually belonged to the actual Steve Kilbey. 14 year old me would have chained herself to it and never let go.

These amusing glimmers of shared experience mean that, to me, Spicer’s memoir feels like a chat over coffee with a worldly big sister! Other readers will find different connections here – I’d recommend it to anyone looking at a career in the media, for example, or to working parents struggling with the myth of ‘having it all’.

Whatever your entry point, Spicer’s own life story is almost secondary to a bigger message. In an era when people STILL inexplicably like to say ‘I’m not a feminist but…’, Spicer wants us to keep talking. From pay gaps to thigh gaps, misogyny is a spectrum, she reminds us. Call it out! Speak up! You don’t always need to be a good girl.

*Please note (as does Tracey) that the Redcliffe peninsula is a lovely spot to live these days. I enjoy relaxing dog walks and playful beach adventures with my children in the area now. But believe me, the ’80s were different!