Published November 2019 by Hatchette Books
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review
THIS IS A WITCH HUNT.
AND WE'RE HUNTING YOU.
From the moment powerful men started falling to the #MeToo movement, the lamentations began: this is feminism gone too far, this is injustice, this is a witch hunt. In The Witches Are Coming, firebrand author of the New York Times bestselling memoir and now critically acclaimed Hulu TV series Shrill, Lindy West, turns that refrain on its head. You think this is a witch hunt? Fine. You've got one.
In a laugh-out-loud, incisive cultural critique, West extolls the world-changing magic of truth, urging readers to reckon with dark lies in the heart of the American mythos, and unpacking the complicated, and sometimes tragic, politics of not being a white man in the twenty-first century. She tracks the misogyny and propaganda hidden (or not so hidden) in the media she and her peers devoured growing up, a buffet of distortions, delusions, prejudice, and outright bullsh*t that has allowed white male mediocrity to maintain a death grip on American culture and politics-and that delivered us to this precarious, disorienting moment in history.
West writes, "We were just a hair's breadth from electing America's first female president to succeed America's first black president. We weren't done, but we were doing it. And then, true to form-like the Balrog's whip catching Gandalf by his little gray bootie, like the husband in a Lifetime movie hissing, 'If I can't have you, no one can'-white American voters shoved an incompetent, racist con man into the White House.
" We cannot understand how we got here-how the land of the free became Trump's America-without examining the chasm between who we are and who we think we are, without fact-checking the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and each other. The truth can transform us; there is witchcraft in it. Lindy West turns on the light.
Lindy West is a superhero. She’s who I want to be when I grow up. She is fierce and articulate and funny as hell. Also, she is right. Only in the meaning that she is correct, of course. Because she is almost as far from the right as you can possibly be. So if you tend to be on the other end of the spectrum, I’m fairly certain that you are not going to like this book at all. Although, you probably gave up on this blog about three years ago if you are.
The Witches Are Coming is not as personal as West’s previous book, Shrill, but I got no less a sense of who West is as a person and why she is so fired up.
“”Witch” is something we call a woman who demands the benefit of the doubt, who speaks the truth, who punctures the con, who kills your joy if your joy is killing. A witch has power and power in women isn’t’ likable, it’s ugly, cartoonish. But to not assert our power – even if we fail – is to let them do it. This new truth telling, this witchcraft of ours, by definition cannot be likable. We cannot pander or wait for consensus; the world is too big and complicated and rigged.”In this collection of essays, West acknowledges that we all may have done some things in our pasts that, in retrospect, seem inappropriate and maybe even heartless; but also that we're products of a time and place, both personally and as a country.
“From makeover shows I learned that I was ugly. From romantic comedies I learned that stalking means he loves you and persistence means he earned you, and also that I was ugly. From Disney movies I learned that if I made my waist small enough, a man or large hog-bear might marry me and let me sit quietly in his castle until death. From sitcoms I learned that it’s a wife’s job to be hot and a husband’s job to be funny. From The Smurfs I learned that boys can have seventy-eight possible personalities and girls can have one, which is “high heels.” From The Breakfast Club I learned that rage and degradation are the selling points of an alluring bad boy, not the red flags of an abuser (and the thing is I STILL WANT HIM). From pretty much all film and TV I learned that complicated women are “crazy” and complicated men are geniuses.”At the same time, she’s not accepting any excuses for that and offers this to help us avoid falling into that trap again: “Maybe the only thing to do, when you are one speck in an ungovernable community of nearly eight billion people on this planet, is to always keep an eye trained on the deep why of things: Why do I like this? Where is this impulse coming from? Am I telling the truth to myself about myself?"
What West is demanding in this book is that we do better. That we stop attacking people for their activism, that we stop “choosing the comfortable over what is right,” that women stop chasing likability so that we can do the real work, that we stop accepting the idea that someone being “offended” is a “dishonest, manipulative way to overstate “hurt feelings,” that social media “make their platforms safe, constructive, and non-Nazi-infested for all users, that we stop ostracizing those who speak out, that men speak up for women and white people speak up for minorities, that we stop allowing one minority group (that would be Christianity) to “implement legislation that impedes other people’s freedom,” that we stop treating liberal values as “inherently frivolous, dishonest, a joke.” Yeah, she’s got a lot to say. And she defends it all so well. I need to buy a copy of this book, transfer my highlights into it, and then carry it with me everywhere so I can pull it out as a reference whenever I find myself in one of those conversations where I just can’t put into words why what I’m saying is valid.
Perhaps it’s best if I let West do the talking:
“If we’re going to pull our country and our planet back from the brink, we have to start living the truth. We have to start calling things by their real names: racism is racism, sexism is sexism, mistakes are mistakes, and they can be rectified if we do the work.”
“The witches are coming, but not for your life. We’re coming for your lies. We’re coming for your legacy.”