The Shapes We Mae

The Feminist's Bookshelf: SHRILL by Lindy West

The Feminist's BookshelfLily MyersComment

OHMYGOD YOU GUYS. Stop what you are doing and get ye to a library or a bookstore and find a copy of Lindy West's Shrill. Because it's amazing, and you will pee your pants laughing.

I've been unable to put down this memoir/feminist rallying cry for the past few days (like literally, reading it while crossing the street. Not safe). West tackles huge, contemporary, serious topics (why fat is a feminist issue, rape jokes in comedy) with sharp wit, concise reasoning, and actual human empathy. She's awesome.

West, who has written for Jezebel, GQ, The Guardian, and This American Life, gained a huge internet presence from her writing and her feminist critiques of comedy and culture. Because she is a woman, and a feminist woman, and a happy outspoken fat feminist women, she has faced a TON of internet hate. Commenters have thrown a constant stream of online abuse her way ever since she began making  a name for herself. The amount of aggressive, violent hate is unthinkable; can you imagine getting dozens of rape and death threats every day? And the crazy thing is, she's not even promoting that radical of ideas. She's promoting the idea that women are human beings and should be treated as such. Oh right, feminism.

And yet West manages to write about these internet trolls with her signature humor, confidence, and refusal to back down. Because she knows she is a human, and a successful writer human, and so she will continue to write, despite the horrendous threats of these haters. She explains succinctly why this type of internet hate is sexist:

"It is gendered, though. Of course it's gendered. It's sexualizing me for the purpose of making me uncomfortable, of reminding my audience and colleagues and detractors that I'm a sex thing first and a human being second. That my ideas are secondary to my body."

She takes on rape joke defenders in comedy (you know, the folks who are all, "ha ha it's fine, don't be so sensitive, it's just comedy, lol rape") and explains, again, succinctly and with wit, why rape jokes are not harmless but rather have actual consequences in our actual world, contributing to the structural violence that women face every day. These jokes remind women that we are seen as sex things first and human things second. 

Chapters like these will have you up in arms and furious, but West always makes you laugh through your anger. Particularly funny is her complete list of fat female role models she was exposed to in her youth (including Miss Piggy, Ursula the Sea Witch, and Marla Hooch from A League of Their Own, "a classic family comedy that mines the age-old question: What if women... could do things?") I cry-laughed for an entire bus ride while reading this chapter.

Okay, I could really go on forever, but do yourself a favor and read the book yourself. You're welcome in advance for all the public cry-laughing.