“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. ”
– Lindy West, Shrill
Reading Lindy West’s memoir Shrill is an emotional experience, although I’ll be damned if I can pinpoint why. Not seeing my personal experience reflected in the culture while I was growing up is part of it, sure. But I’m a man; feminist issues are important to me, but they aren’t the life or death struggle they can be for women. My height allows me pull off being 30-40 pounds overweight, so I haven’t been fat-shamed since school locker rooms stopped being part of my experience (plus, again, I’m a man; if Kevin James can choose between Rosario Dawson and Leslie Bibb, then my body image issues are in my head). And my fantasies of doing standup are just that – fantasies.
So what about reading Lindy West’s struggles with love, body-image, comedy, and internet trolls made me borderline teary the whole time?
When asked why he worked so well in dramatic roles, Robin Williams said “when you’re laughing, you’re vulnerable.” Lindy West is funny, so maybe the pathos is less expected and hits harder. But for me it went farther than that.
We’ve all heard the statistic that white males are the only people whose self-esteem goes up when they watch TV, right? In “Lady Kluck,” West chronicles the plethora of role models she had to choose from as a fat girl growing up. It’s a parade of loud, obnoxious, sexless (or sexually horrifying), bitter, mean, ugly, old, sad caricatures. The essay is funny, but only because it has to be. To really imagine her as a child wondering if this was how she was supposed to act and who she was supposed to be, it’s heartbreaking.
And oh shit, do I know that feeling. Channels of no one who looked like half of my family. Stupid, humorless – but sexy! – “Indians” who spoke and acted like no one I’d ever met.
Ultimately, Shrill is an excellent addition to the current wave of feminist essays enjoying a cultural surge. Bestselling memoirs from Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, and Ellen Degeneres – feminists because of who they are – carved a niche for unabashedly feminist bestsellers from Kaitlin Moran, Lena Dunham, Roxane Gay, and Chimamanda Ngozie Adiche (and Queen Bee). West’s memoir pushes further, because she’s From the Internet. She’s the future, making a case for the idea that culture is something we create and control, that we are the media, and that we can do better.
That’s why Shrill hit home for me. The world told West she didn’t have a voice worth listening to, or even a worthwhile place. So Lindy West said, “fuck that noise” and decided to change the world.
Shrill is glorious, powerful, feminist, and big-hearted, but more than that it’s inspirational. If you can get on board with the idea that finding yourself is a matter of ignoring the idea that you can’t, then Lindy West might just become your new role model.