Some Thoughts Inspired by Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman by Lindy West

When I like a book so much, I run into the age-old problem of not being able to put into words shrilljust how much I like it, besides saying, “I liked it so much!”  The only way it can be described is that the book is just so full of goodness and truth (observations into her own life regarding body image, judgement, harassment, everyday sexism, being a crazy person in relationships, all of which 100% mirror my own) that a summary would only fail to capture the feelings, the right ons, the “yes, I feel that way, toos!”

Here is just a nibble of what provoked my imagination:

  • Shaming others does nothing to inspire change; it creates stagnation.
  • Marching in an anti-Trump rally this weekend in Chicago, we chanted, “My Body, My Choice.”  After reading West’s book, this took on an entirely new meaning.  “My body” doesn’t limit itself to reproductive rights, but the “body” itself.  Your choice to embrace your body: an aging body, an any-sized body, a disabled body, a tall body, an acne filled body (check and check).  In total, it’s no one’s business what the fuck you look like, and we need to stop judging each others bodies because we don’t want people judging our own.
  • This book is laugh out loud funny.  Like, really funny.  We all need post-election moments of distraction, and this made me laugh for the first time in a looong time.
  • Commenting on people’s weight out of “concern” is fat shaming.  You’re not concerned, their body sizes don’t conform to your idea of beauty, and that makes you feel weird.
  • West talks a lot about “being fat,” and this flooded me with several insights into my own life:
    • I have judged others.
    • I have been extremely insensitive to those with body types larger than mine (“I look so fat today!” I’m a size 8.  To myself: gurl, please.  And no, shhhhh…).
    • The talk surrounding weight is a sticky, icky trap.  Especially in the workplace, talking about others weight is one of the most pervasive:
      • “Wow, she looks like she’s lost weight!”
      • “I don’t remember her being so big.”
      • “Did you lose weight?”
      • “You look so skinny!”
      • “Your desk looks like a buffet!” (Hey, I like variety.)

These sentiments are made on a daily basis, and they are damaging.  So on the days where you don’t “compliment” me on my weight, do I look “fat,” also meaning, bad?  When she looks like, “she’s lost weight,” does that make her more beautiful now?

  • Probably one of the most genius quotes in literature to date:

    “…when you hit puberty you don’t magically blossom into a woman…only now once a month hot brown blood just glops and glops out of your private area like a broken Slurpee machine.”

  • Hearing her encounters with male comics, their subsequent minion trolls and their relentless defense of rape culture, sexism and racism made me feel incredibly despondent and also gave me so much respect for her and those who aim to disrupt the status quo.  Calling out sexism, for example, is extremely daunting because it’s a constant uphill battle because it challenges the very fabric on which our culture is built upon, and when people are faced with change, or an accusation that they are upholding inequality, oftentimes they’d rather push you in front of a bus than work through their shit.  And I get it, in a “post-Trump world,” I’m dealing with my own issues of being a crappy feminist to a lot of other women.  The growing pains suck, but are necessary.
  • I listened to the audiobook and the woman has the voice of an angel.  All we need to do is pair her buttery voice (insert Linda Richman here, “it’s like buttah!” with Milton’s Paradise Lost and I’d fall asleep like a damn baby in about five seconds.

My one complaint: that the book had to end and I hope she writes another.  Soon.

Readalikes:
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Meaty: Essays by Samantha Irby
Yes, Please! by Amy Poehler
You Can’t Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson
You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein

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A Prospective Presidential Candidate’s View on Sexual Harassment

Today Eric Trump, Donald Trump’s son shared he and his father’s stance on sexual harassment on CBS’s This Morning in reference to Donald’s view on sexual harassment and his daughter.  Eric stated: “I think what he’s saying is, Ivanka is a strong, powerful woman, she wouldn’t allow herself to be subjected to it [sexual harassment]. She definitely would (address it with HR) as a strong person. At the same time I don’t think she would be subjected to that,” he added. “I think that’s the point he was making…” (via USA Today).  Point taken.

In June of this year, I was groped and sexually harassed near my home by a young man while his female companion stood there and laughed.  I have been groped on the Red Line. While standing on the el platform on my way to work, I was once told by a man that he would, “like to rape me.”  It was 8:00 in the morning.  I’ve been sexually abused more than once in my life.  I’ve been propositioned for sex at least twice by cab drivers, asking for sex in lieu of payment.  I’ve stood there as a child while adult men of male family members have ogled me, only to be told, “oh, it’s nothing, he just hasn’t seen you in a while.”  And it goes on.  Have I subjected myself to repeat harassment because I’m not a strong woman?  Did I “allow myself to be subjected to it?”  If you’re reading this and you’re someone who’s had similar experiences, whether you’re a woman or man, or this has happened to someone you love, then your response is most likely no, this didn’t happen because you weren’t, “strong enough.”  The Trumps don’t think I was strong enough, and they don’t think that you’re strong enough either.

