Book Review: Shrill-Notes From a Loud Woman by Lindy West

I’ve been a fan of writer Lindy West since her Jezebel.com days. Whether she was writing about pop culture or social issues, I found her writing voice to witty and wise,  a welcome relief from tiresome clickbait and lazy listicles.

So it was a thrill to read West’s memoir Shrill: Notes From a Loud woman.

Growing up,  West was nerdy, shy and fat, not exactly a recipe for success. Yet, she was able to find success, both professionally and personally, once she became an adult and found her voice.

And though her voice brought her admirers it also brought her haters,  mostly obnoxious trolls.

You see West is a woman with an opinion. She’s also fat. How dare she!

Through her feature articles and opinion pieces, West expressed her disdain for rape jokes and the struggles with body shaming. In response, she often faced horrific comments telling her she should be raped and ripped her apart for not being a tiny size two.

West fully describes in Shrill what it was like to be caught up in hail storm of hatred. It was a time of loneliness and tears,  vulnerability and anger, but it was also a time where West found support, decency, empathy and a the will to go on as a writer and just person trying to live her life

But in the end West triumphed. She triumphed so much a troll even reached out to her to apologize.

Today, West is having the last laugh. Shrill is gaining lots of praise, including praise from two of my faves, Caitlin Moran and Samantha Irby. Now based in Seattle West now writes for GQ,  The Guardian,, and other assorted highly respected publications. She founded the advice blog for teenagers called I Believe You/It’s Not Your Fault. West is also blessed with a loving family and a happy marriage. Hmm, maybe being shrill isn’t such a bad thing.

Though Shrill is West’s story, it’s also the story of every woman with an opinion and  one who doesn’t fit into our society’s slender notion on how to behave…and look like. I highly recommend it.

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Readin’, Writin’ and Rantin’

To my readers, I know a majority of you are fully woke (or whatever the vernacular is called these days) and keep abreast of social issues. And in the age of #Metoo, #Timesup or as I like to call it The Days of Weinstein and Roses, you probably heard of a less than pleasant date and sexual encounter a young woman named “Grace” had with actor, stand-up comic and author Aziz Ansari (more on Mr. Ansari later).

This incident was first reported by Katie Way for the website Babe.net. Babe.net, a website whose existence I was not aware of until several days ago. You can read Way’s article here.

But to sum it up, Grace and Asiz went on a date. Later they went back to his place where they proceeded to have sex. Grace wasn’t exactly too enthused to have sex and expressed herself using both verbal and non-verbal cues. Aziz would stop and then proceeded in ways that are both awkward and icky.

Not surprisingly Way’s article, not to mention Babe’s existence, became the ultimate clickbait and was fodder for all kinds of media, including Jezebel.com, The Atlantic, The New York Times, Samantha Bee from “Full Frontal,” and TMZ.

One person who made her opinion on this article and the murky world of dating and sex, included legal analyst Ashleigh Banfield who made her opinion known, not just on the situation but on Babe.net and Katie Way.

With her feelings hurt, Way stomped her little feet and sent a childish, snot-nosed email, which insulted the color of Banfield’s hair and her burgundy lipstick. Way also insulted Banfield’s place in journalism. Banfield wasted no time responding to Way’s hissy fit in a way that made me cheer. Here it is:

Hey, Ms. Way, when you were eating paste, Banfield was proving her journalistic mettle from ground zero at the ruins of the World Trade Center on 9/11.

Okay, Katie I’ll let you off easy for insulting Banfield’s looks and age. I’m not exactly fond of your some your generation’s use of vocal fry, up speak and thinking a quick tweet is the same of doing the hard work of fighting for women’s rights.

However, I must instruct you on Banfield being a product of second wave feminism. Banfield was a child during the heady days of second wave feminism. She came of age of the third wave a feminism, which included books like Susan Faludi’s Backlash and Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth. It was a time of Sassy magazine and when both Bust and Bitch were being launched by Generation X feminists. It was also a time of Riot Grrrl. It was a time when Generation X women were doing everything from starting their own bands to fighting for their reproductive rights. Such notable names when it comes to third wave feminism include Kathleen Hanna, Carrie Brownstein, Amy Richards, Jennifer Baumgardner, Liz Phair, Ani Di Franco, Margaret Cho, Janeane Garofalo, Jessica Valenti, Inga Muscio, Queen Latifah and Salma Hayek. It was a time of Lilith Fair, the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, movies like Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and books like Cunt: A Declaration of Independence. And it pretty much kicked ass with a well-worn Doc Martin.

