This is the most depressing goddamn book I’ve read in ages. Everyone should go out and read it right now.
Okay, that probably needs a little background. Like, for example, what the hell I’m talking about. ‘Shrill’ is the new memoir by Lindy West (of Jezebel and GQ fame), which jumps around a bit chronologically but is basically the story of how she went from being a shy, vulnerable person who was convinced that she couldn’t be loved to being a badass fat-positive feminist who writes about why she got an abortion and why Daniel Tosh is an asshole whose rape jokes are shitty and unfunny. (Which some folks may remember me agreeing with at the time on this blog…)
I bought it because I was familiar with Lindy West’s writing on Jezebel, because she has always been wickedly funny and brutally insightful and has the kind of take-no-shit attitude that makes me stand up and cheer every time I read one of her pieces. She calls bullshit out for what it is, basically, and that’s always a thing I will enjoy reading. I assumed this would be more of the same, and to some extent it was, but…
This is a book about what it costs to be a badass fat-positive feminist who writes openly about controversial issues on the same Internet as GamerGaters and Vox Day. This is a book about what it’s like to receive six hundred text messages a day explaining how the person on the other end would love to rape you to death if only you weren’t so ugly. This is a book about what it is like to receive a constant, unending torrent of vicious abuse for the crime of being a woman who expresses opinions. This is a book about what it is like to have someone create a Twitter account named after your dad who died of cancer less than a month ago so that they can express, through his lips, what a disappointment you were to him. Basically, if you have any shred of empathy at all, this is like sticking your hand into the fucking pain box from Dune.
But that’s why it’s so important to read. Because as painful as it is to hear about it, it’s even more painful for Lindy West to live it. And Lindy West isn’t at all an unusual or special case; she’s just the person who had the chance to write a memoir about it so that everyone could understand what it’s like just a little tiny fraction of a bit. This is what a lot of women go through on the Internet. All the time. Every day. This is something that if you’re a straight white cishet guy, you need to know about so that you can help, in whatever way you can, in pushing back against it and making the Internet, which is by this point pretty much a default mode of human interaction and not some special Wild West electronic frontier that only the select few need to bother with, a less shitty place for your fellow human beings. And if you think you already know what it’s like, you may want to read the book anyway, because it’s probably worse than that.
Oh yes, and it did also turn out to be wickedly funny and brutally insightful and Lindy West did, in fact, call out a lot of bullshit for what it was. Which was awesome, and did soften the blow of sticking my hand in the pain box just a little bit. But trust me when I say this is not a fun read.
But it’s a necessary one.