I listened to the audiobook version of Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, which is read by Lindy West, the author, herself. I highly recommend this way of consuming this particular book. Of course, when she said:
“But, I was slowly learning, you can’t advocate for yourself if you won’t admit what you are.”
I did have to pull over, back up the audio, and listen again.
That’s the bedrock reality of this book- it is a large, opinionated, smart woman advocating for who she is, how she is, where she is, and not giving a flying squirrel if you have a problem with it. Your problem with her is not her problem, it’s yours. West discusses her own efforts to actually become fully herself in the world and to embrace all that she is. She writes about her effort to distance herself from her body- so much so that she was surprised by her period over and over again. She writes about her abortion, her effort to reduce fat shaming at work, and the reality of being a comic who is also a woman. She has been publicly shamed, threatened, trolled, trashed, humiliated, and mansplained (to and about). Yet, she writes.
“Please don’t forget: I am my body. When my body gets smaller, it is still me. When my body gets bigger, it is still me. There is not a thin woman inside me, awaiting excavation. I am one piece.”
“The “perfect body” is a lie. I believed in it for a long time, and I let it shape my life, and shrink it—my real life, populated by my real body. Don’t let fiction tell you what to do.”
“There is nothing novel or comedic or righteous about men using the threat of sexual violence to control non-compliant women. This is how society has always functioned. Stay indoors, women. Stay safe. Stay quiet. Stay in the kitchen. Stay pregnant. Stay our of the world. IF you want to talk about silencing, censorship, placing limits and consequences on speech, this is what it looks like.” [on rape jokes in comedy routines]
“I believe unconditionally in the right of people with uteruses to decide what grows inside of their body and feeds on their blood and endangers their life and reroutes their future. There are no ‘good’ abortions and ‘bad’ abortions, there are only pregnant people who want them and pregnant people who don’t, pregnant people who have access and support and pregnant people who face institutional roadblocks and lies.”
“We’re all building our world, right now, in real time. Let’s build it better.”
My one frustration with this book is that there is very little intersectionality. An interracial relationship is not a credential to avoid talking about how these realities (body image, body shaming, rape jokes, abortion access, healthcare access, online harassment) affect women and people of color as well. West’s essays were all personal and the book was already pressed when the Twitter attacks on Leslie Jones’s occurred. West does acknowledge privilege, briefly, but I found myself longing for just one mention of how this happens to other groups- not just white women. There could also have been some recognition of how women who are not straight or cis-gendered are affected by these same realities.
Nonetheless, this is a valuable collection of essays in the pantheon of feminism, particularly third-wave. It reveals that the struggle for women (all women) to be perceived as equal and more than the sum of their baby-making or penetrative parts. I gave this book five stars, despite the reservation mentioned above, and I recommend it because it is frank, honest, and speaking the truth in a way we have yet to hear.