If you have a vagina, you should read this book. Also, if you have a penis, you should read this book. If you have something in between or have added or subtracted to it, you should also read this book.
Because this is a book that everyone should read. Shrill: Notes from a loud woman by Lindy West.
As an American, my country embarrasses me. I left the United States 13 months ago and while I should have seen this coming, I lived in my own privileged bubble. And now, it appalls me. And I hate to admit it, but I’m glad I’m gone. I know it was the easy way out. Which makes this book and the conversations Lindy West is having all the more important.
Instead of trying to review this book and tell you what I loved and why I loved it, I’m merely going to let Lindy’s words speak for themselves. And while I think these excerpts are powerful in and of themselves, putting them in the context of the book in its entirety makes them breathtaking.
On being fat:
“So what do you do when you’re too big, in a world where bigness is cast not only as aesthetically objectionable, but also as a moral failing? You fold yourself up like origami, you make yourself smaller in other ways, you take up less space with your personality, since you can’t with your body.”
“If you really want change to happen, if you really want to ‘help’ fat people, you need to understand that shaming an already-shamed population is, well, shameful.”
“As a woman, my body is scrutinized, policed, and treated as a public commodity. As a fat woman, my body is also lampooned, openly reviled, and associated with moral and intellectual failure. My body limits my job prospects, access to medical care and fair trails, and—the one thing Hollywood movies and Internet trolls most agree on—my ability to be loved.”
On being a woman:
“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.”
“The most significant source of my adolescent period anxiety was the fact that, in America in 2016 (and far more so in 1993), acknowledging the completely normal and mundane function of most uteruses is still taboo…The taboo is so strong that while we’ve all seen swimming pools of blood shed in horror movies and action movies and even on the news, when a woman ran the 2015 London Marathon without a tampon, photos of blood spotting her running gear made the social media rounds to near universal disgust. The blood is the same—the only difference is where it’s coming from. The disgust is at women’s natural bodies, not at blood itself.”
“My abortion was a normal medical procedure that got tangled up in my bad relationship, my internalized fatphobia, my fear of adulthood, my discomfort with talking about sex; and one that, because of our culture’s obsession with punishing female sexuality and shackling women to the nursery and the kitchen, I was socialized to approach with shame and describe only in whispers. But the procedure itself was the easiest part. Not being able to have one would have been the real trauma.”
On being a comedian:
“I found myself…watching an old friend’s set. The guy was doing a bit about sex, or maybe online dating—I don’t remember the premise, but I remember that the punch line was ‘herpes,’ and it was killing. It wasn’t a self-deprecating joke about the comic’s own herpes. It was about other people. People with herpes are gross, ha ha ha…Let’s all laugh at people with herpes and pretend like none of the people in the room has herpes, even though, depending on which statistics you believe, anywhere from 15 percent to 75 percent of the people in the room have herpes. Let’s force all of those people to laugh along too, ha ha ha. It’s a lazy joke, but a common one, and a year earlier I might not have thought anything of it. Just then, though, a friend was going through some shit—a partner had lied about his STI status, then slipped the condom off without her consent, and a few weeks later she erupted in sores so painful she couldn’t walk or sit, move or not move. She was devastated, not just because of the violation, the deception, and the pain, but because the disease is so stigmatized. She was sure she’d never be able to date again. It seemed entirely possible to her that she might be alone forever, and, she thought, maybe she deserved it.”
“Feminists don’t single out rape jokes because rape is ‘worse’ than other crimes—we single them out because we live in a culture that actively strives to shrink the definition of sexual assault; that casts stalking behaviors as romance; blames victims for wearing the wrong clothes, walking through the wrong neighborhoods, or flirting with the wrong person; bends over backwards to excuses boys-will-be-boys misogyny; makes the emotional and social costs of reporting a rape prohibitively high; pretends that false accusations are a more dire problem than actual assaults; elects officials who tell rape victims that their sexual violation was ‘god’s plan’; and convicts in less than 5 percent of rape cases that go to trial. Comedians regularly retort that no one complains when they joke about murder or other crimes in their acts, citing that as a double standard. Well, fortunately, there is no cultural narrative casting doubt on the existence and prevalence of murder and pressuring people not to report it. Maybe we’ll start treating rape like other crimes when the justice system does.”
“There is nothing novel or comedic or righteous about men using the threat of sexual violence to control noncompliant women. This is how society has always functioned.”
“Bad presidents are a great business opportunity for comedians. For families trapped in cycles of grinding poverty, bad presidents might mean the difference between electricity and darkness, food or hollow stomachs.”
Even though I’m far away, I want to take part in these conversations, because they’re important conversations to be having. Things aren’t going to get better as we continue to fat-shame, slut-shame, and make jokes at the expense of those who struggle more than we do.
I’ll let Lindy’s words end my post, because she can do it better than I can:
“Fighting for diverse voices is world-building. Proclaiming the inherent value of fat people is world-building. Believing rape victims is world-building. Refusing to cave to abortion stigma is world-building. Voting is world-building. So is kindness, compassion, listening, making space, saying yes, saying no. We’re all building our world, right now, in real time. Let’s build it better.”
Lindy West is a person worth supporting and I think her book is too.