Dietland by Sarai Walker
Okay, there are parts of this book that I absolutely loved. And I loved most of the message, of empowerment and living your life as it is now – not waiting until you’re thinner / have a partner / have the perfect job. But man, were there some parts that I found to be ill advised at least.
Plum works for a major magazine aimed at teen girls, responding to “Dear Kitty” letters, offering advice. Plum is also around 300 pounds, and will be having stomach stapling surgery in a few months. She does her work in a café, where she notices a young woman is following her.
Then things start to happen for Plum, possibly changing her worldview. Meanwhile, across the US and the UK, a movement is rising, targeting misogyny. Rapists are murdered; magazine editors are blackmailed to replace images of naked women with images of naked men. The public is wondering who is behind this – and the reader is wondering if there is any connection to Plum’s new friends.
That’s the basics, and I won’t spoil the rest. But I will take issue with a few things:
• Part of Plum’s empowerment involves weaning herself off of antidepressants. Which is fine, but the way Ms. Walker (the author) treats this topic, it feels vaguely … Scientology – esque in its disdain for antidepressants. There isn’t even a throw-away line about how some people really need them, but Plum doesn’t anymore; it’s just accepted that clearly the medication she is taking is bad. I’m not sure if Ms. Walker meant to give this impression, but it’s the one I got.
• One target of the “Jennifer” movement is the way women are depicted in music videos, as shown by blackmail that shuts down a hip hop video station. That just seemed a bit … well, racist. Rock and country videos all have their own share of misogynistic undertones – and overtones, but the fact that our society chooses to only call out an art form that is made up of primarily Black artists is telling. Once again, the author made a choice, and where she could have chosen a broader music video station, she chose one that has some racial undertones. I don’t know if she was even aware of the implications of that choice, but it really stood out to me.
• There are obviously real moral implications about the “Jennifer” movement of vigilantism. But one of the targets is a female porn star and that, coupled with myriad other statements made me wonder whether Ms. Walker is a SWERF (sex worker exclusionary radical feminist). I appreciate the focus on how porn can skew one’s view of what healthy sex is, but my goodness Ms. Walker seems to think that all sex workers are the devil and deserve death. I can’t get on board with that outlook at all. I think there could be a more interesting discussion here, but it’s just accepted as fact in the book, and it really took me out of the story I was reading.
Okay, setting those glaring issues aside, I do think it’s an interesting book, and one that is definitely worth a read for men and women alike. It explores our ideas of misogyny, and it looks at our feelings about vigilante justice. If society creates a world where women are objects, and men treat us that way without repercussions, is it only a matter of time before women literally fight back?