Review: ‘The Witches are Coming’ by Lindy West

In this wickedly funny cultural critique, the author of the critically acclaimed memoir and Hulu series Shrill exposes misogyny in the #MeToo era.

THIS IS A WITCH HUNT.
WE’RE WITCHES,
AND WE’RE HUNTING YOU.

From the moment powerful men started falling to the #MeToo movement, the lamentations began: this is feminism gone too far, this is injustice, this is a witch hunt. In The Witches Are Coming, firebrand author of the New York Times bestselling memoir and now critically acclaimed Hulu TV series Shrill, Lindy West, turns that refrain on its head. You think this is a witch hunt? Fine. You’ve got one.

In a laugh-out-loud, incisive cultural critique, West extolls the world-changing magic of truth, urging readers to reckon with dark lies in the heart of the American mythos, and unpacking the complicated, and sometimes tragic, politics of not being a white man in the twenty-first century. She tracks the misogyny and propaganda hidden (or not so hidden) in the media she and her peers devoured growing up, a buffet of distortions, delusions, prejudice, and outright bullsh*t that has allowed white male mediocrity to maintain a death grip on American culture and politics-and that delivered us to this precarious, disorienting moment in history.

West writes, “We were just a hair’s breadth from electing America’s first female president to succeed America’s first black president. We weren’t done, but we were doing it. And then, true to form—like the Balrog’s whip catching Gandalf by his little gray bootie, like the husband in a Lifetime movie hissing, ‘If I can’t have you, no one can’—white American voters shoved an incompetent, racist con man into the White House.”

We cannot understand how we got here-how the land of the free became Trump’s America—without examining the chasm between who we are and who we think we are, without fact—checking the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and each other. The truth can transform us; there is witchcraft in it. Lindy West turns on the light.

[Goodreads]

DETAILS

Publisher: Hachette Books

ISBN: 9780316449885

Date read: 10 April 2020

Review

The Witches are Coming was my first encounter with Lindy West – but it will most definitely not be my last. Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised that someone hailed as “the troll-fighting feminist warrior you’ve been waiting for” (LA Times) appealed to all my troll-fighting, feminist, and warrior sensibilities. West’s essays are bold, incisive, and unapologetic in their critique of everything from Goop to abortion, political correctness and Grumpy Cat to Guy Fieri, identity politics to Adam Sandler movies. She had me in fits of giggles with her dry, sardonic sense of humour, which – along with a slew of witty pop-culture references – added much-needed levity to an otherwise rather dismal portrait of American society.

Listening to West felt like sitting down for a cup of coffee with an old friend and ranting about the sorry state of the western world – if that friend was also a highly acclaimed writer, co-founder of a reproductive rights campaign, and overall hilarious person. But although West’s writing is accessible and conversational, her feminism is loud and angry and unapologetic. It strives for diversity and inclusivity. It recognises how women’s experiences differ at the most precarious intersections of class, race, sexuality, ability, and size. It reiterates again and again that the oppressive systems entrapping women give us good reason to be angry – and that allowing this anger to be felt is the first step in demanding lasting and meaningful change.

A few reviewers have criticised West for having nothing new to say – and I can’t disagree with them. But I do see value in West’s re-articulation of the things that resonate with us, her effort to continue giving voice to those issues we are still fighting.* Maybe West’s essays won’t bring in floods of new recruits to the fight, but they do a good job of rallying the existing forces. Her voice is a welcome addition to the rising chorus of women decrying the bullshit we face on a daily basis. It’s raw. It’s pertinent. It’s blunt and wickedly funny. And it helped reinvigorate the feminist fire in me that had fizzled out a little more with each day in quarantine.

(*I’d like to emphasise here that I don’t think West should be credited with any of the central feminist arguments in her essays. Those ideas have been painstakingly developed and refined by generations of feminists – particularly by women of colour and queer women. I think her re-articulation of these arguments should serve, primarily, to supplement the critical work of leading intersectional feminists.)

Most of the essays in West’s collection spiral outwards from her emphasis on this necessity of female anger, female outspokenness, and female presence in society. She argues that patriarchal systems automatically discredit the angry woman, the ugly woman, the woman who takes up too much space and asks for too much. This is just one more way in which we are silenced to preserve the echo chamber that the Trumps and Pences of the world have created.

This paradox of likeability hit home for me. Although I’ve encountered the idea in other feminist literature, West’s response to the stigma of the loud and angry woman was particularly lucid and empowering. Social norms and gender roles mutate the loud and angry woman into something monstrous, and we are encouraged to resent her for not even trying to earn our approval. But if this approval can only be earned by adhering to the standards of the very system that oppresses us, how are we ever supposed to transcend it? We are kept in an infinite loop of powerlessness, striving always to be smaller, softer, more approachable, less confrontational, more fuckable, less intimidating. We are taught to smother our anger, shush the voices inside us that yearn for more out of life.

West acknowledges this problem, and blows a big, fat, ugly raspberry at it. She calls for women to be loud and angry and confrontational and – most importantly – unrepentant of these “unlikeable” qualities. So what if the world is scared of our anger? It should be scared. It should be trembling. Because we’re coming for it.

Read this book if you’re feeling low. Get angry. Get fierce. And laugh, if you can. I guarantee you’ll have a good time.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Recommended to: Fierce feminists in need of a little pick-me-up

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