Lindy West: 'The Witches Are Coming' — And They Are Rightfully Angry

Nov 11, 2019
Originally published on November 11, 2019 6:56 am

Lindy West says it's really not fair to expect teenagers to inspire us. "They should just get to be kids, but unfortunately that's not the world that we have dropped them into," West says. "We did a bad job, and they have to shoulder a lot of fear and a lot of anxiety about the future."

West didn't call herself a feminist until she was 20. "It took me two decades to become brave enough to be angry," she writes in her new book The Witches Are Coming. But West is stepmom to two girls, ages 16 and 18, who embrace their feminism. The stigma against "angry" women still exists, of course, "but they're certainly not afraid of it," West says, "and they find a really empowering defiance in it."

West's 2016 memoir, Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, was adapted into a comedy series on Hulu which premiered earlier this spring. Now, in her new book, she explores misogyny, the #MeToo movement and what it's like to grow up female in America.

"For a long time, a certain set of men have called women like me 'witches' to silence and discredit us," West explains. This book, she says, aims "to reclaim" that term.

"Feminism is the collective manifestation of female anger," she writes. "Men suppress our anger for a reason. Let's prove them right."


Interview Highlights

On the stigmatization of female anger

We socialize girls to be nice, and compliant, and to be caregivers. ... Women's anger is stigmatized; it's caricatured. Look at how many doctored photos of Hillary Clinton or Michelle Obama looking like a demon there are out there on the Internet. People respond very, very negatively to women's anger, and there are a lot of negative consequences for showing your anger.

On standing up to online harassment

I've had my home address posted online, I've had my phone number posted online, and my email address, probably my Social Security number. ... If I were to let those people scare me away or shut me up, then they win, and what's the utility in that? I don't want that. I want to win.

On quitting Twitter ... and staying away

I was watching the way that Donald Trump uses Twitter after the election and found it just very disturbing — as a citizen, and also ... as a user of that platform. I was like, man, I don't want to be here. I don't want to be a part of this. I don't want to lend my name to the legitimacy of this platform. So that's why I quit. ... I quit because of Donald Trump.

But I stayed off Twitter because it is nicer to not be there. I was very, very good at dealing with trolls, at weathering abuse. I was incredibly good at it. But boy, is it nice to not have to. It's just such a weight off my chest.

I mean, it's possible that this is having some detrimental effect on my career. I don't know how to quantify that because I can't. But I know that for my brain and my heart, it is so much better.

On her chapter "Always Meet Your Heroes" — even though she has been disappointed by many of her own

What I mean by "Always Meet Your Heroes" is that I think it's a responsibility to pay attention to, and think critically about, where you're putting your money, and whose work you're supporting, and what sort of influence they have on the world at large — because I do think that that has ripple effects.

It's important as consumers and as ... conscious, responsible people living in the world to pay attention to that stuff and to know who your heroes are. And that's kind of what #MeToo has been about. ... It's about a sort of collective cultural shift where we sort of define our boundaries and our values together, and then we all make individual choices within that.

On not offering a "roadmap to redemption" for #MeToo offenders

Anytime there's any sort of consequence for someone who has done something bad, within five seconds, there's this sort of outpouring of concern for that person: "How are they going to come back?" "How are they going to get their career back?" And, "Oh, they've lost so much and it's not fair." And "You have to give a person a roadmap to redemption."

And my answer to that is: I don't know, why don't you troubleshoot it, see what works? I don't think that it's, like, feminists' responsibility or victims' responsibility to lay out the steps to getting your life back. Why don't you try things until people forgive you? You know, why don't you figure it out?

Mariya Amrayeva, Denise Couture and Vince Pearson produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NOEL KING, HOST:

The writer Lindy West made her name with these hilarious, scalding critiques of American culture. Her 2016 memoir, "Shrill," was a best-seller. It's also now a series on Hulu. In a new book, West takes on misogyny, asks what did the #MeToo movement really change and examines what it means to be a woman who won't be silenced. Lindy West's new book is called "The Witches Are Coming."

Lindy, thanks so much for being with us.

LINDY WEST: Thank you so much for having me.

KING: So who are these witches?

WEST: Well, it's sort of an attempt to reclaim a couple of terms that have been used to hurt us. And by us, I guess I mean women, feminists, anyone who expresses unpopular opinions. Because for a long time, a certain set of men have called women like me witches to sort of silence and discredit us. And then there's this other trend that we see a lot. When a man is accused of something bad, you know, if he is held sort of 1% accountable, people come out of the woodwork crying that this is a witch hunt, that it's not fair, that we can't just go around accusing people of things. And I got to thinking that it's not fair, really, to us...

KING: (Laughter).

WEST: ...That we have to be both witches and witch hunters. And so the title of the book is an attempt to reclaim both of those terms. Like, fine. If this is a witch hunt then I'm a witch, and I'm hunting you.

