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.