As a wonderful Awakenings intern and an astute writer and journalist, Emma Dempsey now contributes a review of Lindy West’s newest essay collection to The Nightingale. Accessible and engaging, Dempsey lends some of the fun that West uses in her essays to her own observations of West’s writing, moving through anecdotes alongside the criticism the collection has to offer. Dempsey frames this range of topics neatly in her ability to discern the through-line of West’s writings and leaves us with a call to action as well as a call in to a feminism rooted in righteousness.
West Wants Us to Join the Witch Hunt
by Emma Dempsey
The witches are coming, so you better grab your brooms.
With her essay collection The Witches Are Coming, best-selling author and feminist activist Lindy West deconstructs trends across American pop culture and politics from comedy to climate change, twitter trolls to Tr*mp. Her wit will make you laugh, even while her brutally honest critiques about American attitudes leave you seething. West knows we’re angry, as we should be; there’s plenty to be angry about. But instead of letting us shrug that anger off (as women are often trained to do), she encourages us to use our anger as a weapon.
West opens by detailing an exchange between her husband and a man she calls LarryBarry. LarryBarry approaches West’s husband at a bar and laments a loss of freedom. That is, the freedom to encroach on women’s bodies, to encroach on our actual freedoms. Men like LarryBarry, West writes, “are confusing being asked not to violate other people’s sexual boundaries with being forbidden to participate in basic human activities such as dancing, dating, chatting, walking around, going to work, and telling jokes.”
But of course, men like LarryBarry, like our own President, who find themselves facing accusations, are really just victims of a senseless witch hunt. Or so they say. And West is happy to give them what they want: “So fine, if you insist. This is a witch hunt. We’re witches, and we’re hunting you.”
West’s writing is poignant and funny, and she isn’t afraid to call people on their bullshit. “Choosing a Lie” calls into question the origins of internet sensation Grumpy Cat’s name, Tard (allegedly short for tardar sauce). West points out that Americans would rather accept a comfortable lie than recognize an uncomfortable truth. They’ll choose the lie because it means they can go on ignoring Grumpy Cat’s real (offensive) name, as well as the racism, sexism, classism and countless other -isms that plague our society.
She goes on to point out the sickening double standards for women and men when it comes to “likability” in her essay “Ted Bundy Was Not Charming—Are You High?” West remarks that Ted Bundy—a literal murderer—is praised for his “charm” and “brilliance” by the same people debating Elizabeth Warren’s likability. Men can get away with anything from murdering to “grabbing women by the pussy” and still be liked. Women, on the other hand, are subject to much more scrutiny. Wear the wrong shoes, part your hair the wrong way, raise your voice, have kids, don’t have kids…almost anything you do could make you an “unlikable” woman. With such standards for likability, we’re better off giving up on being likable. We’re better off getting angry.
“Anger is a Weapon” reminds us that even the coolest, calmest, most collected women don’t win. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony against Brett Kavanaugh is a perfect example. So West asks, “If we lose either way, why the fuck shouldn’t we just let our anger out?”
As much as I enjoyed West’s essays, I sometimes felt like I wasn’t the intended audience. I didn’t grow up on Adam Sandler. I’ve never seen South Park. I’d heard of Joan Rivers but couldn’t remember exactly who she was. So even with Google by my side, some of West’s critiques missed their mark. That’s not to say they weren’t powerful pieces. They just weren’t as meaningful to me as some of the other chapters. I want to point this out to other readers my age to remind them that even though it might be hard to connect to some of West’s essays, the book is still worth the read.
Aside from a handful of chapters, a lot of what she had to say resonated deeply with me. West spoke to cultural and political phenomena that let Tr*mp into office and lets him continue to spew hate and lies under the guise of leadership. And it made me angry.
But it’s not enough to just get angry. We can no longer afford to turn a blind eye. We don’t have the luxury of plausible deniability. We’re getting angry, and we’re going hunting. As West says, “The witches are coming, but not for your life. We’re coming for your lies. We’re coming for your legacy. We’re coming for our future.”
The Witches Are Coming is available to order online from independent bookstores like Women & Children First Bookstore, one of the largest feminist bookstores in the country, and Semicolon Bookstore & Gallery, the only Black woman-owned bookstore in Chicago.
Emma is a rising senior at Loyola University Chicago, where she is studying journalism and women’s studies & gender studies. She likes to call herself an avid reader, but she spends more time reading Twitter than books. Emma also spends much of her free time playing quidditch.