Lindy West: ‘Find the nice people and just don’t care what the dicks think’

We spoke to America’s bravest columnist

Lindy West is one of the most badass people on the internet.

She wrote about being a “fat bride” at her wedding – cue months of merciless trolling. She went after comedians who tell rape jokes – cue months of rape threats. And in her new book she writes with a remarkable, raw honesty about the abortion she had in her twenties – cue me standing in the lobby of The Standard Hotel in Lower Manhattan, waiting to meet her to ask how the fuck she has the courage to do all this cool, necessary, inspiring stuff.

As soon as we sit down it’s like I’ve known her for years. She asks if she can buy me a drink, laughing as she asks if that’s “immoral.” Lindy is a writer for The Guardian and Jezebel, a comedic feminist and fat acceptance activist who is currently on tour promoting the book ‘Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman.’

I spoke to her about the backlash she has faced online, what she thinks of Hillary, and what she would say to a room full of college girls about abortion.

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A big topic in your book is rape jokes in comedy. What are your thoughts on people using rape as a metaphor – as this recent post on The Odyssey did – or using it for a laugh?

It’s definitely not necessary to use it as a metaphor. I avoid comparing things to rape that aren’t rape because it’s really important to be clear about what rape is. It’s something that has a huge impact on a huge swath of our society that’s not taken seriously. When something is being obfuscated on that level, culturally, we have an obligation not to chip away at its seriousness by using it cavalierly or as a thought experiment.

Especially if you’re a 20-something white male college student who hasn’t experienced sexual assault – not that men don’t, men certainly do – but if you haven’t and you’re using that as a rhetorical tool to make a cheap point, it’s kind of violent and cruel. As a responsible human being you should make an effort to be impeccable with your words.

Do you think comedy has progressed at all in this respect?

I think we’ve progressed a little bit in the last couple years. But there certainly are still plenty of comics who think like that and most comics aren’t high profile enough that a story like that would make the news. Generally – even if they haven’t accepted and internalized the idea that rape is a complicated, traumatic subject – a lot of comedians have at least internalized that they will be yelled at by feminists and they seek to avoid that. So even if we’ve just frightened them into being more careful, that’s still a win.

You’ve encountered a lot of internet trolling, which is hard for many people to understand. Tell me about a particular time that has stuck with you.

The aftermath of going on TV to discuss rape jokes was a hugely traumatic experience. It feels like it was a solid month of thousands of men saying the most vile, horrifying things to me, for something as innocuous as criticizing stand up comedy.

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Lindy created a 4min video of her reading comments saying she should be raped after her debate

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A brief sample of the kinds of comments she received

I still feel that – I don’t go to comedy clubs anymore, except for my friends’ shows. But it’s just ongoing no matter what I write. I still get harassment because I made a video four years ago about candy corn flavored Oreos. I still get harassed on YouTube, it’s insane.

Your work is primarily your own experiences made available to your readers. Would you do it again? How much of your personal life are you glad is out here?

Part of me wishes I could go back and maintain some anonymity, but also not. People have connected with my writing more strongly than they would if I was just a name – that’s important to me. I couldn’t have done that successfully otherwise. I don’t think I would change that.

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I was thinking the other day that the way to do it is to be like Sia where you wear a weird wig: no one knows what your face looks like but she’s still vulnerable. I was thinking, damn should have started this out with a Sia wig – too late now!

I want people to read my work and feel like I see them, like they can connect with me and I’m a safe nurturing presence. I don’t think you can do that without a little bit of vulnerability.

I’ve spoken to such a wide spectrum of women who connect and identify with your work, especially on the issue of body image. Do you ever feel pigeonholed on certain topics?

Yeah, but I don’t mind. I chose to do this and it means a lot to me that I can be there for people who haven’t heard themselves talked about in that kind of accepting, loving way. I used to just be a film critic so I do just miss writing jokes and being a goofball! There is this pressure to be wise that I don’t really feel qualified to fulfill, but I guess that’s part of the appeal, I really am just a person figuring this out as I go along like everyone else.

You are very open about the fact that you had an abortion. If you were in a room filled with college-aged women facing this decision, what message would you give to them?

Mine was really early, like three or four weeks, so it was jut a pill, another pill and then it was done. I had to go to a clinic, but mine was about as un-traumatic as it can possibly be. But other people’s are more complicated and that’s fine, too. It’s important to remember it’s not immoral to seek healthcare. It’s a legal, normal, common procedure that’s vital to women owning their futures, steering the course of their lives, impacting the world and their health! It’s not separate from the rest of healthcare. People who tell you that it makes you a bad person are lying and they don’t care about you.

There are so many people who are getting nothing but bad advice from disingenuous people. That’s why I really believe in destigmatization and using the privilege that I have. There were no negative consequences for me talking about my abortion which isn’t true for a lot of people. It’s not talked about, so opponents of abortion get to define abortion and their definition is a lie. They tell you that every abortion is regretted and every abortion is traumatic and every abortion is violent and involves cutting you open and murdering a baby, and none of that is true. Of course, some abortions are more invasive than others and some people do have traumatic experiences and regret having abortions – that’s an abortion story, too.

What I try to put out there is there’s not one model for how people experience abortion. It’s hugely personal and varied. The stigma around abortion is a deliberate effort to control women’s lives and limit women’s impact on the world.

Find someone you trust and can talk to, and get the information you need. If you live in a liberal place where abortion is readily accessible, remember that’s not true everywhere – there are a lot of places, even in this country, where it’s de facto impossible to get an abortion. Please remember those women and do what you can to support them and help them whether it’s financially or politically by voting and advocating because it’s a really scary time.

 

You don’t write a ton about politics, but I have to know: Are you a Hillary supporter?

Oh man, I have been staying away from this election with a one billion foot pole. I think there are some major issues with Hillary, but I feel like I let go of the idea a long time ago that anyone could ascend to that level of political power without being some level of monstrous. I don’t think Hillary is worse than other politicians – see I already hate about talking about this!

I will happily vote for Hillary. This campaign is just a nightmare. I just want Barrack Obama to keep being president forever. I understand why we have term limits but can’t be just lift it for a minute to keep the Obama dynasty alive?

I say this aware that it’s an easy thing for me to say as a white lady, but it is symbolically meaningful to me to have a woman in the presidency, which is what I assume is gonna happen, because Donald Trump is going to fail because he’s a bafoon. I think there’s a significant erosion of confidence both in ourselves and the way men perceive us based on the fact that a woman has never been allowed to be in charge, and I feel all of the time that my intellect is devalued and I’m not taken as seriously as men. The fact that we’ve had hundreds of years of male presidents is not irrelevant to that. So, you know, we’ll see.

What advice would you give to women going into college? 

It’s really scary because you’re surrounded by a bunch of dicks, and some nice people, so find the nice people and just don’t care what the dicks think. It took me until five years after college to figure out who I was and to have the confidence to be me 24/7 instead of being just what I thought other people wanted me to be. So you should skip that part and go straight to the being you because it’s way more fun.

Lindy’s book, Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, is published by Hachette Books.

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