Eric Trump thinks that you and I are weak, and that his sister, a white woman of immense unearned privilege, is stronger than you, because a woman of her stature, her class, would never allow such a thing, as if she had a choice.  Did I allow harassment as I sat silently in a cab, minding my own business?  Did I not conjure my game face?  When I was groped at 2:00 in the afternoon in front of a grade school, did I look weak?  If memory serves, I was actually feeling pretty damn good walking down the block after an empowering therapy session.  I bet that right before you may have been harassed, you might have felt fairly on point yourself.

After reading Eric Trump’s feelings on sexual harassment, I feel angry and sick to my stomach. This isn’t about Democrat, Republican, Green, et al affiliation.  Eric Trump is a slut shamer and a victim blamer. He is the person who says: you drank too much, it’s your fault. Your skirt turns men on, you did this to yourself. It’s because of your choices that men abuse you. Boys will be boys. Men are born this way, it’s in their biology.  He believes that women have the executive power to prevent harassment and assault, and if it happens to you, then you’re culpable.

I actually agree with Eric, he’s damn right that his sister “wouldn’t be subjected to it.”  This is a family who has never known poverty or discrimination and therefore yes, would never be harassed because the Trumps have the money and the power, and no one is sexually harassing Donald Trump’s daughter.  Her father’s status buys her immunity.  The rest of us, not so much. The rest of us live in a Brock Turner world where the racially and financially privileged buy them the luxury of a carte blanche life.

I Stand with Planned Parenthood

There’s a war on women’s bodies* and this is one of the many battles-people who don’t need access to affordable healthcare and education believe that no one else needs it either.  Or, they operate under the delusion that they have a personal life-line to God.  They don’t, and I hope that you don’t think that you do.

This is about so much more than abortions; that’s such a small part of it.  It’s about all the big life stuff: having control over what you want to do with your body, having access to birth control, breast exams, cancer screening and most importantly, access to information, regardless of social class.

What makes you think that what you need won’t be restricted, too?

PP

*There is a war for control over what comes out of women’s uteruses. We are fighting for control of our own reproductive organs.  The fight is mainly aimed at women with reproductive capabilities, but eventually affects all men and women in need of PP’s services.

A Quick Note From the American Library Association Conference in San Francisco 

While at the ALA Conference in San Francisco, learning about all that is shiny, sticky and new in librarianship, I started my day with Gloria Steinem.  She spoke for less than an hour but completely blew my hair back.  The woman is brilliant, modest, quick on her feet, and all of the other things that you’d expect of a woman who has dedicated her life to equal rights.

A few paraphrases from GS:

-Men can be feminists.

-If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.

-Every year on Columbus Day I forget to put a note on that statue in Columbus Park that says “murderer.”

-Women are kept down by men controlling by their reproduction. It all starts there.

-We’ll boost the economy by giving women equal pay. It would put millions back into the economy.

She left me in an incredible headspace, feeling empowered to be better, to connect as humans, to learn and impart, to question what is being said to you, and to be the kind of librarian that I want to be, rather than what I think is expected of me by my peers.  It’s easy to forget these basics in the day-to-day, and we all need a little nudge back to the inner light once in a while.  Mine just happened to be from Gloria Steinem.

Best conference ever.

Use Your Power of Purchase! Two Kickstarter Campaigns Worth The Dough

I’m a big believer in purchase power.  If you spend your money at Walmart, for example, then you support Walmart and all its practices regarding employees, the environment, its political stance, et al.  If you participate in a CSA (a local produce share box), then you support small farmers in your community and you’re saying yes to organic food.  When you support Kickstarter Campaigns like these, you are using your purchase power to support a cleaner earth, small business, and help to fight against big business and their own campaigns to capitalize off of the sexualization of women’s bodies.

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New York based gals Alexis and Jess, creators of the website Beauty Lies Truth are working to get the word (and the products) out about safe and healthy beauty products that are actually good for you and the environment.  It may come as a shock but the U.S. government isn’t doing the greatest job at protecting the public, and these gals are helping us to become better informed about what we purchase and put in and on our bodies.

Their Kickstart Campaign, titled #TRUTHBEAUTY is raising funds to purchase environmentally safe beauty products that you’ll be sent in the mail.

It is our mission to find the most conscious companies making safe, effective products, and then make those products affordable and accessible.

 Visit their website for DIY beauty tips and great articles on the whats and whos about the beauty products that you use everyday.

