(5 stars) She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement by Jodi Kantor, Megan Twohey
This is a frustrating, angry-making book due entirely to the material — the writing itself is very well-done. But listening to hour after hour of the abuse suffered by women at the hands of powerful men made this a tough one to get through. I had to stop and take breaks from it multiple times. I just downloaded Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill as well, but I might need a palate cleanser before I start it.
This book has two main stories to it: the Harvey Weinstein scandal, which Kantor and Twohey broke. And then Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony against Brett Kavanaugh, which came out (along with hundreds of other stories) after Kantor and Twohey’s New York Times article on Weinstein.
I’m sure most of the people on this site are familiar with those two scandals in a broad sense, but this book goes into every minute detail of both investigations and how they were reported. What I didn’t know much about going in was how HARD it is for these stories to be told. The laws are set up in a way that makes it very difficult to report abuse, and to talk about it after. As Kantor says, “The United States had a system for muting sexual harassment claims, which often enabled the harassers instead of stopping them. Women routinely signed away the right to talk about their own experiences. Harassers often continued onward, finding fresh ground on which to commit the same offenses. The settlements and confidentiality agreements were almost never examined in law school classrooms or open court. This was why the public had never really understood that this was happening. Even those in the room with long histories of covering gender issues had never fully registered what was going on.”
It’s terrifying how a system meant to protect victims ends up doing the exact opposite.
(5 stars) Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom
This was another book I read in small bites, although in this case it was about savoring the essays, rather than recovering from them. McMillan Cottom tackles tough subjects as well — racism, sexism, classism, basically all the horrible ways human discriminate against each other. And she does so in such a thoughtful and intelligent way that I found myself stopping after each essay to absorb what I just read, rather than tearing through all of them at once.
“Beauty is not good capital. I compounds the oppression of gender. It constrains those who identify as women against their will. It costs money and demands money. It colonizes. It hurts. It is painful. It can never be fully satisfied. It is not useful for human flourishing. Beauty is, like all capital, merely valuable.”
McMillan Cottom inserts herself into her essays, talking about discrimination and how it has affected her, and then widening out to see how it affects entire groups of people. A lot of the essays deal with class and mobility, which I found interesting, especially when she discussed how real estate and neighborhoods continue to hold poorer people back (particularly those of color) while giving a bigger boost up to wealthier citizens by offering better education and job opportunities.
(4 stars) Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao
When Poornima’s father hires Savitha to work their loom to make saris after Poornima’s mother dies, they begin a friendship which will sustain them both — even after being separated, suffering countless abuses, and making a trip to the other side of the world.
“Every moment in a woman’s life was a deal, a deal for her body: first for its blooming and then for its wilting; first for her bleeding and then for her virginity and then for her bearing (counting only the sons) and for her widowing.”
Set in India in the early 2000s, Poornima and Savitha become fast friends, bonded by their love of simple pleasures found in their incredibly difficult lives. But when Poornima’s father rapes Savitha, Savitha disappears into the night. Poornima is married off into a cruel family, but never forgets her friend. when she can take her mother-in-laws abuse no longer, she escapes into that same night in search of Savitha.
This book has two strong women at its core, two women who are physically and sexually abused countless times, and yet continue moving forward in search of each other, and a better life. It’s such a sad book — especially because you know these things happen over and over to women every single day. The writing is beautiful, and I loved the two main characters, but I was really glad when this one ended.