Furthermore, Katie. What is up with your solipsistic view that nobody under the age of 45 has heard of Ashleigh Banfield? Girl child learn your herstory. If I had told the advisor of my college newspaper I had never heard of women like Barbara Walters, Katherine Graham, Jane Pauley, Eleanor Clift, Nellie Bly, Linda Ellerbee, or Martha Gellhorn not only would I have been stripped of my title of editor I would have been kicked off the staff.

Now as for Aziz. As a fan of his, I must admit I am disappointed in his behavior if Grace’s story is true. He’s always come across as a male ally and totally feminist. But I find his behavior with Grace disturbing. It isn’t exactly rape or sexual assault, but it isn’t exactly the kind of behavior I would want from a man during sexy time. At best, he seems to a be a man in a state of arrested development who hasn’t built up the skills to decipher a woman’s words and gestures properly, which perhaps is something he should have a bit of handle on at 34 years old. At worst, he is rude and not respectful of a much younger woman with not as much life experience including when it comes to dating and sex. Aziz needs to keep that in mind.

As for Grace, part of me wants tell her to put on her big girl panties and tell her what she had was a bad date and regrettable sex. Next time be more assertive in her words and actions. Then I remind myself I’ve been in her situation and I forgot all about putting on my big girl panties and being assertive, too.

Relationships, even in our more enlightened times are still blurred. There is black and white, and murky shades of gray. Sexual situations often resemble a pot of noodles in various curlicues of confusion. And I hope as time goes on men and women will open up and discuss our individual experiences situations with compassion, mutual respect, open-mindedness, and a willingness to listen fully. I truly want all of us to get along.

 

Moranifesto by Caitlin Moran

It’s probably not a secret that I’m a fan of British pop culture critic, author, feminist and all-around cool British bird Caitlin Moran. Ms. Moran began writing about pop music when she was still a teenager growing up in a struggling family that lived in a council house and later hosted a TV show. Later Moran proved her feminist street cred via her funny, soul-searching, thought-provoking columns on everything from her budding sexuality as a teenager to her challenges combing marriage, child rearing and writing. She also writes about serious issues that affect women (and the men who love them) with the same aplomb she writes about pop culture. I’ve been a fan of hers ever since I picked up to of her earlier books Moranthology and How to Be a Woman. And her novel How to Build a Girl is a must read if you’ve ever been a teen-age girl (or, just human).

So when I found out Moran had released another book of essays, Moranifesto, I did a little jig in my leopard-spot flats and got myself a copy, which I can safely say is another feather in marvelous Ms. Moran’s chapeau! And it’s the perfect feminist elixir in a time of the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief, #marketplacefeminism, Brexit, the sad loss of pop culture icons like Bowie, and a host of other issues that affect women across the big pond and women who live in your neighborhood.

Moranifesto is divided into four distinct parts:

  1. The Twenty-first Century—Where We Live
  2. The Feminisms
  3. The Future
  4. Epilogue

In The Twenty-first Century—Where We Live, Moran examines why her utter disdain for the late Margaret Thatcher to her despair over the death of David Bowie. She muses the hatred of her printer (always a letdown for writers on a strict deadline), famous people she has annoyed and taking a rather unpleasant ride through the streets of New York City. Her chapter on her love of bacon will resonate with anyone who thinks bacon is the food of the Gods. And I adored her essay on smells that remind us of childhood—our mother’s perfume, pencil shavings, calamine lotion, puppies, lilac trees—scents that make us a wee bit nostalgic for perceived simpler times when anything and everything seemed possible.

In Feminisms Moran pokes fun at her face, which she describes part potato, part thumb and asks why we have to make everything “sexy?” She implores us to find another word for rape, her support of Hillary Clinton, giving up high heels, the most sexist TV show called “Blachman,” the type of show I hope never makes our shores, and speaking of TV, spends a day with Lena Dunham on the set of “Girls.”

And in part three, Moran looks into her crystal ball to figure out the future. In this batch of musings she claims reading is fierce yet she thinks it’s okay if her children aren’t big readers. She validates the importance of libraries. She also gets serious discussing Syria and refugees. And when she muses about women who mess things up things for the rest of us you might find yourself nodding your head in agreement.