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Based in the UK, designer Hayat Rachi has created her feminist lingerie brand, Neon Moon, which is made by a woman, for real women in our varied sizes and shapes, and is raising funds to bring the brand to fruition.  Want to know what feminist lingerie could look like?  Check out the video here and to donate.  Made from from highly renewable bamboo, the lingerie is said to be comfortable, antibacterial, and just from the sight of it, really cute and stylish.

Bra

Personally, I am in love with this bra.

Feminist Short Stories: Horror & Sci-Fi (Part 1)

Spotlight on Five Feminist-Minded Short Stories with Elements of Horror  

Joyce Carol Oates once so perfectly wrote, “One criterion for horror fiction is that we are compelled to read it swiftly, with a rising sense of dread, and so total a suspension of ordinary skepticism, we inhabit the material without question and virtually as its protagonist: we can see no way out except to go forward.”  It is this very reason that I so love the horror genre; it transports its reader to another world where one can observe, and be an entirely new entity, whether person, monster, witch, or troll.  When you combine horror with the feminist short story, you enter a whole new realm that’s even more terrifying than any Pinhead from Hellraiser or Damien from the Omen.  The horror delves into reality, where much can be hidden beneath the façade of such vanities as a life of wealth, the perfect marriage, or an idyllic community.

The tales below are a sampling of five feminist short stories that do indeed leave us with a “rising sense of dread” because sometimes, the horror is too personal.

The Giant WistariaCPG
Charlotte Perkins Gilman

It’s shocking once you’ve finished The Giant Wistaria to realize that it was published in 1891, when it seems as if it were written not so long ago.  The story takes place during two time periods, the 1700s and the 1800s.  The former century begins with an English family and we’re dropped into the middle of the most scandalous of family dramas–their daughter has just given birth out of wedlock, and the parents are fleeing to England to escape any disgrace to their family name.

Fast toward to the late 1800s; the house from whence they fled is now decrepit and has been virtually swallowed by a gigantic Wistaria vine.  A wealthy young couple and their friends happen by, completely enchanted by what they interpret as rustic charm, they assume that it must be haunted and rent it immediately.  As the three couples drink, eat and laugh, they describe the prospect of an eventful summer chock-full of ghosts that hopefully inhabit the house.  After the first evening, their fantasies come to fruition as half of the group awakens to find that they’ve had the same dream of a young woman with a mysterious bundle in her arms and a red cross around her neck.  They soon find that their collective dreams were more than a mere case of indigestion (to quote A Christmas Carol).

The Giant Wistaria is chilling for several reasons.  First off, the punch that is delivered is done so in only a few pages; not only is CPG a feminist, but she’s also a powerful storyteller and is able to intertwine the two seamlessly.  Another sobering facet of the story is the juxtaposition of the two time periods, the people who exist in each one, and finally, the full-circle of tragic events.  CPG was a master of collective human emotions and is able to make you feel guilty and sickened by indirectly referencing class and gender inequality.

A Good Man is Hard to Find
Flannery O’Connor

Good Man is Hard to FindI knew very little about Flannery O’Connor when this collection of short stories was recommended to me.  I knew that O’Connor was Irish Catholic, and that the stories were written in the mid-20th century.  Needless to say, as I finished the first story, which is also the namesake for my particular edition, I was completely taken aback.  “The person who suggested that I read this should have warned me!” I thought.  Like so many of the other stories in this article, it’s thrilling to read a gem so subversive that it still shocks nearly 70 years later.

As the story begins, we meet a family comprised of three young children, their mother and father, and the paternal grandmother.  Like many of O’Connor’s other writings, A Good Man is Hard to Find is set in the South, and as the family embarks on a road trip to Florida we learn that a murderer is on the loose by the nickname, “The Misfit.”   From start to finish, the grandmother is a pill.  She believes the past was best, children should be quiet, women should always be ladies, and her opinion is always right.  Basically, she’s the southern queen of unsolicited advice.  O’Connor is a master at tapping in on a personality type that annoys most people because they are in everyone’s lives in some form.  Because of that, we as readers are extended participants in this very long road trip.  In addition to being an expert character study, O’Connor takes us on a trip through 1940s/50s Georgia in the summer.  It’s hot and dusty with a killer on the loose.  They are alone on the road in a deserted part of the state where gas stations come only intermittently, setting a tone that leaves us unsure of our surroundings and insecure about the future.  As the trip goes on, the grandmother sends the family on a wild goose chase, seeking out physical proof of a misplaced memory.  This dirt detour sends the family into a downward spiral that puts them face to face with what the grandmother hoped to avoid from the outset–the Misfit.

