You Don't Have to Like Me: Essays on Growing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding Feminism

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9780142181683: You Don't Have to Like Me: Essays on Growing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding Feminism

"Hilarious...[Nugent] documents her journey to feminism while skewering misogynist tropes and delivering some painful truths." –Publishers Weekly (starred review)
 
“Feminist” is not a four-letter word, but Alida Nugent resisted it for a long time. She feared the “scarlet F” being thrust upon her for refusing to laugh at misogynistic jokes at parties; she withered under the judgmental gaze of store clerks when buying Plan B, and she swore that she was “not like other girls.” But eventually, like so many of us, she discovered that feminism is an empowering identity to take on. It’s okay to criticize beauty standards but still love dark lipstick, investing in female friendships is the most rewarding thing ever, and no one should feel pressured to eat an “unseasoned chicken breast the size of a deck of playing cards” as every sad dinner for the rest of eternity.
 
With sincerity, intelligence, and wit, Nugent invites readers in to her most private moments of personal growth. From struggling with an eating disorder for most of her teen years to embracing all aspects of her biracial identity, she tackles tough topics with honest vulnerability. Smartly-written, unapologetic, and laugh-out-loud funny, You Don’t Have to Like Me is perfect for readers of Roxane Gay, Rebecca Skolnit, and Sloane Crosley.

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About the Author:

Alida Nugent currently resides in Brooklyn, where she wears dark lipstick, eats sandwiches, and tries to find dive bars that serve martinis. She is also the author of Don't Worry, It Gets Worse.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***

Copyright © 2015 Alida Nugent

Introduction


It’s an unseasonably warm winter morning, and I am in a good mood. The first thing I see when I arrive at work, twenty minutes late, is an e-mail. The subject line reads “Be Safe,” and it is e-addressed to three of my girlfriends.

“Hey,” it begins. Innocuous start. I am intrigued because the last time this friend sent me an e-mail, it was about paying her forty dollars for an all-you-can-drink brunch in Lower Manhattan.

“Looks like there was an attempted assault in your neighborhood.” I nod slowly and sip my coffee, like go on, you have my attention. “Just be extra vigilant.” It ends with a news link, as proof. I click it.

A man pushed a woman down to the ground while she was walking on the same block on which I buy my eggs, and she was now in the hospital. I think about myself on that block, hands full with bags of chips, Brie, and diet ginger ale.

The woman would survive, the article said, but her attacker had gotten away. The police released a description whose sole detail was the fact that the man “wore a sweatshirt.” The comments in the article were about how stupid the woman was for walking home so late. Again, I think about myself, walking home tipsy from two-martini happy hour. I think about two a.m., when I don’t have enough money in my wallet for a cab. I think about risk.

My friend Caroline responds to this e-mail first. “I walk that way a lot. This makes me VERY NERVOUS.” For once, I don’t find the caps overkill.

I pitch in next: “Guess it’s good I already hold my keys like they’re Wolverine claws!” I add a little humor to mask what I really want to say: “I’m always afraid of walking alone at night.” “Do we have to be worried everywhere we go?” And, of course:

“It could have been me.”

These are thoughts I have all too frequently, not just when something happens on my block, or in Brooklyn, or in New York. It’s because this type of story is unavoidable anywhere you are. Every time you read the news or turn on the TV, it’s like some sort of monstrous Groundhog Day: assaults that happen to women on a college campus, or on a street, or in the house of someone they trusted, or while on a jog around the neighborhood. And every day, we read these stories silently, at our desks or on our phones, finding reasons why it wouldn’t have been us.

Well, I don’t really walk home that late. I usually take a cab. I try not to get too drunk. I try not to take drinks from other people. I am so good at following my gut. I am so vigilant. I look behind me, even when I’m wearing headphones.

But still, we know the truth. We know that it could always, always, be us. Or it was us. Or it was our best friend, or sister, or roommate. We know that walking late could be six p.m. or one a.m. We know that our gut is sometimes wrong. We know that we like to drink, and have fun, and meet new people. We know that we can always be wrong about the people we let our guard down around. We know why we are always scared.

So, to make us feel safer, we give each other tips.

Women are full of tips. There are good tips, like which translucent powder to use and how to wear the right Spanx for particular dresses. There are recommendations of cheap yoga places and lunch spots and lemony olive oil. There are other tips—never leave your drink unattended, give your friends the address of the restaurant where you’re meeting that guy—that are more about preserving life than hairstyles. Both are normal and needed.

