On the Front Line with the Women Who Fight Back – Stacey Dooley

I’ve followed Stacey’s career from fashion loving teen travelling to India through to the professional journalist she is today, watching and rewatching every documentary each time they’ve aired on television. When I first heard she was releasing a book I was so keen to get my hands on it ASAP. I read the blurb and immediately thought of DVD Special Features. I imagined Stacey’s book as a combination of Deleted Scenes and Director’s Commentary, but it was so much more.

What I love about Stacey’s work with social issues women face around the world is that she gives you information about emotionally loaded topics in a thoughtful and respectful way. You don’t just get to hear her opinion; you learn about people whose lives that issue directly effects as a victim, their family and friends, along with any officials in the area or perpetrators that are willing to be interviewed.

Stacey and her team focus on some locations and issues that I was vaguely familiar with and others that sadly I had practically no knowledge of. In this book Stacey delves into issues relating to prison, immigration, drugs, child abuse, femicide, high-end to low-end prostitution, trans prostitution, abortion, child sexualisation, murder, war and survival. Your heart will be broken and warmed by the womens’ stories. For women who have had to survive such horrendous circumstances in their past and oftentimes present as well, their courage and resilience are extraordinary and inspirational. It’s up to you as the reader to form your own opinions about what’s presented to you and whether that will change your mind or not, but you cannot walk away uninformed. I hope you also walk away with your empathy enlarged.

Whenever someone starts talking politics my brain goes into standby mode so I was really surprised that Stacey could explain political issues to me, including what Obama stood for versus Trump, and I not only heard her but I understood what she was saying. Don’t get me wrong; I’ll never understand American politics. However Stacey explained policies and the way people are affected by them in such a down to earth way that I knew what she was talking about and if she’d done nothing else in this book, she’d deserve a medal for that alone!

Having seen most of the documentaries that Stacey refers to in On the Front Line with the Women Who Fight Back I could picture the people and scenes she was referring to, as well as hearing her voice in my head as I read. I was enjoying reliving some of my favourite documentaries with additional information and insights, yet wondered how well this book would translate to readers who have been living under a TV-less rock and hadn’t seen any Stacey documentaries.

Then I came across a chapter featuring [Shock! Horror!] a documentary I had never seen before! In hindsight I’m pleased about that because not only do I have a documentary to watch in the very near future 😃 but it also gave me another perspective on this book. I found it didn’t matter that I didn’t have previous knowledge of this documentary. The writing sucked me in and in a way I felt like I was watching along as Stacey described what was happening. I understood the need for a documentary on that topic to be made in the first place, the experiences of the people interviewed, information about the political atmosphere at the time in that country and Stacey’s own view.

While watching the documentary prior to reading each chapter is certainly not a prerequisite it is nice to be able to put faces to names. If, like me, you find gaps in your documentary viewing experience I expect that you’ll come away with a viewing list to complement what you’ve read. While there are currently some of Stacey’s documentaries available for viewing on the BBC website I would love to see (if it doesn’t already exist) all of the documentaries mentioned in this book available for viewing at a central location.

I found I liked the same things about Stacey’s approach in her writing that I do when I watch her on television. She’s so down to earth. There’s at once a sweetness and strength to her manner. She knows what she believes but isn’t close minded when she hears opposing opinions; she’ll weigh them against her own to determine if what someone else thinks changes her mind or strengthens her own views. Whether she agrees or disagrees with someone she treats them with respect. She asks the questions you want the answers to but aren’t sure if anyone will have the guts to ask.

She gets to the heart of the issue and the people she’s interviewing. You can tell she has a genuine fondness for the girls she encounters and her friendliness appears to open people up to having real conversations with her about difficult and painful things. Scared or not, she gets on with it. As a viewer and now a reader there’s just something innately likeable and relatable about this woman and when you watch her documentaries it’s easy to think, ‘Yeah, I reckon Stacey and I could be mates if we ever met’.

While you may see the problems presented in this book and feel overwhelmed by their enormity, ultimately this book is a call to action. You are left to consider the power that you have to make a difference. To borrow some of Stacey’s words, what she’s doing in this book and her documentaries is raising awareness and presenting “what’s going on in the world so that people can make up their own minds about how best to fight back.”

Thank you so much to NetGalley, BBC Books and Penguin Random House UK, Ebury Publishing for the opportunity to read this book. I’m left feeling inspired!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Put yourself in their shoes.

In 2007, Stacey Dooley was a twenty-something working in fashion retail. She was selected to take part in the BBC series Blood, Sweat and T-Shirts which saw her live and work alongside Indian factory workers making clothes for the UK High Street. This sparked her series of hugely popular investigations, establishing her as one of BBC3’s most celebrated presenters.

Through the course of her documentary making, Stacey has covered a variety of topics, from sex trafficking in Cambodia, to Yazidi women fighting back in Syria. At the core of her reporting are incredible women in extraordinary and scarily ordinary circumstances – from sex workers in Russia, to victims of domestic violence in Honduras.

In her first book, On the Front Line with the Women Who Fight Back, Stacey draws on her encounters with these brave and wonderful women, using their experiences as a vehicle to explore issues at the centre of female experience. From gender equality and domestic violence, to sex trafficking and sexual identity, Stacey weaves these global strands together in an exploration of what it is to be women in the world today.

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