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Melissa Febos’s 2010 debut memoir Whip Smart, about her time spent working as a dominatrix in Manhattan, placed her immediately in the ranks of the women writing best about sex, bodies and power. In this year’s best-selling essay collection Girlhood, Febos looks further back, digging into her experience as a girl who’d gone through puberty by the time she was 11, but also broadening her scope with cultural analysis and reporting about the realities of growing up female. In essays exploring childhood teasing, college cuddle parties and a whole spectrum of ambivalent consent, Febos traces the inheritances of womanhood—the meanings and functions ascribed to the female body, and how we defy them.

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