At first read, A Good Man… could seem like nothing more than a story about an incredibly annoying grandmother and a gang of psychos.  However, this is one of those great stories that unfolds a multitude of onion-like layers that encompasses race, religion, class and poverty, region, crime, place in history, Civil Rights, and gender roles, amongst others.  However you choose to read this story, as one of good old-fashioned murder, or a story of murder inextricably bound with issues of class, race and religion, you are left with comparable sense of dread, and maybe just a hint of schadenfreude as the grandmother finally gets her lips zipped.

The Joy of FuneralsAlix Strauss
Alix Strauss

The Joy of Funerals differs from the other titles in this round-up because it is a collection of short stories that end up connecting in the end, which also packs a great ah-ha as the tales come into the final braid.  Similar to Strauss’ most current book, Based Upon Availability, each story is unique in its own right, and the culmination of all the interlaced stories is an extra cherry on top.

Each story is about how women, whether individually or in a group, deal with the grief they experience over the loss of a loved one in New York.  Strauss plunks us down smack dab into their lives by crafting mournful imagery and offering variety of well fleshed out characters.  Each character, in only a few pages, is described in such thorough detail that you feel like you not only really know them, but can completely empathize with what they are experiencing through their grief.  In one story, a woman burns a photograph of her husband and eats it on her breakfast cereal, and while reading it, you are eating the ashes with her–you can smell it, taste it and feel the loss as if you’ve been punched in the belly.  In another story, a woman’s behavior is so deceitful that it leaves the reader with a personal sense of betrayal, but also left me to unfortunately identify with the character’s insecurities.  To me, only a true master of art can make you identify with the flawed characters, al la the films Spring Breakers and Happiness.  Full disclosure, I found myself crying throughout the majority of the book because the stories are crafted in such a way that they strike the core of shared human experience with concern to love and loss.

Barbara GowdyWe So Seldom Look on Love
Barbara Gowdy

The short story collection, We So Seldom Look on Love is truly a forgotten treasure.  Reading it nearly seventeen years ago, it has remained implanted in my mind, and the physical book has stayed with me through every move of my life because of it.  The short story that I’d like to hopefully introduce you to, which is also the title for the book, is the reason why banned and challenged books are so important for the youth.  Decades ago, this creepy, gross and arguably offensive story exhilarated this gal as a fifteen-year-old and helped to make her the liberal bitch that she is today.

The story is told from the point-of-view of the main character as she reflects on her childhood as a blossoming necrophiliac and fast forwards to current day when she is publicly disgraced as her sexual proclivity becomes mainstream knowledge.  As a child, she realizes that her infatuation with dead animal corpses: the smell, the blood, their energy, et al, will prevent her from attracting and sustaining any form of friendship.  As she gets older, she accepts her sexual attraction to male corpses, admitting that she is unable to fall in love with any living man, and that plenty of corpses have broken her heart.  Naturally, she enters medical school as a means of gaining access to these potential and cadaverous love interests.  Though the idea of engaging in oral sex with dead tissue may seem unattractive to most of us, I give kudos to Gowdy for her character’s unflinching acceptance of her sexuality at so young of an age.  Teenage girls, and really, most women, have mixed emotions regarding their sexual bodies, and it’s refreshing to read about a young woman who doesn’t deny herself those inclinations.

The White CatJCOates
Joyce Carol Oates

The White Cat is one of those great stories where the plot may not be as it seems, and its interpretation can be fluid depending on its reader.  Ostensibly, we’re reading a tale about a WASP of a man, his younger wife, and their evil Persian cat, Miranda.  As we delve deeper into the mind of Julius Muir and his family life, the storyline thickens as we are fed bits of information that make Julius’ home life seem less than perfect, though he would have you think no other way.

It can be argued that the story is a portrait of the building and collapse, aka psychological break-down of the main character, Julius, and since much of it is from his point of view, it’s not exactly clear where the truth lies.  We are to believe that Miranda the cat is evil because of said evidence: “…as the cat grew older and more spoiled…it became evident that she did not…chose him.”  His subsequent reaction contains a crumb of hilarity as he reconciles that he will handle this situation by killing the cat because her ambivalence of him is an affront to this man who “knows who he is.”  Because Mr. Muir purchased the cat for his wife, he believes himself to be her sole master and therefore has the right to end her life since he brought her into being (at least into this own house).

As we read on, the facts become murky.  We wonder, what has happened for the past ten years?  There is no indication that their contemptuous relationship has built over the decade of co-habitation, and seems to be a relatively recent occurrence.  An occurrence that has also surfaced with the advent of his wife making more decisions independent of Julius, perhaps.  Is the quirky Persian evil, living to cause Mr. Muir a life of anguish?  Is he simply ignoring characteristics are inherent in the sometimes fickle feline species?  Or, is he attributing his wife’s human characteristics to his cat instead of facing up to his own troubled family life; a life that is seemingly so perfect in every way?

 

Part 2 can be viewed here