At the very least, these tips serve to remind me how completely absurd it is to be a woman these days. In the same GChat conversation, you can talk about the best way to use a curling iron, and whether pepper spray is legal in your state. The answer is to curl some pieces of hair toward your face and other pieces away from your face, and in New York State, at least, it is legal. Or you might talk about the best shows to watch on Netflix when you are hungover, followed by how to turn down a drink in a way that is both nice and assertive enough to end the conversation. The answer to this is Gilmore Girls, and that you are going sober for your boyfriend, Fast and Furious franchise star Vin Diesel.

I should point out that these frustrating ironies of modern womanhood don’t affect how much I love being a woman. When I wear the suggested powder and it doesn’t fade all day, and I come home with a porcelain-doll face with no creases or oil slicks, I feel on top of the world. When I get to dance to “All the Single Ladies,” or have a girls’ night out where I shovel goat cheese salads into my face, or read about other greater women like Malala Yousafzai, I’m pretty thrilled to be a woman. However, with these triumphs comes the reminder that women have only been able to vote in the United States for less than one hundred years, or that in 2010, two-thirds of the world’s illiterate were women, or, according to RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), a woman is sexually assaulted every 107 seconds. So. The world feels less like “how lovely to be a woman!” and more like “being a woman is objectively worse in the scheme of things!”

The night of the e-mail chain, I had to walk down that same street where the woman was jumped. On that short walk home, I was reminded of how much more real my fear of the dark is, now that I am older. Each time I step off the subway and make the five-minute walk to my door, I feel nervous. I look for safety points that put my mind at ease. People with baby carriages, couples, street lights, open stores, and other women. I find myself behind a shadowy figure who turns sharply at the sound of my boot heels approaching. She is a pretty Asian girl in absolutely stellar maroon pants. Both of us relax and half-smile when our eyes meet. We are relieved. We continue walking in a distant single file, feeling the safety in numbers.

I think about her, my friends, my roommate waiting for me when I close the door behind me, and all the women in my life that send me e-mails and give me tips. We are each other ’s relief in a world where relief is hard to come by.

It took me a long time to call myself a feminist. It took me an even longer time to say it out loud. And after that happened, I had to start explaining myself to people. A lot. This can be fun if you’re the type of person who, every once in a while, likes it when people tell you to your face why they think you’re an idiot.

Calling yourself a feminist is like making a comment on the Internet in real life: there’s always somebody who is going to disagree with your beliefs, and that person is going to express this disagreement with great passion and little digs at your life choices. Some people won’t like you as much anymore. You will be uncomfortable and end up learning nasty truths about some people you thought you respected. Believe me: I’ve dropped the f-bomb at parties, when I’ve mistaken two glasses of whiskey for comfort. Rookie mistake! Parties are awful and you should never be comfortable at them. And if you are looking for a surefire way to turn a comfortable party into a very alcohol-fueled romp through gender politics, bring up feminism.

It happens the same way pretty much every time. I’ll be in a conversation with a group of people about something topical. These people seem pretty cool, I think. One of them has a nose ring, which has been on my cool barometer since 1992. Then, I wave my crudité around and say something like, “Well, as a feminist, I think that . . .” and . . . give it, like, three seconds. Sometimes the convo will go well. Sometimes people will go “tell me more,” and we will pour more wine into mismatched cups and talk about street harassment. But usually . . .

“Whoa, whoa a feminist!” A guy will shake his hands at me in mock fear, as though I will perhaps suddenly get on a soapbox and pour menstrual blood all over him in protest.

Inevitably, this is followed by: “So, why are you a feminist?” I used to open my mouth immediately after this question but now I wait juuuust a millisecond for the inevitable fallout.

“I get that men and women should be equal, man, but you guys just have such a bad rep! You don’t want women and men to be equal, you want women to be BETTER, right?”

Well. If you are worried about the effects of feminism and you are a man, it’s probably because you are worried that men will start to be treated like women have been treated since the dawn of time. Which makes you nervous, no doubt. Now burn me! Burn me at the stake like the witch that I am!

Every once in a while another woman joins in: “Oh, I’m not a feminist. I believe in some of the things feminism stands for, but I’m not nearly that extreme,” as though the concept of equality is as Xtreme as pulling off a snowboard trick while drinking a Mountain Dew on a real mountain.

When a woman says she’s not a feminist, I always get a little thrown off guard. It’s literally for her. But, instead, I hear this:

“Oh, I don’t like to call myself a feminist—I love men!”

