Sunday, August 13, 2017

Shrill by Lindy West

Women matter. Women are half of us. When you raise every woman to believe that we are insignificant, that we are broken, that we are sick, that the only cure is starvation and restraint and smallness; when you pit women against one another, keep us shackled by shame and hunger, obsessing over our flaws rather than our power and potential; when you leverage all of that to sap our money and our time--that moves the rudder of the world. It steers humanity toward conservatism and walls and the narrow interests of men, and it keeps us adrift in waters where women's safety and humanity are secondary to men's pleasure and convenience. 
My two-word review of this book is: "YASSS QUEEN." Here is a longer review:

West won me over with her op-ed the day after the election. It was funny and serious, poignant, articulate. She put on paper all the feels that I had been feeling and then some. This book was a longer, funnier version of that piece with the added bonus of moving my thinking (rather than just reinforcing and elaborating on my own thoughts more eloquently than I ever could). West covers a lot of ground here: fat shaming, rape jokes, periods, white privilege, abortion, internet trolls, female solidarity. She's funny--like genuine, belly-laugh-out-loud funny--but also can drill down to the core of an issue in clear, straightforward terms: "I believe unconditionally in the right of people with uteruses to decide what grows inside of their body and feeds on their blood and endangers their life and reroutes their future." (Show me a shorter, more ironclad defense of pro-choice values).

She is able to shift from hilarious to serious in the same paragraph (sometimes in the same sentence), and the whiplash that those shifts create makes her writing that much more compelling. West lays out so clearly how deeply flawed our attitudes towards women are that I actually went from laughing to crying several times (partly because I wished so badly that I could have had her in the room for any number of past conversations about misogyny, rape jokes, period jokes, etc).

While I loved the parts of the book that I already agreed with, I think the most useful parts for me were the pieces I hadn't thought about yet. West is fat (not overweight, a word that implies that there is one, specific "weight" we should aim for), and her discussion of our attitudes about fat women was really eye opening for me. I bristled at her direct attacks on arguments I have used (at least in my own head) and was made uncomfortable more than once, but this is the argument that really won me over:
Please don't forget. I am my body. When my body gets smaller, it is still me. When my body gets bigger, it is still me. There is not a thin woman inside me, awaiting excavation. I am one piece. I am also not a uterus riding around in a meat incubator. There is no substantive difference between the repulsive campaign to separate women's bodies from their reproductive systems--perpetuating the lie that abortion and birth control are not healthcare--and the repulsive campaign to convince women that their and their body size are separate, alienated entities. Both say, "Your body is not yours." Both demand, "Beg for your humanity." Both insist, "Your autonomy is conditional." This is why fat is a feminist issue. 
This parallel is so powerful and so moving. Our bodies so often feel like they are not our own, and fat shaming is, on some level, another form of removing that ownership and severing that connection between body and self. I've been indoctrinated enough into our society's obsession with thinness being synonymous with health that I struggled with some of her other arguments, but this hit close enough to home to get through. I still have a few reservations--I do think that some fat people are unhealthy, and I struggled with her anger and frustration at various public health attempts to tackle obesity, but I also think that some thin people are unhealthy, so I'm coming around to fatness being a poor proxy for ill-health.

This book was fabulous. I could go through and write a detailed review of each section--her take down of rape jokes was especially satisfying--but West says it all better than I could, and it would devolve into a series of paragraphs-long quotations interspersed with YASS QUEENS, and no one wants to read that. It's dark (perhaps my favorite quote: "But in a certain light, feminism is just the long, slow realization that the stuff you love hates you), but West's ability to pin down and articulate the darkness gives you hope.

Note: I read this for my (all ladies) book club, and it was a perfect pick for lady discussion, but I also made my husband read it. It's an empowering book for women to read, but I almost think it's a more important book for men to read. Yes, it mentions periods. Yes, you can handle it.

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