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.
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.