20 November 2015

You Don't Have to Like Me by Alida Nugent

Summary from Goodreads:

The author of Don’t Worry It Gets Worse takes on the F-word

Alida Nugent’s first book, Don’t Worry It Gets Worse, received terrific reviews, and her self-deprecating “everygirl” approach continues to win the Internet-savvy writer and blogger new fans. Now, she takes on one of today’s hottest cultural topics: feminism.

Nugent is a proud feminist—and she’s not afraid to say it. From the “scarlet F” thrust upon you if you declare yourself a feminist at a party to how to handle judgmental store clerks when you buy Plan B, You Don’t Have to Like Me skewers a range of cultural issues, and confirms Nugent as a star on the rise.

The subtitle for Alida Nugent's new book You Don't Have to Like Me is "Essays on Growing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding Feminism."  And that is precisely what she writes about.  About finding and maintaining friendships with other women and how while she was busy trying to be The Cool Girl (you know, the one who burps, chows Big Macs, agrees with dudes' BS, and tries to be like a dude while maintaining a Hot Girl Bod) she was throwing other women under the bus.  About the "warning labels" that get attached to girls but not to boys. About the utter uselessness and hetero-normative-ness and obsessed with tab-A-in-slot-B-ness of sex education in public school (if you're even lucky to get that).

In the piece "Feral" Nugent calls out the utter bullshit whereupon women are taught to "Get Home Safe" and to take their drinks to the bathroom with them lest they get spiked and how presenting oneself as "female" in any way is dangerous yet we do not teach boys and men not to rape (Nugent presents a close call she had while walking home from work one evening).  The pieces "Shrink" and "All the Diets I've Been On" present contrasting pictures of the way food and pleasure and body image become twisted and unrecognizable.  "Advice I've Received as a Woman" is a hilarious and uncomfortable tally of all the conflicting and constraining (and occasionally amazing) advice Nugent has been offered because she is cis-gendered female.  The book winds up with the fantastic essay "Does This Skirt Make Me Look Feminist?" which reinforces the notion, at play throughout the book, that there is no right way to "do" feminism and that stereotyping feminists is ridiculous.

I was reading a few reviews for You Don't Have to Like Me and came across one that gave it a 1-star because Nugent was just repeating what others have said and wasn't saying anything new.  Considering that, on average, women still make less than men (which is the statistic for white women; the ratio gets larger for African-American women, Latinas, etc. as Nugent points out), we still teach women to "be safe" rather than teach men not to rape or feel entitled to sexual attention from women, we still call women "sluts" for having sex (or enjoying sex at all) yet slam women who don't have sex as prudes, and push a media representation of female beauty that is nearly impossible to achieve or maintain then deride women for taking pride in their appearances it is very clear that voices like Alida Nugent's, Roxane Gay's, Rebecca Solnit's, and others are still needed.  And they are needed to be loud, clear, and real and to repeat themselves.  We can't say anything new until what we're saying right now becomes part of the cultural fabric and the norm.  Also, Nugent, as a woman who is both Puerto Rican and Irish, reminded me that the feminism that I need and practice - as a white, middle-class, straight, cis woman - is different than what she needs as a biracial woman, or what a transgender woman needs, or what a black woman needs, and so on.  We still have a ways to go until feminism isn't a big, red Scarlet F.

Dear FTC: I first received a DRC of this book via Penguin Random House's First to Read program, but it expired so I ought a copy instead.

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