Three years ago I sat in my car, in my driveway, listening to an old This American Life podcast. It was featuring a young woman working for an online publication who confronted her boss via email after his rant/article was published about fat women and the obesity epidemic. He never responded so she posted her own article.
Listening to her read her writing brought tears to my eyes. I am not a crier but there I was because I felt her exhaustion from the endless pursuit to measure up to what men, women, society, the media, and internet trolls believe you should look like. People are cruel but unlike me, this young woman put herself out there online – it was her job.
• • • •
I purchased Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman because I had seen several people talking about the book on Instagram. After a few hilarious pages in, I realized that Lindy West was the young woman from the podcast that brought me to tears.
First, the hilarity:
Why is, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ the go-to small talk we make with children? ‘Hello, child. As I have run out of compliments to pay you on your doodling, can you tell me what sort of niche you plan to carve out for yourself in the howling existential morass of uncertainty known as the future? … The answer was ballerina, or, for a minute, veterinarian, as I had been erroneously led to believe that ‘veterinarian’ was the grown-up term for ‘professional animal-petter’. I would later learn, crestfallen and appalled, that it’s more a term for ‘touching poo all the time featuring intermittent cat murder,’ so the plan was abandoned. (The fact that ANY kid wants to be a veterinarian is bananas, – by the way, whoever does veterinary medicine’s PR amoung preschool aged children should be working in the fucking White House.) Lindy West, Shrill
But soon after that, West takes a hard right and tackles some of the toughest issues facing women today. Abortion, rape culture, fat-shaming, bullying, discrimination, misogyny, death, and grief – just to name more than a few.
Her writing is raw, angry, and vulgar, but with touches of fantastic humor along the way. I stopped a few times wondering if these extremes were necessary, mainly because I was hoping to let my 14-year-old daughter, Chaney, read this book. Spoiler: I’m not going to let her but I’ll be sharing passages with her.
But back to the necessity – yes, it is necessary. Our culture and the world we are raising our daughters and sons in is that toxic. When our president is spewing taunts via Twitter at the suffering people of California in the midst of historic and horrific wildfires – yes, it is that toxic and necessary.
• • • •
Necessary. I thought about our advice to Chaney in January after being assaulted at school. The old advice of kick them in the balls goes out the window when you are a tiny 14 year old girl and you are cornered, out of view, with no way out, and there is over a foot in height and 100 lb differential between him and her.
Our advice to her if any other situation where she felt threatened should happen: SCREAM AND SCREAM PROFANITIES OVER AND OVER UNTIL YOU GET AWAY, HE BACKS DOWN, OR HELP ARRIVES. AND THEN SCREAM SOME MORE. Why would we, fairly typical parents, tell our daughter to curse loudly in public?
Because people pay attention when a small, young woman is screaming profanity.
Why? Because we are expected to be sweet, ladylike, compliant, quiet, and non confrontational, all with a smile. That is the gender norm. Something has to be wrong if she’s spewing profanity. So pay attention when you hear women like Lindy West.
• • • •
When West is crass and profane, I don’t mind. Because it gets people’s attention. It is outside the norm of expected female behavior and whether you like it or you don’t, she grabs your attention to address issues that are that toxic.
A recurrent theme throughout the book is Lindy living life as what the world would call “fat”. She’s in good health, she is smart, funny, and beautiful but that doesn’t matter to some – especially the internet trolls who have been absolutely relentless in their bullying of her. Death threats, rape threats, and the worst – a troll impersonating her father who had passed away. They were all means of harrassment. I honestly don’t know how she has endured so much of the vileness that the internet, and even some celebrities, have to offer.
Lindy is an excellent writer and there wasn’t a part of this book that I did not enjoy. One of my favorite parts was when she took on comedy and comedians and their perpetuation of rape culture by making rape “jokes” a regular part of their comedy routines. I can’t believe I even had to type that.
Her honesty is refreshing and we need more books like this one and Meaty. I truly hope that the paradigm begins to shift with this next generation but until then, I’ll be over here not being afraid to be shrill.