Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The Witches Are Coming

The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West (2019)

The author of Shrill is back with a new book of essays on feminism, politics, and pop culture. Taking on everything from the #MeToo movement to abortion to Joan Rivers to Ted Bundy, she shares her clever observations and astute perspectives with her trademarked humor.

So look, I am not the sort of audience for whom this book is going to force me to look at things in a different way or make me aware of issues I knew nothing about. This is basically a book full of opinions that I already believe, but expressed much better than I'd ever be able to.

Except the thing about pockets. Apparently Lindy West doesn't care if her dresses have pockets and thinks those of us who talk about this a lot are wasting our time. But she is wrong about this. She clearly doesn't have a job in an office full of locked doors and only her phone as a watch, because if so she would realize how important it is to have somewhere to put your phone and keys. (Unless she thinks we should all walk around constantly carrying our purses like Sophia Petrillo?) But I digress.

West writes a lot about the culture of misogyny, racism, the rise of neo-Nazis in America and the backlash against people like her who speak out about these things. She addresses the complexity of things like the idea that we should all be friends with each other regardless of political views, which is great in theory, but not if you're part of a minority that people of a different political party would like to see eradicated. You can't just be friends with people who think you shouldn't exist, and you shouldn't try. And she points out the reality that those of us who aren't part of those minorities are the people who can just ignore politics and embrace escapist TV shows, and that that's what privilege means.

In an essay called "Gear Swap," she tells the story of a Facebook page her musician husband is part of, in which people swap and sell musical gear. Some (white male) sellers started offering discounts based on gender or race, and there was a backlash from some other guys who thought it was akin to communism or fascism or murder. The group moderators basically said that sellers could sell their stuff however they want and to please stop bothering them with these ridiculous complaints. West highlights this because, as she says, Facebook or Twitter could also be reasonable about things but they insist on playing the "both sides" game ad infinitum as though the Nazi perspective is one that is just as legitimate as any other.

She talks more about this "both sides" argument in the essay "A Giant Douche Is a Good Thing If You're a Giant," in which she also discusses social media memes about being offended and how they serve primarily to make large systemic injustice look like petty grievances. I also hate those memes and think that it's the people who make and share who are the ones who seem most offended. And they are offended at those of us trying to be respectful by using people's preferred pronouns and other things that are just basic human decency and not that difficult.

This is getting long, but I also want to mention "Do, Make, Be, Barf" in which West attends the Goop expo. Goop, if you're unfamiliar, is a health/lifestyle brand developed by Gwyneth Paltrow and which I really enjoy making fun of. Previously West had spent some time cooking from Paltrow's cookbook It's All Good, which was surprisingly good, apparently, though very expensive to cook from. (She specifically mentions a beet, butternut, quinoa salad that she still makes, and which I now want to try.) At the expo though, a culture of extreme privilege was on display and what I thought was so interesting was that all the stuff about self-care started sounding a whole lot more like rationalizing selfishness. This was interesting to hear because I've also thought that about some of the self-care things I read, so it was good to know it's not just me.

That was pretty much the experience of this book for me - humorous validation. It was a surprisingly quick read, both fun and thought-provoking.

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