Women in Battle review by Millie Towner

Written by: Millie Towner

Another rainy evening spent tucked away in the University of Sheffield’s Drama
Studio, and as our speaker, Dr Harriet Earle from Sheffield Hallam University, informs us,
that “we are in for an absolute treat” with tonight’s guest speaker, Marta Breen, a
Norwegian non-fiction writer who is already a prize-winning author with her first book, The
F Word: 155 Reasons to be a Feminist. She wrote Women in Battle, in junction with Jenny
Jordahl, about the women’s liberation movement over a 150-year-period.

Marta begins the talk by telling us that she first got into writing about women and
gender during her early days in her career as a music journalist, where she had an epiphany
about female equality. Marta had interviewed many female musicians during her career,
and quickly established that women feel reduced to their gender and that it is hard to be a
woman in a male dominated industry. Marta says that she “woke up a bit”. She felt that
women can’t just be professionals – they have to be a woman first and foremost. It was this
moment in her life that inspired her to continue writing and learning about feminism and
the liberation of women.

Women in Battle is a graphic novel about the women’s liberation movement and has
been impressively sold in twenty-six countries. Interestingly, Marta tells us that in Russia,
the cover is pink, because red is too closely aligned with Communism, and that the book is
wrapped in plastic with an 18+ sticker, due to illustrations of rabbits having sex, and scenes
of a homosexual nature. America even changed one of the drawings which had a scene with
nipples exposed, so that there are now shirts covering them! These revelations gained some
looks of shock and amusement from the audience, which Marta does consistently during
the hour.

Marta goes through her book using a presentation featuring the glorious illustrations
from Women in Battle, telling us the interesting facts she learnt about the women’s
liberation movement. One fact was that women used hollowed out lemons for initial
contraception, yet another amusing, yet shocking fact that Marta throws into the talk. One
stand-out illustration for me was a long line of women holding placards displaying when
they gained the right to vote. We learn that New Zealand was the first and that Saudi Arabia
is the most recent, only in 2015.

Marta’s talk is fun, insightful and sometimes shocking, a testament to how well
researched and thorough Women in Battle is. We get a look between the pages during
tonight’s talk and a look into the mind behind such an innovative and insightful book that
everyone should read to remind themselves of the tremendous efforts of women past,
present and future, for female liberation. Marta ends the talk with a small quote: “be brave
when you feel it is important and necessary.” I feel that this is exactly what the amazing
women in Women in Battle have done, and Marta and Jenny, with this graphic novel.

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