I have a confession: I’ve never read any Roxane Gay before I read this collection of short stories. Bad Feminist has been on my TBR for a long time…and I’m eagerly anticipating her memoir Hunger that is coming out later this year. I’m so glad I was finally able to inhale some of her writing, and I know this will be the first of many of her books I will read.
Difficult Women is a short story collection about women. Even the stories that follow a man are about the women that man interacts with more than the man himself. These stories aren’t generally happy, and there’s a quiet, pervading sense of tragedy in each. It wasn’t an easy read, by any means, but it was an important one. As it followed many different kinds of women, their stories were laced with society’s expectations for them and men’s feelings towards them, what they wanted for themselves, and how past tragedies shape their bodies and their lives (ALL trigger warnings here).
That isn’t to say, however, that there aren’t bright spots in some of the stories. Some of the men know how to love women without hurting them. Even those tender moments are laced with the tragedy that has come before that man, or the assumptions that even good men make about women, particularly when white men make assumptions about women of color. In this way, it’s not just about women, but about other complex social issues, including racism. One character is asked repeatedly if she’s from Detroit, simply because she’s a black woman teaching in a Michigan university. One character who is biracial thinks her boyfriend looks at her as brown enough to be exotic, but white enough to be acceptable. In this way, less physically violent tragedies in women’s lives are also highlighted.
I’ll be honest that I am a woman, but haven’t had to deal with many of the issues presented here. I’m a white woman, so I am privileged in the assumptions others will make about me. I have never been abused or raped, but this collection makes my heart ache for those of us who have. These fictional short stories are all too real in our world today, and I’m afraid that it isn’t going to change anytime soon. I think everyone should read this collection, men and women alike. We all need to begin to understand that sexism is still very real and prevalent in our society, and even moreso for women of color. When major countries can still elect misogynistic leaders, it’s important for us to be aware of experiences still happening far too often in our society, and to use that awareness to combat sexism and racism and the treating of women and people of color as less than. Please read this book. Embrace its stories, and understand it’s not all gloom and doom, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Have you read Difficult Women yet? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Note: I received this book from Netgalley & the publisher in exchange for a fair, honest review.