“My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
Over lunch the other day, a few of my girlfriends and I mused over how we grew up on The Princess Bride. I mean literally like an after school snack. A drug of choice for hip 90s girls who knew we’d grow up and really want to be more like Robin Wright on House of Cards, but for a little while, we could love Wesley and his sexy bandit costume. There were two movies that I obsessively watched as a child, Grease and Princess Bride. I feel like between these two movies PLUS Clarissa Explains It All, I can be discovered. This may or may not be true for most girls, we shall see in the comments section, but I think a lot of girls found themselves binge-watching The Princess Bride because it wasn’t your normal “princess story.” Sure, she had to be saved several times from Humperdinck, but Princess Buttercup was no pansy. What I love most about this movie is that it convinced me that there’s such a thing as a final word.
I have sought that final word to the point of damage a few times. I’ll argue until the height of high-pitched yelling. There’s a moment when I say something despicable that I know can’t be taken back, but I still release it into the world like it’s a clattering truth. I never remove myself from arguments. I have a hard time walking away. And even when someone is trying to give me the hint that there’s no place for me in their life, I pursue them until the ache grows softer and I, too, can let go.
It’s a downfall for sure. I’m no hero.
But with that all said, I think Lindy West’s first book is doing just what I’ve done my whole life, just what Inigo Montoya does with every man who even narrowly looks like his father’s killer. It’s what a lot of feminists do when they realize that maybe they’re being heard (the sound) but they’re not being listened to (the meaning). They keep going. Shrill, West’s memoir really encapsulates this idea that silence isn’t golden, it’s boxy and the only way out of it, is to keep on talking.
I knew this book was going to pack a punch when in the beginning she lists out every “Fat Female Role Model” that existed for her as a child. Characters like the Queen of Hearts, Mrs. Trunchbull, Lady Cluck, Mrs. Piggy, and Ursula were the most prominent according to my notebook. I listened to this on audiobook, so I had to pause to write down little tidbits I wanted to remember forever. In Chapter 2, she says, “There is not a thin woman inside me awaiting excavation. I am one piece.” With this quote I began to realize that we were going to witness every bit of Lindy West, whether she thought it appropriate to show or not, she was nothing but transparent and relatable for the entire book.
(If you don’t know who Lindy West is, she came for Tosh.0 in Jezebel with a piece called “How to Make a Rape Joke.” And she rocks). She has been trashed by internet trolls, even one impersonating her deceased father, and she married a man who in her words is “conventionally attractive” who plays the trumpet. The reason why I say her book is a final word of sorts is that it gives all of the baggage (and I don’t mean this as a negative) to the stories that everyone else construed about her. These stories created by trolls, comedy show hosts, feminist bloggers, newspapers and magazines, and her blog were in some ways all fabricated. While I blog my life blood into everything I write at Books & Bowels and Almost an Independent Clause, that doesn’t mean I owe every single one of my followers a pound of flesh.
But in the eyes of the public, Lindy West did. She was trolled, tattered, and left on the defense over really important issues like fat shaming, rape jokes, abortions, periods, and privilege. At one point, during the comedy chapters, she says something like, I can easily name 20 white male comics, but … “Name 20 female comics. Name 20 black comics. Name 20 gay comics.” Early in the book, she writes so unabashedly about her abortion when she was dating a guy that she loved, but didn’t quite like very much, that I heard every woman who walked the women’s march sigh in relief. It wasn’t some grotesque tale like the biblical posters of “baby waste” will have you think, it was a real woman’s life trial, true to each hard step. She even at this point in her life (what I would argue is probably a low point for some women) thought about her privilege, about the way it was so easy for the owner of the Abortion Clinic to let her pay later.
“Privilege means it’s easy for white women to do each other favors.”
I’m not going to lie, I found the chapters rehashing her experience of Tosh.0 kind of boring, but I knew they needed to be said. I’m not going to put words in Lindy West’s mouth (like everyone else has done before me), but I get the need to have one last say, to make sure people understand your point, to make one even when all corners are trying to silence you. For me, what she said had value, is valuable, and should be repeated even if the “shrill” is deafening. Especially in today’s political climate.
“We live in a culture that actively tries to shrink the definition of sexual assault. That casts stalking behaviors as romance. Blames the victims for wearing the wrong clothes, walking through the wrong neighborhood…Convicts in less than 5% of allegations that go to trial” (Chapter 13).
I loved this book because it didn’t ask for anything. You know how sometimes you read memoirs and you can feel that the writer is asking for pity, or asking for understanding, or even just asking for love and adoration? This wasn’t like that. This was just a girl, standing in front of a really bookish crowd (with a pack of Lena Dunham’s behind her) telling a few truths about life. She wasn’t asking for you to understand why your fat joke is sorry, why rape jokes aren’t funny in any contexts, why free speech isn’t necessarily free, or why feminist voices matter, she was just telling you an experience in a life of a human being.
If we could find more writers that do this, our world might open up a little. Internet trolls might apologize more and Lindy West may have a twitter full of quips that crack a girl up while she’s at a boring desk job. We haven’t gotten there yet, but if Lindy West keeps publishing, we just might. I liked Slate’s review here.