Not That Bad by Roxane Gay
Content Note: This book’s subtitle is literally “Dispatches from Rape Culture.”
Best for: Those looking for some reassurance and reminders that yes, it really is that bad.
In a nutshell: Editor Roxane Gay brings together essays from 30 people (mostly women), all of which address some part of rape culture.
“The part I wanted them to understand is that these equations can implode, constricting your whole life, until one day you’re sitting in a locked steel box breathing through an airhole with a straw and wondering, Now? Now am I safe?”
“I wonder if, when it finally stops for good, if it will be too late to relax, if the muscle memory of the harassment will keep me tense on the sidewalk forever.”
“Then they will revise backward. They will take every opinion they’ve ever heard from you, every personality train, every action, and recast them in light of what you told them. This will be particularly true of your sexual behavior and your appearance.”
Why I chose it:
I am a writer. I mean, I don’t get paid to write, but I do write. A lot. And I have this essay, still sitting in the ‘ready to pitch’ folder in Scrivener, simply called “Arm Grab,” about the time a random dude grabbed and squeezed my arm and then ran off, and what multiple encounters like that do a person over time. And before reading this book, I probably would have left it in the folder forever because it is just one in a long line of small incidents that I would have described as “not that bad.”
This is a book that can be hard to read. It isn’t 30 essays about rape, though — it’s 30 essays about the various ways that rape culture affects women and men. About street harassment, and child abuse, and date rape. Individual stories that are connected by the ways we don’t believe women, or treat them as broken, or at fault, or as liars. The ways we’re taught to be grateful that our experiences don’t matter, don’t affect the ways we navigate this world.
The essay that resonated the most with me was “Getting Home,” where author Nicole Boyce talks about how an experience led to her not feeling comfortable walking alone after dark. Like ever. And so much of what she wrote lives in my head. The fear of the sound behind me when I leave the tube station. The keys sticking out through our fingers. My confusion and then sadness when my husband and I go for a walk late in the evening and I don’t want to walk through the park because I wouldn’t do it alone, and I remember that he navigates the world without really having to make those calculations.
I’d recommend this to everyone who feels that they’re in a place where they could read it. It’s not light reading, but it wasn’t nearly as challenging a read as I thought it would be.