Books

On being Not That Kind of Girl or a Bad Feminist and saying Yes Please anyway

dunhamIt’s been a trifecta of fantastic female role models publishing memoirs or memoir-like essay collections lately. I read them all one after the other with little pause on the bus, holding down laughter and tears in equal measure. It starts with Lena Dunham (doesn’t it always?). Not That Kind of Girl is almost as uncomfortable as the worst sex scenes on Girls, which makes sense, because this is her life, this is her writing fodder. Strange how it feels worse when she tells it as truth instead of fiction. We are all unreliable narrators, that’s the main thing to take away, so I don’t understand where all this “Lena Dunham molested her little sister” frenzy comes from. Weren’t we all strange children, once? Can a seven year old molest another child? Doesn’t there have to be some agency in that? Doesn’t there have to be sexualization for an activity to reach that far? I remember several times as a child I was caught experimenting with another kid—curiosity always gets the best of us—but the only person reading into that is a deranged person. Did Dunham grow up without learning boundaries? Probably, yes, but isn’t that what speaks to us so much in her art? That struggle? Controversy aside, Not That Kind of Girl is all that I thought it would be—speaking heavily to this person I’m not sure I am yet. It’s universal. Even when it all comes easy, it still feels hard.

Not That Kind of Girl was simple, which doesn’t mean it wasn’t great. It was fast and hit me hard and felt over too soon. It made me remember those dark bits that sit inside me, spoiling. That’s where the art comes from—the hurt roiling and turning into something dense and gleaming.

Bad Feminist wasn’t easy. Roxane Gay’s series of essays was difficult even though all her ideas are laid out on a gay
nice plate of pop culture with sprigs of humour—don’t eat those, they’re decoration! It’s difficult precisely because it’s so damn good. As someone who is just as invested in pop culture and racial issues as Gay, it was hard for me to have to reflect on my own bias and prejudices that still exist because none of us are perfect. We are all privileged, bad feminists that wrestle with racial issues and what we let people get away with. I did like that 99% of the time I came down on the same side of an issue as Gay, and weirdly we like a lot of the same TV shows, movies and books. Like minds and all that. In one particular chapter she did manage to spoil Gone Girl for me, but that’s my own fault, I suppose. What I like best about Roxane Gay, who I’ve followed on Twitter for some time, is that she’s as undecided as I am—about what feminism means to her, what it should mean to all of us, and how to be a good one. If there is such a thing as a good feminist, anyway. I prefer to think we’re all just bad feminists in one way or another as well. I’m a feminist but I like “Blurred Lines.” I’m a feminist but I laugh at sexist jokes sometimes. I’m a feminist but I believe in marriage and entertain the idea of being supported by my husband, staying home and raising kids. I’m a feminist but I’m not a “perfect” one. But, what Gay gets at, is that it’s about claiming the title anyway, in whatever form you feel comfortable with. Because, everything else is just icing on the gender equality cake, right? It’s about supporting our ability to choose. Everything else is noise. Let’s try not to get distracted.

poehlerThankfully, I rounded out my two weeks of reading with the brilliant and hilarious Amy Poehler’s Yes Please. Which I would describe using its own title and life mantra—yes plzzzz, more plzzzz. If you enjoyed Tina Fey’s Bossypants (this is in the same vein) or just wish you were friends with Poehler and want to insert yourself in her life imaginatively using as many real facts and anecdotes as possible, well this will be perfect for you. Considering, first the simple paper quality her book is printed on, it’s thick and slippery like a fancy coffee table book (like I have any of those) which makes all the photos and handwritten notes pop off the page. She says at one point she wanted to have all these things just stuffed in the pages so they would fall everywhere if you shook it. Is it weird that it sounds completely magical to me? To be honest I didn’t know that much about Poehler’s personal life beyond her clearly amazing friendship with Fey and recent divorce from Will Arnett. So, reading about her childhood and how she got into improv was really interesting, especially since she has a great candid style of writing that makes you feel like she’s sitting across from you at a bar just shooting the shit and trying to make you laugh. I’m telling you, exactly how I imagine Poehler and I to be when we fake hangout. Sigh. It also was full to the brim with love for her ex-husband, her parents, friends at SNL and Parks and Rec, and of course her children. Poehler’s attitude in the book is so can-do, don’t give up on your dreams, make happiness, even when she hints at depression and rough times. This one, above all the others made me want to cry in front of strangers on the bus. I welled up. Required reading for anyone who is starting to doubt their purpose, going through a transformative time, needs some inspiration, or just wants to read about how awesome Poehler is. She is so so awesome.

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