The fourth part of Moranifesto, the epilogue, is brief, yet probably the most important part of the book. The epilogue is a letter to Moran’s daughter Lizzie. In this letter, Moran is dead (yes, a wee bit morbid). Lizzie is about the turn 13 and Moran want to share some advice Lizzie might find useful. Moran tells Lizzie “try to be nice.” Niceness will always shine and bring people to you. Also, keep in mind that when you think you are on the verge of a nervous breakdown have a cup of tea and a biscuit (British term for cookie).

Other sage wisdom, choose friends in which you can be your true self and avoid trying to fix someone or avoid someone who thinks you need fixing. Though it may difficult in our shallow culture with its fixation on women’s outer shell, make peace with your body. Make people think you are amazing conversationalist by asking them questions; what they say might prove useful one day.

And probably the most powerful piece of Moran’s letter to Lizzie can be summed up in the following sentence.

“…life divides into AMAZING ENJOYABLE TIMES and APPALLINGEXPERIENCES THAT WILL MAKE FUTURE AMAZING ANECDOTES.”

True…so true.

Throughout Moranifesto, there are essays that really got under my skin, but I can’t really share why because they are way too personal; and at times, I need to keep certain experiences close to my vest. But to give you a sneak peak, these chapters include:

  1. The Rich are Blithe
  2. Poor People are Clever
  3. Two Things Men Need to Understand About Women
  4. How I Learned About Sex
  5. Let Us Find Another Find Another Word For Rape

And some other interesting chapters I think a lot of women will find fascinating include:

  1. The Real Equality Checklist
  2. What Really Gives Me Confidence
  3. All the Lists of My Life

So my lads and lasses, grab a cuppa (cup of tea), enjoy some fish and chips (or as we call it here in Wisconsin a Friday night fish fry with French fries), ring up your mates (call your besties), and keep calm and carry on (Netflix and chill). Caitlin Moran is back and better than ever!

P.S. Moran’s sister works at a perfume shop and she let Moran smell the fragrance David Bowie wore and Moran claimed it smelled of pineapple and platinum. Well, I know what pineapple smells like, but what about platinum? What does platinum smell like? I suppose it smells cool and metallic. But this Bowie were talking about. I bet it smells warm and ever ch, ch, ch, changing to whatever we desire. For me this would smell of a special amber oil in my possession, vanilla as I pour it into some cookie batter, a match after I blow it out, the lavender growing in a mug on my window sill, freshly made bread, the pages within a book, my mother’s chicken soup, and yes, bacon.

Readin’, Writin’ and Rantin’: Alexis Bloomer-“Like, Talkin’ About My, ‘Like, Generation.”

“The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.” – Socrates (469-399 B.C.)

The more things change, the more things stay the same. Sure, it’s a cliché, but often clichés are very true. Generations from the beginning of time have always looked at each other side-eyed with apprehension. They have made rude comments about each other, often the elder generation telling the young whippersnappers to get off their lawn, which is why Socrates’ (or as Bill and Ted might put it—Socrates Johnson) quote is both timeless and timely.

As if you can’t tell, I am a card carrying member of Generation X, a member of the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” demographic. And I’ve spent plenty of time calling Baby Boomers some choice names (“sellouts!”) and have joked about Millennials (“the vape cigarette is the man bun for the mouth”). But in the end, we’re all together in “this thing we call life” (RIP Prince). Plenty of good, bad and ugly can be found in all generations.

That brings me to Alexis Bloomer, Millennial-aged TV anchor and journalist based in Texas. A couple of weeks ago she posted a video of her pointing a finger at her generation, accusing them of being the worst generation that ever existed. The video went viral and Ms. Bloomer has been interviewed by several media outlets (most famous being Fox News). Some people think Ms. Bloomer’s speech (done in her car and filmed by her smart phone while she obviously reads off a written script), is the equivalent of Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech. For some of you who haven’t heard of Ms. Bloomer and her soul-stirring speech, here is a quick link:

“Dear Elders, I’m Sorry”

 

Now whereas, many people supported Ms. Bloomer and her rant, many have come forward to tell her she’s got some nerve to paint one entire generation with a generic brush. And I’m going to join the latter.

