Tag Archives: essays

The Witches are Coming

Book Cover of The Witches are Coming by Lindy West

So fine, if you insist. This is a witch hunt. We’re witches, and we’re hunting you. (The Witches are Coming: Introduction)

Let’s start off with this energy.*

Which is a bit of a step up from Shrill just 3 years ago. The same type of humour is there – to be perfectly honest, not the style I usually go for, but West makes many a good point – but I have to say, it’s pretty clear what’s changed in her writing (though there is also plenty that has not): West is noticeably more exasperated (perhaps because things have not improved since she wrote the essays from Shrill?); angrier, that she’s writing this at all (as she notes in her chapter on internet trolls: “I keep vowing to never write about internet trolls again, but unfortunately my country’s… ignoring the screams of the marginalized has made internet trolls not just culturally relevant or politically relevant but historically relevant. So here I am – one more troll chapter” (Leave Hell to the Devils); one hopes this is the last troll chapter West will have to write). The Witches are Coming is like Shrill’s more cynical, jaded cousin. So of course, in many ways, I loved it.

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Trick Mirror

Book Cover of Trick Mirror by Jia TolentinoThere’s something oddly satisfying reading an essay without a clear and conclusive ending – it’s as though we’re able to watch as the writer makes their way through the question, wading in and trying to figure it out, only to end up mired in all the muck but at least better able to see the muck in which they are stuck. It’s not necessarily a feeling of despair that this inconclusiveness dregs up, so much as the feeling that the journey itself is well worth the effort, that knowing what mess you’re in is half the battle. Part of me is so used to having essays and articles wrap up neatly, tell me how to fix the issue, what I can do to become part of the solution, that it’s almost refreshing to see that sometimes we don’t have all the answers yet, and there’s maybe no “right” way the author can provide me. And that’s how I feel about Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino, which is an absolute delight to read, though frustrating at times precisely because while Tolentino picks apart social issues, she doesn’t necessarily give it back to us in one piece, or put back together in any way. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this detracts from the delight I get from the essays, at all: it makes them shine even brighter.

Shortly after reading Trick Mirror, a Buzzfeed article published earlier this year ended up in my feeds: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation by Anne Helen Peterson, on the relationship between millennials and burnout. As I was reading, I couldn’t help but notice how well it complemented one of the essays in Trick Mirror: Always Be Optimizing. Whereas Always Be Optimizing discusses the ways in which women, buying into a commodified feminism*, end up swallowed by the “ideal woman” they strive to become and entering into a cycle of trying to win the game that is the systemic oppression of women, The Burnout Generation talks about a similar phenomenon where constant self-optimization in every area of their lives, including – or perhaps especially in the realm of – self-care, has given millennials burnout**.

What I find particularly interesting is that in both of these pieces, as I mention above, a clear-cut solution is not available for our neat consumption at their conclusions: both Tolentino and Peterson recognize the system and the ways in which it is unhealthy and exploitative, and yet… both of them remain fairly stuck in the roles they explore in their writing. Which I think is actually fairly representative of the way in which many of us who consider ourselves to be well informed or critical of the society in which we live, continue to live within the framework. For Tolentino, the solution would be “to follow the cyborg… to be willing to be disloyal, to undermine. The cyborg is powerful because she grasps the potential in her own artificiality, because she accepts without question how deeply it is embedded in her”, but all the iterations Tolentino cites of this cyborg (e.g. Her, Morgan, Ex Machina, etc.) end when the female cyborgs kill their (male) creators, which isn’t toooo helpful as far as giving us a framework of what life could look like after upending the current system***. And Tolentino recognizes this, too:

It’s possible if we want it. But what do we want? What would you want – what desires, what forms of insubordination, would you be able to access – if you had succeeded in becoming an ideal woman, gratified and beloved, proof of the efficiency of a system that magnifies and diminishes you every day?

It’s hard to even know what exactly it is that you want if you try to remove what society pushes your way and tells you you’re supposed to enjoy (and what if a woman actually enjoys doing the housework, cleaning, looking “pretty” according to the standards society has set forth in spectacularly narrow terms? How would you even know?).**** This nebulous and inchoate future remains beyond our grasp, and it’s actually somewhat comforting after Tolentino criticizes the systematic branding and commodification of women’s self-care (by which I’m referring not to the bougie Self-Care but actual caring of one’s self in the form of minding one’s health & general well-being), because it’d be almost a bit suspect if she had neatly packaged a cure to sell to women (in another meta participation in the endless cycle she is at the same time critical of and cognizant of being a part of).

On the other hand (or perhaps on the same hand), Peterson concludes: “I don’t have a plan of action, other than to be more honest with myself about what I am and am not doing and why, and to try to disentangle myself from the idea that everything good is bad and everything bad is good”, which, sure, but isn’t really much of a solution to the reader who already knows this. It’s frustrating, but I feel like the acknowledgement of these questions is already an improvement: if we can name it, we can address it and see how to move forward by becoming able to refer to it in a consistent manner.*~ And so with many of the essays in Trick Mirror, where solutions are vague if at all outlined, and the journey of exploring a question is the main purpose of the essay. It’s an essay in the style of Montaigne, in a way – un essai, a try, a probing of a subject.

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Dive Into Reading: Spineless

Susan MiddletonThis is one of those beautiful books that begs to be picked up – I mean, just look at that cover! – and absorbed in wonder.  While it’s most certainly not the type of book you might want carrying around in your bag while you’re out and about (although that’s totally personal preference, and I will concede there might exist someone who likes to lug around tomes in their bags while out running errands or just going around town), the size of the book was definitely a good choice; although there are also a few essays throughout the book, I believe the photographs are what the readers are here for, and the size of the book itself make it so that every beautiful colours jump out at you and every detail – every tentacle, arm, eye, and other appendages – is presented with incredible clarity.

The second installment of the Dive Into Reading series is, as you might have by now surmised, Spineless, by Susan Middleton.

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