Review: On the Front Line with the Women Who Fight Back by Stacey Dooley

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I’ve been a fan of Dooley’s since I watched her in Blood, Sweat and T-Shirts on the BBC in year 8 Geography. Her north London accent, love of fashion and people, and the fact she worked on a perfume counter at Luton airport, gives her a girl-next-door vibe that makes her documentary making real and honest. She says in her book that every documentary review she gets mentions her work on a perfume counter and she can’t understand why. Sorry Stacey – for me it is part of your appeal. I imagine that is not the case for a lot of tv critics, who seek to take away from Dooley’s inquisitive, sensitive yet honest documentary making, by reminding us that she is a working-class woman with no GCSEs.

On the Front Line with Women Who Fight Back discusses some of the thousands of brave women that Dooley has come across in her documentaries. As an avid watcher of her work, I recognised most of these women from watching them on screen, but it was interesting to read about them again and learn more about their stories than perhaps we do in her documentaries. These women face decisions that as a white, middle class, western woman, I most likely will never have to even consider:

  • Do I pay thousands of dollars to a coyote to risk death and trek for five days on foot across the Mexican border to give myself a chance at the American Dream, or stay with my impoverished family in Honduras, where I live in fear amongst the cartel?
  • Do I choose an extended sentence in prison, or 6 months in Shock camp where I will have my head shaved so I can shower in three minutes and have to run miles with my mattress on my head because my bunk mate rolled her eyes at the staff?
  • Do I keep my rapist’s baby, or throw myself down the stairs to abort it because I can’t get access to a safe abortion legally?

These are just some of the questions raised in the exploration of twelve stories in Dooley’s work. And they are important questions to discuss. I am hugely lucky that my life consists of privilege. I have access to free contraception, safe and legal abortion, and can walk the streets without fear of abduction or murder by drug gangs or terrorist groups. Women in the UK don’t yet have equal pay, and can’t walk past a building site in a pair of shorts at the height of summer without hearing a wolf whistle, but for me there has to be some acknowledgement of checking your privilege. This book forces you to do just that.

There are also some similarities in these stories with women in western society. One woman Dooley meets, sacrifices her legs to her husband so she can leave him. He hacked at her legs with a machete so she literally couldn’t walk away from him, and he got two years in prison. She lost two legs, he lost two years of freedom, punishment meets the crime? I think not.

This book, and Dooley’s documentaries, deal with some of the big issues that affect women in our world: drugs, prostitution, war, child sexualisation, abortion, femicide. Dooley asks the questions that we don’t get chance to, but we are lucky enough to hear the answers. She even comes face to face with an ISIS killer who had raped women and children and has 20 minutes to ask him anything she wants. What questions would you ask?

If you care about women, this book will get you angry. It will get you riled up, frustrated and desperate to help. Start talking, start learning, start acting. Do it for the women who can’t.

Words by Maggie Elstob

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