Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body


Rating:
 ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Roxane Gay
Genres: Memoir, Non-Fiction, Feminist
Read: May 2017

 

I read Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist a few years ago and really enjoyed her essays, but I definitely think this a stronger book and one that takes a lot of courage to write.

“The Story of my body is not a story of triumph… Mine is not a success story. Mine is, simply, a true story.”

This is one of the opening passages in Hunger and why I think Gay is such a brave writer. Her memoir is ultimately about her being gang-raped at the age of 12 and how that has since changed and shaped her entire life. Gay never told anyone about her rape and kept her fear and shame bottled up for most of her life, turning to food as a comfort. Making herself big as a way to feel safe within her body.

This is a truly heartbreaking story because Gay still suffers PTSD along with the added challenges of moving around in a world that is not built for people her size, much less black women of her size. She offers many anecdotes on what it’s like to live in a world where you’re medically classified under the horrible term of “super morbidly obese” (seriously, who decided this was okay?).

I’ve been trying to educate myself on intersectional feminism and Gay’s memoir was helpful in recognizing the ways I benefit from thin privilege. There are many obvious ways in which I benefit from thin privilege, but Gay’s memoir highlighted other ways such as the constant worries she faces about fitting in chairs and whether or not she’ll be able to easily access the stage at events she speaks at. She tells one story of a time she spoke at an event that had a stage about 2 feet off the ground with no stairs and how mortifying it was as she struggled to get onstage and then proceeded to have to crouch over her chair for 2 hours because she felt a small crack when she first started to sit.

One of the most helpful articles for me in understanding white privilege was Peggy MacIntosh’s White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack as well an imitation essay, The Male Privilege Checklist. This essay ends with the ultimate check of male privilege being that “I have the privilege of being unaware of my male privilege.” I was reminded of this while reading Gay’s memoir because it helped me realize some of the ways in which I am unaware of my thin privilege (as well as reinforcing some of the ways I was aware of).

Gay’s honesty is part of what makes this such a strong memoir, but I also really appreciated her insights into what it means to be a woman in our society. How we treat the thousands of girls and women who have been emotionally, physically, or sexually abused – how we treat black, fat, disabled, poor, or gay girls and women – and how that affects our body image, self-confidence, and the way we grow up and who we develop into.

Like I said, this is a heartbreaking story, but also a very important one.

“He said/she said is why so many victims don’t come forward. All too often, what “he said” matters more, so we just swallow the truth. We swallow it, and more often than not, that truth turns rancid. It spreads through the body like an infection. It becomes depression or addiction or obsession or some other physical manifestation of the silence of what she would have said, needed to say, couldn’t say.”

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What Happened


Rating:
 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Hillary Clinton
Genres: Memoir, Non-Fiction, Feminist
Read: Sept. 2017 on audiobook

 

Last year I attended a panel discussion featuring female leaders in STEM and one of the women said something which has been particularly memorable for me. She spoke about how being the first woman to do something means nothing if you don’t pave the way for those behind you.

Hillary talks a lot in this book about being the first female presidential nominee. After a while I kind of just wanted to roll my eyes, but you know what, women are never allowed to celebrate their accomplishments. We’re told to be humble, not to brag, and we’re perceived as vain if we talk too much about ourselves. Hillary has had many, many accomplishments and she should be able to talk about and celebrate those successes, especially in the aftermath of such a devastating loss.

Hillary was the first. But please God don’t let her be the last. I’m not even American and I was totally devastated when she lost. It was heartbreaking to watch America tear down the first candidate to ever look like me. It was terrifying that nearly half of Americans (Hillary still won the popular vote, yo) would rather have a man who incites violence and hatred as their president than a *gasp* woman!

“But her emails” – I can’t even really talk about the emails because they really are just a stupid excuse for people to hide their misogyny behind and Hillary is right when she talks about how her emails were given way too much media attention in the election. If you think her emails are worse than any of the million offensive things Trump said and did, then you need to check your privilege and priorities.