KING: Let me ask you about some of the themes that are running through this book. One of them is anger. You write that women are seething.

WEST: Yeah. I mean, I think part of the way that we socialize girls to be nice and compliant and to be caregivers and to sort of put themselves second creates a lot of frustration, especially since I think women's anger is stigmatized. People respond very, very negatively to women's anger, and there are a lot of negative consequences for showing your anger. And so I think that all of that cumulatively has led to a great frustration, a frustration at centuries of inequality and injustice. And on top of that, being told that we shouldn't be angry about it and we certainly shouldn't express that anger. I personally have found it very empowering to allow myself to be angry.

KING: But you've gotten so much pushback. I mean, you've been trolled online. You've been harassed. You've had terrible things said about you. When I think about empowering, I don't think about a whole tsunami of angry men calling me names and threatening me. It's scary. It sounds terrifying.

WEST: I've had my home address posted online. I've had my phone number posted online, my email address. But, you know, I happen to be very fortunate in that I have a safe and stable home life. I have a sort of foundation where I feel like I can weather that kind of abuse and take it as confirmation that I'm saying something that needs to be said. There's something validating even in that.

KING: As you've become more of a public figure, as you've become better known, you have gotten to meet people that you once really admired. I'm talking, in this case, about Adam Carolla and Roseanne. And you've found you don't really like these people. You find them toxic or mean, in the case of - Roseanne said something mean about you on Twitter, didn't she?

WEST: Many times. (Laughter).

KING: Many times. OK.

WEST: (Laughter).

KING: So you actually have a chapter called "Never Meet Your Heroes" (ph) or "Always Meet Your Heroes" - I can't remember.

WEST: I think it's "Always Meet Your Heroes."

KING: "Always Meet Your Heroes." But then in this book, they do let you down.

WEST: What I mean by always meet your heroes is, it's a responsibility to pay attention to and think critically about whose work you're supporting and what sort of influence they have on the world at large. Because I do think that that has ripple effects. And that's kind of what #MeToo has been about, you know? It's like, what do we do? What do we do with Michael Jackson?

KING: Yeah.

WEST: What do we do with Woody Allen? It's a really complicated, really important thing to engage with right now.

KING: What is your answer to that, though?

WEST: I think there's this impulse right now to be very stringent about everything and say this person's problematic and you have to cancel them and avoid them forever. Obviously, some things are sort of beyond the pale. But there are a lot of kinds of mistakes that can, I think, be atoned for. And I don't know the answer. I don't know the exact road map. That's kind of what we're figuring out in this moment. It's, like, what is the road to atonement?

One thing that's happened a lot since #MeToo is, again, anytime there's any sort of consequence for someone who has done something bad, within five seconds, there's this sort of outpouring of concern for that person and, how are they going to come back, and how are they going to get their career back, and they've lost so much and it's not fair. And my answer to that is, I don't know, why don't you troubleshoot it? See what works. (Laughter). I don't think that it's feminists' responsibility or victims' responsibility to lay out the steps to getting your life back. I think, why don't you try things until people forgive you?

KING: Has anyone done it well, do you think?

WEST: I don't know. Maybe. That's a great question. No one springs to mind. (Laughter).

KING: Yeah. Me, either.

WEST: (Laughter). But at the same time, has anyone really lost much? You know, has anyone actually gone away? I know that there are court cases pending for various people. I think that the concern is sometimes a little bit disingenuous and overblown. Because, for example, Louis C.K. just announced - I don't know, a national stand-up tour? Like, what are these dire consequences that everyone is so worried about? What does it even mean to be cancelled if you're back on the road five minutes later?

KING: You write about your family a bit. You're a stepmom to two girls. How old are they?

WEST: They are 16 and 18.

KING: Sixteen and 18. OK. So what is it like to be raising a 16-year-old girl and an 18-year-old girl in this world where, everywhere you look, you see evidence of misogyny?

WEST: I mean, it's terrifying. (Laughter).

KING: Yeah?

WEST: It's absolutely (laughter) terrifying. But it's also wonderful. And for the most part, they're so smart and they're responsible, and they're politically engaged in a way that I wasn't when I was a teenager. And so yes, we're putting them out there into this world that's full of misogyny. But it's better than it was when I was their age because there was so much that we didn't talk about then that we didn't know how to articulate yet or that wasn't mainstream.

You know, feminism has been mainstreamed to a staggering degree relative to where it was when I was their age. My daughters are not afraid to call themselves feminists whatsoever. And not that that stigma doesn't still exist, but they're certainly not - (laughter), they're certainly not afraid of it.

KING: Lindy West, thank you so much for joining us.

WEST: Thank you so much for having me.

KING: Lindy's new book is called "The Witches Are Coming." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.