Lindy West is a champion of feminism and body positivity. She is a joke cracking, fearless media critic who walks into the deepest, dankest pits of online culture and shows more courage, compassion, and humanity to the people she interacts with there, than I do to the people who cut me off in traffic. In her book, Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, West faces some of the ugliest aspects in our culture, examines them, makes you laugh and shake your fist, and reminds you to live in the world anyway.
For example, when the comedian Daniel Tosh caused a controversy by telling a “joke” during his act about how funny it would be if a female audience member was gang raped during his set, some commentators were disgusted, some commentators said rape was not a good subject for humor, ever. Others rushed to Tosh’s defense, with concerns about freedom of speech and censorship. West published a piece called “How to Make a Rape Joke”. In it she pointed out that you could, of course, tell any joke you like. But once you do, your audience is free to respond. She then pointed out various ways a comedian could joke about sexual violence without making victims the butt of the joke, without threatening audience members. In fact, Lindy West said “It is okay to laugh at horror and talk candidly about ugliness,” in fact it is necessary. And she does just that in Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman. She writes about growing up embarrassed and ashamed of her body, and the opportunities she missed waiting till she had the “right” body. She writes about her abortion, because it’s her body and she will not be forced to whisper or hide. She writes about the way she and other women are treated online, about assault and death threats. She talks about being body shamed by trolls, like the time a commentator told her she didn’t have to worry, she was “too ugly to rape”.
It’s weird to live in a world where an author needs to point out that “rape isn’t a compliment”. But there you go. We have a weird world. But Shrill: Note from a Loud Woman will make you want to make it into a better world. As West puts it in the introduction, “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 leverage all of that to sap our money and our time—that moves the rudder of the world.” West makes you want to push the rudder back. Plus, if you read Shrill on the bus, you will burst out laughing at inopportune moments, frightening those near you. Bonus!