Born Lippy review: honest, funny but not exactly inspiring

Jo Brand ’s articulate moaning about the trials and tribulations of life as a woman feels more like the advice a slightly tipsy aunt might yield at the end of a family wedding

Jo Brand: at her best when discussing health, parenting and staying sane

Jo Brand: at her best when discussing health, parenting and staying sane

Sat, Nov 10, 2018, 06:00


Book Title:
Born Lippy: How to Do Female


Jo Brand

John Murray

Guideline Price:

It’s time to get lippy, apparently.

“Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman and sometimes it’s time to be a hard woman. This is a book for those times.” Or so the publishers of Jo Brand’s anthology of memoirish self-help, for those seeking advice on “How To Do Female”, would suggest.

As one the females being targeted by this book, I must confess to thinking we’ve had quite enough of women being told how to be without another book to make us question our decisions, lifestyle choices or human instincts. As Brand recommends, I hope with irony, in order to find happiness we should “stop reading those crappy books that tell you how to be happy”. I began reading with optimism, however, in the hope that Brand’s unique talent for acerbic, dark comedy and her witty observations of life would offer an interesting insight that might prove radical, timely or illuminating.

To coin the somewhat disappointing mantra of the book, Brand fans with similar ideas should probably “lower your expectations”. In a nutshell, the author suggests the most successful way to navigate these turbulent times is simply to do just that – lower our expectations and arm ourselves with a portfolio of verbal putdowns to use as comebacks for any uncomfortable or undesirable situation we find ourselves in. It’s not exactly inspiring.

A sense pervades this book that Brand was less compelled to write it, and more cajoled into it by her publisher. I suspect that in the wake of her magical moment on Have I Got News For You when she calmly explained the cumulative effects of a lifetime of casual sexism on women to the all-male panel, they saw an opportunity to commercially exploit her moment as a viral phenomenon in order to create a feminist manifesto for the women who cheered her on.

Life lessons

In the introduction, Brand articulates her own squeamishness at the suggestion that she has wisdom to impart and asks us to think of it more as if she is “further along on the trip and bellowing back warnings at the younger optimists many stations behind, in the vain hope it will be useful”. It is clear that Brand does have many life lessons that could offer insight for younger women keen to establish themselves in male-dominated creative professions, or who similarly identify as an outsider in a mainstream patriarchal society, but in this anthology of essays Brand is uncharacteristically generic in the advice she offers. It feels less like a collection of powerful wisdoms borne of a life courageously lived and more like the advice a slightly tipsy aunt might yield at the end of a family wedding.

One of the most perplexing aspects of this book is how little is aimed at women in particular, despite its How To Do Female manifesto. The common-sense advice offered on subjects such as coping with bullies, surviving dysfunctional families and not falling in love is relevant to all members of the species although it is hard to envision many men choosing to read it in light of its positioning.

When Brand does deal with feminism in a chapter that proposes a “Re-Branding” of the word, it predominantly offers a slightly patronising synopsis of feminist waves and suggests that feminists should learn to communicate better with each other and remember we are all on the same side. It’s an important point but Brand shies away from really building an argument, or offering guidance, to women as to how to progress the feminist debate. With so much incredibly well-informed, intelligent discourse happening on this subject today, readers deserve more in a book positioning itself as one that aims to help.

Conversational tone

The tone of the book is friendly, conversational and devoid of combat or judgement. It is impossible not to warm to Brand who is at her best when discussing health, parenting and staying sane. The anecdotes shared from her own life are honest, sometimes funny, often poignant. There is an awkward tension, however, when Brand tries to flit between earnest, heartfelt discussion of important topics such as female genital mutilation and the jokes about toothed vaginas that immediately follow. In an effort to be both sincere and still retain her trademark outrageous humour, the text often falls somewhere between both stools.

Brand’s intentions are good; it is clear she wants everyone to board the “Good Ship Feminism” but the moments of fighting talk are negated by what appears to be a somewhat jaded fatigue. On the inside cover, the blurb reads “if there’s one thing we women are entitled to, it’s having a bloody good moan”.

Fans of Brand will no doubt enjoy her articulate moaning about the trials and tribulations of her life so far, narrated as it is with her particular charm. In this era, however, I think women are finally unafraid to demand an awful lot more than that. And sadly, I think we also deserve quite a bit more in a tome on “how to do female” than what we receive from Brand here. Shockingly, it’s just not quite lippy enough.