Yes. Okay. Men are great. They smell good. They play baseball in stadiums that have good hamburgers and beer. I have no qualms with many of the men in the world! I only have qualms with men who call me babe in casual conversation, men who sit with their legs spread on the subway, and men who think that being good at football means you are allowed to kill people. Anyway, what I’m saying is that you can love men if you want to. You can feel however you want about them. Equality has nothing to do with loving or hating them. And it has everything to do with feminism.

I think there are usually two reasons why women say they
aren’t feminists. One is because they don’t know what it means. The other is because they want to be liked by people. I get this. I generally love being liked, especially by friends’ parents, cute old people, and every dog I encounter. As a woman, we place a lot of our stock into being liked. We are supposed to be liked, and agreeable, and demure. Seen and not heard. We aren’t supposed to be disruptive. Saying you are a feminist means you want more. Women and Oliver Twist should never want more! It’s not ladylike (or orphanlike). We are supposed to be happy. Say yes. Nod along. The truth is, most of the time, women don’t want to publicly declare themselves feminists because of good old-fashioned not-interested-in-going-there syndrome. Feminism, after all, is a very unlikeable word. Feminism is standing behind you, screaming that your body hair needs to grow out. Feminism is yelling at all your favorite men, calling them disgusting and spitting at their genitals. Feminism is rude!

This, of course, is wrong. Very wrong. I’m talking Crocs when it’s raining, people who are sure that Dumbledore will make it through Harry Potter alive, and those who think it’s appropriate to leave less than 15 percent tip at dinner wrong. Feminism isn’t wrong. Feminism is important.

And that’s why I’m writing this book. For years, I treaded lightly around the word because I didn’t want to deal with people’s reactions. I worried about being liked more than I worried about being right, or tough, or honest. I made a living as a blogger, and then as an author, and I still feared saying it. I mean, I wrote publicly about how sex was like throwing an octopus against the wall and yet here I was, unable to utter the word. I was a real human woman who could really benefit from the declaration, and I was still afraid. Then, after I got tired of a great many things, I got a lot more scared of my disadvantages than the actual word “feminism.”

Whenever I hear feminism defined, I sometimes want to go all Princess Bride on their ass: “No, no, no. I do not think you know what that word means.” Given that so many graduation speeches begin with “Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines
‘blank’ as . . . ,” you’d think people would look up the definition of feminism more often. But, instead, we get a bunch of half-assed sloppy explanations that come down to stereotypes and fear. If you’ve taken any gender studies class, this might be a bit repetitive but it always bears repeating:

Feminism: the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.

You see that? Equality! A novel concept! You see, the true definition of feminism is not

· eating men for supper with fava beans and a nice Chianti;
· shipping men off to a remote island and making them fight each other for our entertainment, like the Hunger Games but with less kid death;
· shunning women who choose to do traditional, old-fashioned things like “cook dinner” or “raise a baby” or “like men”;
· yelling at men for doing real caveman stuff like opening the door or helping us with the groceries;
· telling you how to be a woman.

When it is at its best, feminism points out problematic men and women and problematic behavior. It tells women that they are allowed to take control over their own bodies, what they look like, and whom they have sex with. It points out what is wrong with the world. It points out the ugly. It points out the frightening. It points out that women are mistreated often, both in tangible and intangible ways. It talks about difficult things that need addressing. It shines bright lights into society, into the world, and right smack into your damn party. The hard truth is this: we all know women and men aren’t treated equally across the world. We can Google this in two seconds and find real statistics about these differences, easily. So, the truth is this: if you are not a feminist because you believe you have it good, you’re saying, “I have all I need, and I don’t care that other women don’t.”

The point is, you need to be willing to go there.

To me, feminism means getting a fair shot. It doesn’t mean taking things away from other people. It doesn’t mean the death of men. It means that in the grand scheme of humanity, it doesn’t make sense that women aren’t treated as human as other humans. It means that all the women in your life deserve the careers they want, and they deserve to be compensated equally. It means that people will be held accountable for sexual assault. It means that women will be looked at as decision makers. It means that women will feel like their own bodies belong to them. It’s not man-hating. It just means we no longer want to put up with bullshit, and with every girl who is told she’s “asking for it,” our bullshit tolerance is getting lower and lower. It’s all sensible adjustments to culture—I don’t expect women to become Amazonian warriors à la Mad Max. They will not be trotting down the streets, spearing white men in suits. They will simply be an equal part of the conversation. Equality is the key word. If I give a dollar and ask for change, you get four quarters and not three. The same. SAME.

There’s another thing that I believe rounds out the definition: choice. Feminism is fighting for the choice to make informed decisions about your life and body.

There’s no right or wrong way to be a woman, or approach...

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