[Read as an ebook from the public library]
I tend to avoid books like this, because I suppose I’m yet another product of exactly what these essays address: Nothing that has ever happened to me has ever been that bad, and nothing makes that clearer than reading the experiences of others.
But that’s the point of collections like these. It is that bad. It’s always been that bad. The fact that we have to consistently work to squash and minimize and fit and qualify and hide and compare and contrast and compete just proves it. None of us are unscathed, and I think we know that, but there’s also some measure of weird misplaced safety in believing that it wasn’t that bad.
The two pieces that resounded with me the most in this collection were “The Ways We Are Taught to Be a Girl,” by xTx, and “All the Angry Women,” by Lyz Lenz.
The first details the points we give ourselves for the traumas we’ve faced. How many is enough? How few is still normal? “You could have left but you stayed. You wanted it and he knew. The ways we turn the gun to our own temple.”
The second is a clear portrait of what is left over when religion (or the patriarchy) forgives male abuse but sidelines, buries, stigmatizes female anger. “Jesus is allowed table-flipping rage. We speak of men and their rage as if it is laudable. ‘Men just get mad and punch each other and it’s over,’ we say. ‘Women are just bitches; they never let it go.'” (I am of course aware of the extra threat attached to Black anger – white anger is most easily forgiven, and the layers of unacceptability are deepest for justified Black female rage.)
This collection gives voice to many people with many different experiences. Some are excruciating to read. Some reminded me rather too much of myself. Some may remind you of yourself. And these are not just women’s stories about bad men. These are stories about women, men, families, structures. Whoever you are, whatever your experiences, there is something here of value for you.
Of course, you’re likely going to know if this is a book you should avoid. There are clear descriptions of assault, abuse, rape, and incest in these essays, and if that might retraumatize you, please give this a pass. But if you, like me, just avoid stories like this because the things that happened to you when you were 9, 15, 22, 34, etc. don’t qualify as particularly noteworthy while at the same time you work as hard as possible to forget or trivialize those same incidents, then you’ll likely find something worthwhile here.