First off, Ms. Bloomer eviscerates her fellow Millennials for not having basic good manners, saying “yes, sir” and “Yes, ma’am.” She claims her generation doesn’t hold doors open for ladies or show any basic respect. Are there Millennials who have no concept of graciousness and class? Of course, but you’ll find rude people in all demographics. And has Ms. Bloomer seen the behavior of both Donald Trump (Baby Boomer) and Ted Cruz (Generation X)? Definitely not Miss Manners (Silent Generation) approved.

Obscene music? Has Alexis Bloomer ever heard of “I Shot the Sheriff” a song done by both Eric Clapton and Bob Marley and The Wailers? Did she know the Johnny Cash lyric, “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die” or “Fuck tha Police” by NWA? Misogyny also has a musical history with songs like “Under My Thumb” by the Rolling Stones, “I Used to Love Her” by Guns ‘n Roses, and “Bitches Ain’t Shit” by Dr. Dre.

And of course, music has always sung the praises of carnal pleasure in such songs like Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” and Liz Phair’s “F**k and Run.” Prince’s “Darling Nikki” got busy with a magazine and Cyndi Lauper extolled the virtues of female masturbation (or as I like to call it Rubbin’ Hood) in “She-Bop.” And when Nina Simone sang about wanting some “Sugar in Her Bowl” well she wasn’t talking about a sugar bowl you find on the kitchen table.

Ms. Bloomer also wags her finger at her generation for their love of cursing just to prove a point. People have been cussing since the beginning of time. Has she ever heard of Lenny Bruce or George Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words?” Heck, even my grandma said shit!

Speaking of language, Ms. Bloomer isn’t fond of Millennials and their slang like “bae.” Please, all generations define themselves by their own unique language from 23-skidoo to neato keen to groovy to tubular to sick, and so on. (Somehow fetch never happened).

In her rant, Ms. Bloomer also accuses Millennials for idolizing the wrong people like the Kardashians as if no previous generation ever idolized certain celebrities. Fabian, David Cassidy, Vanilla Ice and Tiffany all had their fans and then pretty much disappeared.

Millennials are also lazy, entitled and don’t care about serving their country according to Ms. Bloomer, which is ironic considering she didn’t seem to put much work into her rant and she looks like she’s gunning for a position at Fox News. Back in the 1990s Generation X-ers were called slackers. And not serving their country? Well, just who does Ms. Bloomer think has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan? The Greatest Generation? And let’s not forget all the wonderful Millennials whose volunteer work enhances our communities.

Watching this rant (and also spending some of my time in the journalistic realm) I just knew there was a story behind the story. So I did some investigating to find out more about Alexis Bloomer.

For someone who scolds her generation for their addiction to the Internet and social media, Ms. Bloomer has quite a presence on both. She has both a personal website and several social media accounts. There is nothing wrong with having a personal website or working with social media; I have both. But Ms. Bloomer’s website and social media accounts have all the depth of a Jimmy Choo in-step. Ms. Bloomer seems more about making herself a brand rather than showing any evidence of solid journalistic work. Her Facebook page alone shows just a smattering of her interviewing rodeo riders and countless posts about fashion, jewelry, her personal PR appearances, professional photos that look more like cheesy boudoir photography and countless selfies including shots of her possibly fake breasts and belly ring. I’m sure iconic journalist Nelly Bly did the same thing. Oh, no, she didn’t! She was actually a ground-breaking reporter that paved the way for generations of women! I am a card-carrying feminist, but with the likes of Alexis Bloomer no wonder my favorite journalist is Bill Moyers.

And for every stereotypical Millennial Ms. Bloomer paints with a very broad brush, there are countless Millennials doing wonderful things, some well-known some living in obscurity. One Millennial I truly like and admire is Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter (now with CNN) Sara Granim who helped break the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky child molestation case.

As I mentioned, generations have always complained about one another, and this was often reflected in pop culture, especially in television. In the 1970s we had All in the Family. In the 1980s we had Family Ties. And now in the modern age we have Black-ish. Hmm, All in the Family, Family Ties, Black-ish? Sound like Kardashian-related shows.

And what will happen to Alexis Bloomer? Well, Fox News is probably looking for another addition to its roster of standard-issue blondes. But most likely Alexis Bloomer will be this year’s answer to Nicole Arbour and her “Dear Fat People” rant. Nicole Arbor? Who? “Dear Fat People?” What?

Exactly.