I recently read two memoirs from well-known feminist journalists. I received Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West as my June selection from the Book of the Month Club, and I received Sex Object by Jessica Valenti as a birthday gift from a friend.
I’m always hesitant to read memoirs because they often absolve people from telling stories in any way besides from their own perspective. For example, I would never consider reading a memoir from a celebrity embroiled in scandal or a politician who has cheated on his wife – I’m simply not interested in their “take,” regardless of how close-minded that appears. By calling it a memoir, you are giving the impression of non-fiction but allowing yourself the liberty to say anything, really, and claim it’s from your own perspective.
Valenti’s account, however, is a particularly self-effacing and brutal recounting of her past–she tells stories of habits and behaviors that most would judge as self-sabotaging or at the very least, incredibly unhealthy. She does it in such a way that isn’t hiding who she is or blaming any one person. Nonetheless, her trauma related to her woman-hood is what emerges most.
Given all that women are expected to live with–the leers that start when we’ve barely begun puberty, the harassment, the violence we survive or are constantly on guard for–I can’t help but wonder what it all has done to us. Not just to how women experience the world, but how we experience ourselves. I started to ask myself: Who would I be if I didn’t live in a world that hated women?
Lindy West explores the trauma she’s undergone from trolls and harassers on the Internet, a topic that Valenti showcases as well. West also goes in depth about her journey as a heavy woman in a world with very specific beauty standards. While Valenti’s was intensely personal, West discusses many of her professional experiences, including a public feud with Dan Savage and her willingness to take on male comics and their insistence on making rape jokes. Lindy West balances darkness with light, making her funny moments so poignant and her struggles really relatable.
Both women expose themselves as imperfect, vulnerable, and responsible for their own actions–yet also indict sexism and oppression in society. West’s account is also considerably intersectional as she addresses racism explicitly as well.
I still meet women who refuse the label of feminist because they don’t want to be ‘man-haters’ or aggressive. For some women, they may experience life never feeling scared or vulnerable because of their gender. For me, this has not been the case, and reading books about women who aren’t perfect, who are weak and strong, smart and making mistakes, I gain more courage to address the moments when I feel loads of self-doubt or insecurity. It’s impossible to read books like this and not recognize the depraved misogyny that infiltrates our society; despite their status as ‘memoirs,’ there is so much that rings true in both of these books.