Book Review: 100 Times: A Memoir of Sexism by Chavisa Woods

100 Times: A Memoir of Sexism – Chavisa Woods (Seven Stories Press, 2020)

I received an Advance Uncorrected Proof of this book from the publisher. All opinions are my own. On sale June 25, 2020.

Let me begin by telling you: Read this book.

The concept is deceptively simple. Chavisa Woods records one hundred times that she has experienced or witnessed sexism in her life. The incidents follow chronologically, the earliest occurring at age 5 and the most recent happening to her while she was writing this book. It’s not an exhaustive list but it feels very comprehensive. Some incidents are small and funny. Some are longer and more complicated. Some are violent. (And Woods doesn’t shy away from descriptions of sexual assault, rape, and other violence.) Many take place with strangers but many occur between Woods and men she knows, in places and situations where she expects to be safe.

As I read, I stuck a post-it note on the page every time I recalled an experience of my own with sexism (pictured above). My stories weren’t necessarily the same or even that related to what Woods described on the page but it certainly wasn’t hard to think of my own. It reminded me of a few years back when a viral video showed a young woman walking around the city (of New York, I believe it was). She used video and audio to record every incidence of sexual harassment she experienced while walking for a few hours. A male friend of mine shared this video on Facebook; he was horrified and, I think, wanted reassurance that this was uncommon. Not a single woman I spoke to about the video was surprised.

Along with detailing these 100 times, Woods delves into the ways that women attempt to self-correct, self-protect, and the ways in which we doubt ourselves. In one incident, Woods tells the story of a man she was friends with who continually crossed the line in his behaviour toward her. After confronting him and talking it through, she hoped to continue their friendship. But when he continues to ignore her boundaries – going so far as to attempt to grab her breasts in a bar – she cuts ties with him. The man sees her as irrational but Woods knows she’s right to do so.

But this wasn’t even the first time he’d done something like this, or the second or the fifth or sixth. And I think that a lot of men fail to understand that this is not fun for me to write. It’s not fun or exciting for me to be mad at him. I don’t want this attention.

There is a sense of exhaustion that pervades this book. For her entire life, Woods has been dealing with sexism in large and small ways and she’s tired of it but also feels powerless to change the world. She is tired of saying, “No, not all men” or arguing with men who insist that they too have experienced the same kind of sexism. After one section where someone close to Woods is attacked in an attempted rape, Woods writes this:

The man who attacked my friend didn’t want her money. He didn’t want her things. He wanted access to her and was willing to kill her for it. And that is a knowledge women carry with us when we’re walking down the street alone. This could happen to any of us and has happened to too many of us.

Women, we know this, don’t we? We don’t jog at night. We take taxis instead of walking a reasonable distance because we are told not to walk alone at night. (Something that Woods reminds the reader more than once is actually impossible.) I appreciated too that Woods brought to my attention my own biases. She’s very honest about what she’s wearing and how much she drank in various situations. She’s honest about her own sexual behaviour and her life as a queer woman. Because it doesn’t matter. Because her outfits or her own preferences are irrelevant to whether or not a strange man (or a man she knows) is allowed to put his hands on her body without her permission. I found myself thinking a couple times, Maybe she should be more careful, as I read, but each time I stopped and was reminded that the problem isn’t where Woods walked or who she was with. The problem is that too many men treat women differently. Too many men think they can dominate women. Some of the stories are men who think they’re admiring women; Woods tells a funny but frustration story of a man who interrupts her reading on the subway (Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit, ironically) to tell her how much he loves women.

It’s easy to get angry reading a book like this. But I hope that this will be a call-out to men and women to make all of us more aware of the sexism that pervades our society. Again, I say, you should read this book.

15 thoughts on “Book Review: 100 Times: A Memoir of Sexism by Chavisa Woods”

  1. I feel as though I would get very angry reading this, because like you said, I am sure it will also bring up a lot of harassment I have suffered first or second hand that I honestly don’t wish to relive, considering I still experience it too often. However, I wish this would get into men’s hands, because I am also sick of having the argument of, “no, not all men,” and just being told that they too experience sexism. I don’t think they want to know all of the ways we experience sexism because the truth that most men don’t want to face is, it *can’t* be compared. I hope this book will reach a lot of people who really need it, it sounds like it could benefit a lot of people.

    1. I completely agree with you! At times this was hard to read but I think it’s so important and I really want men to read it. I wish Woods didn’t have to spend so much of the book explaining that, “no, not all men…” but I also see why she did and I think it was with the goal and hope that men would read this. It was also good for me to read her perspective and experiences of sexism and harassment as a queer person because that’s different from my own experience.

  2. Whenever I read about a book like this, or a book like this, I always find myself nodding. Men always act surprised when they hear the staggering statistics; the majority of women have been sexually harassed multiple times in their lives, typically starting at a very young age. And yet, they’re all shrugging their shoulders, acting like they aren’t the problem, meanwhile, most of them have been perpetrators without even realizing it! We need more books like this, good on ya for bringing more attention to it.

    1. What’s really eye-opening about a collection of stories like this is that there are many that are relatively “mild” but when you see them all together you realize how they add up and how women become so used to these incidences. Woods also does a good point of drawing attention to how men don’t necessarily do these things in front of other men so while women are fully aware of it, men remain oblivious. It’s a very compelling book.

    2. They don’t, even a lot of the milder forms. I remember when my husband and I were dating, I got cat-called on the street when he bent down to tie his shoe and he was shocked while my reaction was more, “Yeah, that’s pretty common.” Woods tells a pretty funny story in the book about a time when a male friend witnessed another man harassing her.

  3. Wow, this sounds REALLY good and worthwhile. I like that you mention finding instances where you were reminded of your own experiences, which really drives home how commonplace sexism is, and the sense that the reader can relate to the writer’s story definitely adds to the appeal. I hadn’t heard of this one before, but I’m adding it to my TBR now. Great review!

    1. It’s very good! I hope you get a chance to read it. Yes, it really does drive home how common this is, especially the stuff that most women are so used to we don’t even think about it anymore. My stories aren’t her stories but it was dishearteningly easy to think of my own.

  4. Back when I first started Grab the Lapels, Woods’s book Love Does Not Make Me Gentle or Kind. I thought there was something special about her writing in a way that I couldn’t pin down as a new blogger, but I friended her on Facebook and we followed each other for a long time (I’ve since deleted Facebook, and she wasn’t active on there a ton). I remember her profile picture was her, sitting back to a fence, lighting a cigarette with a tiny American flag. Here is my baby blogger review from 2013! https://grabthelapels.com/2013/08/07/love-does-not-make-me-gentle-or-kind/

    1. Oh neat! I’d never heard of her before. It sounds like this collection is much less abstract. She has another short story collection that looks really interesting too.

  5. This is almost too scary to read. Still it needs to be published and read otherwise people will not know. I will get a copy at the bookstore when it comes out. Thank you for the review. I too have experienced similar events across the world. Sexism is everywhere.

    1. Thanks for reading. Woods is very honest and unflinching and it is hard to read at times, especially if you’ve experienced similar. I found it more eye-opening than scary but each reader has their own reaction. I hope people, especially men, read this. I hope you’re able to enjoy it when you do.

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