So yes, Hillary was first, and as upsetting as it was to see her lose, I do think she has tried to pave the way for those behind her. She went into more detail than I cared to know on parts of her journey and parts of the book got repetitive towards the end, but I really enjoyed hearing about all the people she met throughout her campaign and how she worked with those people to draft her policies. I was particularly moved by the group of mothers that she met with to draft her policies on gun violence. She met with the mothers of black men, women, and children that have been killed by law enforcement, such as Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin. These women formed their own coalition and campaigned with her on the road as she took on the NRA.

I was so inspired by some of the people Hillary met and worked with and I just kept thinking how awesome women are and I appreciated Hillary for shining a light on all these amazing individuals. I love that woman are taking all the insults Trump throws at them and using them as tools for empowerment. Call Hillary a nasty woman? Fine, we’ll turn it into a meaningful awareness campaign. Enact a gag order on organizations that provide abortions and try to take away our reproductive freedoms? We’ll march in the damn street.

I loved the parts of this book that Hillary devoted to talking about what it means to be a woman in politics. How she struggled to communicate in a way that wasn’t considered “offensive” for a woman. I struggle with this myself. I am passionate about equality and a lot of things make me frustrated and angry. It’s hard not to talk about them without becoming animated. When women get impassioned about things society calls them “angry” or “shrill” – whereas men are “passionate” or “charismatic”. I knew that Hillary had to act a certain way in front of the cameras. It’s so obvious at the debates that she’s putting in an effort to always be smiling and keep her voice even and soft. But it’s so damn frustrating that women can’t speak out in the way that they want because they run the risk of being labelled an “angry woman” and therefore someone who can be dismissed.

I was fascinated when she talked about her rallies and how high the energy of her crowds would be. She wanted to go out there and match the energy of the crowd, to be loud and passionate, as any man would be (seriously, think of any moving speech given by a man, they’re always loud and expressive). But she couldn’t because that’s not what people expect from a woman. Women should be able to express their passion in the same way that men do. Women should be able to show outrage without being labelled “angry”. Hillary had to work so much harder than any male nominee because she had to be so critical of every tiny thing she did and said lest she be perceived as too masculine or too feminine.

I’ve read a lot of criticism that Hillary blames Bernie for her losses in this book, but I did not find this to be the case. She mentions Bernie a few times and there is 1 or 2 (of 97!) chapters that focus on her experience running against Bernie. Of course she’s going to talk about Bernie, he was a huge part of her experience and of course she’s going to have some criticism, they ran against each other and on different platforms. Of course she feels differently than Bernie. But I don’t think it’s fair to say she blamed Bernie. She is very critical of herself in parts of this book and repeatedly blames herself for her loss and for the all the women she feels she let down as a result. She talks about the mistakes she made and the things she wishes she’d done differently.

I also loved that she talked about her policies. She is right when she talks about how little media attention her political agenda actually got during the election. Everything was focused on her emails or whatever new offensive thing Donald Trump had done most recently. I liked when she talked about fairness in reporting. In journalism you often want to remain unbiased and present both sides of the story, but this does not work when one of your candidates makes a mistake about how she sends and stores her emails and the other candidate is a sexist, racist, xenophobic menace who can’t complete a single sentence without insulting at least 3 minorities (or who honestly just can’t complete a sentence, period).

You can’t talk about Hillary’s emails in every single newscast and treat them like they have the same gravity as all of Trumps transgressions just to keep things equal. It is unfair and irresponsible. It was like Trump could do no wrong because no matter how many insulting things he said and lies he made up, the media always compared it to one of Hillary’s mistakes (ie, emails emails emails). And the media let Trump dominate the news – no matter how much he shocked you, he was bound to surprise you again. The candidates platforms were rarely covered, which is a real shame because Hillary spent an incredible amount of time hosting round tables and listening to people in order to develop her policies. I loved that this book actually gave the chance to hear Hillary talk about her policies, even if we won’t see them come to fruition. It’s too bad they got overshadowed by the rat race of the election.

So what next? Hillary was first, but I do think she has tried to pave the way for those behind her. It was a brutal and devastating defeat, but she is still optimistic about the future, so I will try to be too. It would appear that this book can only be rated 1 or 5 stars on goodreads, so 5 stars from me because Hillary Clinton is a boss lady and she still inspires me.

“never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.”