Recently I read Difficult Women by Roxane Gay. Reading those essays took me on a tour through the lives and struggles of different types of women. Sometimes they escape, sometimes they don’t, but each scenario feels real and possible. Each woman is someone you might know or could possibly meet. It feels very close, the cuts are deep, because it could be you.
When I began reading All the Lives I Want I felt sad because it was instantly about pop culture. I am not the US Weekly, Real Housewives, Kardashians kind of woman. I think this is a function of my childhood and my young adult life, in which my access to television and magazines was fairly limited. I read the first few stories thinking “how am I going to enjoy this book when the references, for the most part, are not relatable to me?”
It was almost surprising how wrong I was. The same themes I found in books like Difficult Women and Shrill were here, just couched in different settings. Massey asks who a woman’s body really belongs to when she talks about the public’s obsession with Britney Spears. Through a discussion of Amber Rose’s fame we get both a discussion on the shame assigned to certain feminine professions (when it shouldn’t be) and the differentiation of ruling the world (typically done by men) and running the world (which Beyonce was correct in saying was done by girls). Reading further in I found Sylvia Plath, whom Massey weaves into an almost dissertation style presentation of how emotions are women’s work, but even then too much emotion gets labeled as childish instead of mature and justified reactions.
This book and Massey’s writing are brilliant. She takes pop culture and smashes it together with feminism and presents it in a language of a scholarly article that has been well researched and peer reviewed. There are so many topics explored in this book it made my head spin to move from one to the next nodding in agreement. I was guided through the connections between people entrenched in pop culture and the issues that we rail against even now, yet somehow we still do not afford these individuals in the public sphere the same courtesy or mercy we would expect for ourselves as women or perhaps simply as human beings.
This made me think of my recently read book Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, about the idea of bodies being stolen and broken and about how we are all capable of it. As women we seem to be very intense right now about how our bodies belong to us and we can be whatever size we want or wear make up or not or whatever, until we pick up a magazine or have a catty conversation about some celeb’s beach body or whatever. How could she get that big? UNRECOGNIZABLE! She’s in the public eye so she has a duty to keep up her appearance. For who? For us? When does she get to be herself? Do you truly know her? And in her desire to keep her job and her fame, does she get the chance to know herself? Defend herself? Stand up for herself?
Alana Massey lends her voice to a feminist storm that is raging right now, reminding us that no woman is safe and all women, no matter their profession or publicity, deserve to be heard, protected, celebrated, and supported.