Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West

I freely admit to not being the most plugged in person on the planet, so before my book group chose Lindy West’s Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman as our choice last month, I hadn’t heard of her.  I am grateful that a fellow member brought this book to our attention, and I now consider myself a Lindy West fan.  Our group certainly had a lot to talk about.

You may have heard of West from her appearances on NPR’s This American Life.  She’s done two episodes in the last two years.  In one she gets an unexpected and heartfelt apology from the internet troll who impersonated her recently deceased father (episode 545.)  In the other (episode 589) West talks about how she started embracing her identity as a fat woman.41L6cVdMOFL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Shrill is a book of essays and also a memoir, although our group couldn’t quite decide if it felt more like one than the other.  West writes about the lack of positive, sexy, young fat women role models in entertainment, her period, her abortion, growing into acceptance of her body, internet trolls, not fitting into a seat on an airplane, misogyny in stand-up comedy, and her father’s death.  Some of her writing is funny and brave, some of it is heartbreaking and raw.  All of it is infused with a passionately feminist, body-positive perspective.  I marked many passages as I read.  I’d like to share a few.

On vicious internet harassment (in the brilliantly titled chapter “Why Fat Lady So Mean to Baby Men?”):  “Why is invasive, relentless abuse – that disproportionately affects marginalized people who have already faced additional obstacles just to establish themselves in this field – something we should all have to live with just to do our jobs?  Six years later, this is still a question I’ve yet to have answered.”

On the pressure to be a thin and beautiful woman in our society: “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.”

On rape jokes in comedy: “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.”

I feel like Lindy West is such a necessary writer and a strong and relatable feminist voice.  I found her to be funny and insightful and fierce.  I marvel at her hard-won confidence.  I’m angry that she has to endure such hateful vitriol online for speaking her mind and loving who she is.  Shrill is a great choice for a book club – it provides so many avenues of conversation.  This was a very good collection of essays – powerful and brave in a way that women in our society definitely need.

 

 

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19 thoughts on “Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West

  1. This sounds like a memoir I would like.
    I fly fairly frequently–about every three months or so–and if it’s solo, I go to a lot of trouble, including moving my seat the day before, to try to sit alone in a 2- person aisle because I don’t fit into the seats well. I buy early boarding on SW and lately have paid for first class a couple of times, when it was available. I put the seat belt across the part of my lap it will reach to avoid having to ask for an extender. No one has ever noticed, for the past 3-4 years.

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    1. Jeanne, the chapter about the airline seat was good. She is (rightfully) tired of the muttered remarks and outright rude behavior when she is flying, which is often. She wrote about an instance when she was late boarding a plane, which she rarely lets herself be because of her size, and the man sitting next to her was rude. Her basic point was that no matter what your position on fat people, the least you can do is not be a dick, because everyone wants to get where they’re going as fast as possible. She is pretty cool lady and I enjoyed this collection.

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  2. Gotta admit, since I’m on an anti-online kick today, that the internet has made the potential for abuse so much greater, hasn’t it? Bullies used to at least have to face their victims which meant that fewer people were bullies. Now every coward can sit in his/her bedroom pouring hate out into the world. There always were the rude idiots who’d make personal remarks on airplanes etc., but now there’s just a huge number of people all waiting to savage anyone who lifts their head above the parapet. Makes me glad I’m not famous nor ever likely to be…

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    1. FictionFan, I agree – it’s ridiculous how anyone who says anything in the public eye, no matter how small, gets subjected to vicious attack. It’s really gotten bad. NPR has shut down comments on their site, I just learned! I keep thinking of that phrase I see more and more nowadays – If you’re not kind on the internet, then you’re not kind. However, I’m afraid these trolls don’t care the least bit about kindness as a virtue, unfortunately.

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      1. To be honest, I don’t know why more sites don’t close comments. Even reviewing on Amazon attracts “trolls” – I’m lucky in that it doesn’t bother me and I get a great deal of pleasure out of responding with carefully crafted put-downs, but honestly, some poor person gives their honest opinion of a book and gets ripped to shreds for their grammar, spelling, intelligence and parentage! There’s something so horrible about the thought of people who genuinely think that’s a fun way to spend their time. It’s the main reason that I still remain more or less anonymous online, even though the blogosphere thankfully doesn’t seem to attract the creeps the way the rest of online life does.

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  3. I’m not sure how sold I was on this as a book — it felt really disconnected, like she just waited until she had enough short pieces to fill a book and then sent it in — but some of the individual pieces really blew me away. The ending of the chapter on rape jokes and comedy was devastating, and the chapter about her father’s death was really lovely as well. She’s a terrific writer.

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      1. I haven’t read this one yet (it’s on the endless TBR) but I have had this feeling about a few essay collections/commentary volumes in the past decade. I wonder if there is simply less attention being paid to the process of curating NF collections these days, whether the increased reliance on digital media for publishing individual pieces (instead of booklength printed works) is having an impact on the overall process. I’m not complaining, because as you’ve said, mostly I’m impressed enough by the positive elements that I am ready to forgive some inconsistencies, but simply wondering/curious.

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  4. I can see by the reviews the many many book discussions that can happen with this book. It sounds good and I am glad you liked the read. On a similar note, even I find it so unpardonable when ‘rape’ is used in a comic sense. I mean why? There are so many words to use in place of that. ‘The teacher raped us with that question paper” etc are such common remarks. People tend to forget whta a heinous crime rape is

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