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Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture

by Roxane Gay

Other authors: Elissa Bassist (Contributor), Nicole Boyce (Contributor), Amy Jo Burns (Contributor), Michelle Chen (Contributor), Jill Christman (Contributor)24 more, Stacey May Fowles (Contributor), Anthony Frame (Contributor), Aubrey Hirsch (Contributor), Lyz Lenz (Contributor), Vanessa Martir (Contributor), So Mayer (Contributor), A. J. McKenna (Contributor), Lisa Mecham (Contributor), Zoe Medeiros (Contributor), Lynn Melnick (Contributor), Samhita Mukhopadhyay (Contributor), Miriam Zoila Perez (Contributor), Liz Rosema (Contributor), Nora Salem (Contributor), Claire Schwartz (Contributor), V.L. Seek (Contributor), Ally Sheedy (Contributor), Emma Smith-Stevens (Contributor), Elisabeth Fairfield Stokes (Contributor), Meredith Talusan (Contributor), Brandon Taylor (Contributor), Sharisse Tracey (Contributor), Gabrielle Union (Contributor), xTx (Contributor)

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5411139,173 (4.35)13
Edited and with an introduction written and read by Roxane Gay, the New York Times best-selling and deeply beloved author of Bad Feminist and Hunger, this anthology of first-person essays read by all 30 contributors including Gabrielle Union, Ally Sheedy, and Lyz Lenz, tackles rape, assault, and harassment head-on. Vogue, "10 of the Most Anticipated Books of Spring 2018" * Harper's Bazaar, "10 New Books to Add to Your Reading List in 2018" * Elle, "21 Books We're Most Excited to Read in 2018" * Boston Globe, "25 books we can't wait to read in 2018" * Huffington Post, "60 Books We Can't Wait to Read in 2018" * Hello Giggles, "19 Books We Can't Wait to Read in 2018" * Buzzfeed, "33 Most Exciting New Books of 2018" In this valuable and revealing anthology, cultural critic and best-selling author Roxane Gay collects original and previously published pieces that address what it means to live in a world where women have to measure the harassment, violence, and aggression they face, and where they are "routinely second-guessed, blown off, discredited, denigrated, besmirched, belittled, patronized, mocked, shamed, gaslit, insulted, bullied" for speaking out. Contributions include essays from established and up-and-coming writers, performers, and critics, including actors Ally Sheedy and Gabrielle Union and writers Amy Jo Burns, Lyz Lenz, and Claire Schwartz. Covering a wide range of topics and experiences, from an exploration of the rape epidemic embedded in the refugee crisis to first-person accounts of child molestation, this collection is often deeply personal and is always unflinchingly honest. Like Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me, Not That Bad will resonate with every listener, saying "something in totality that we cannot say alone." Searing and heartbreakingly candid, this provocative collection both reflects the world we live in and offers a call to arms insisting that "not that bad" must no longer be good enough. Narrators include: Roxane Gay, Gabrielle Union, Ally Sheedy, Amy Jo Burns, Lyz Lenz, Claire Schwartz, Aubrey Hirsch, Jill Christman, Lynn Melnick, Brandon Taylor, Emma Smith-Stevens, A.J. McKenna, Lisa Mecham, Vanessa Mártir, xTx, Sophie Mayer, Nora Salem, V.L. Seek, Michelle Chen, Liz Rosema, Anthony Frame, Samhita Mukhopadhyay, Miriam Zoila Pérez, Zoe Medeiros, Sharisse Tracey, Stacey May Fowles, Elisabeth Fairfield Stokes, Meredith Talusan, Nicole Boyce, and Elissa Bassist.… (more)
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» See also 13 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
For those who have internalized the phrase, "well, it could have been worse" this anthology speaks to the diversity of experiences surrounding rape and sexual assault in our culture and why we can't tolerate this anymore. I wish I had this book when I was in college. ( )
  UnruhlyS | Oct 26, 2022 |
A deep dive into rape and rape culture from many different authors and angles. ( )
  bookwyrmm | Apr 18, 2022 |
As with any anthology the quality and import of each essay differs greatly. I am giving this collection a 5-star because I think the best of the essays were radically fantastic, and because the messaging is so essential. I also was taken by the the true diversity of authors and of experience. In addition to notable racial/ethnic diversity the collection features stories from cis-het women, transwomen, lesbians, non-binary people, and gay and hetero men. Additionally while there are essays from people who have been raped there are many from people who have been subject to unwanted touching, and others who have felt the diminishment of objectification from the collection of cultural norms that underlie rape culture. Perhaps most importantly we hear the stories of women socialized to be complicit in their own devaluation. The term rape culture gets thrown around a lot, but it is rarely clearly defined. Rape culture is the inculcation of cultural norms which sap women's bodies of value and rob women of any sense of bodily autonomy. Rape culture grants ownership rights for women's bodies to everyone but the woman herself. Think about how absurd we would find it if women started regularly commenting on men's bodies on the street, in media, in the home. What if men started believing they had no right to pleasure during sex, and that their bodies were there only to serve the pleasure of their partners. What if men were brutally assaulted and the first words from peoples mouths were "at least you were not murdered" instead of "how terrible, what can I do to help?" And what if men were told over and over after being threatened and assaulted that they, and not the aggressor, were to blame for any attack (verbal or physical.) How would that change their lives? When I was raped (I was 19, about the average age for first sexual assault for women) I was passed out drunk when it began, I woke up in the middle, I said no, I clawed the rapist's face so hard he bled. And then I thought it was my fault because I got so drunk, because I was wearing a short skirt, because I danced with him, because I kissed him on the dance floor. I did not tell anyone for a long time because I was so ashamed I had let that happen. I was a shell of myself, careful to avoid ever being alone with a man for months and I was never the same. My rapist did not understand why I did not want to date him and complained to many others about how I led him on and then dumped him (we were never together as a couple though I knew him before) and people got mad at me for treating him so coldly. That is what comes from rape culture. I felt guilty and ashamed, and he felt entitled and annoyed with me when I had done nothing but overindulge in alcohol and let a guy kiss me, and he had fucked an unconscious woman. Nearly every woman I know who has been raped felt that same shame and guilt I did. This book examines that, holds it up to the light, covers how women deny ourselves the agency to say no and blame ourselves even when we do say no because the culture has hard-wired us to believe boys will be boys, and if we don't keep them from their mischief that is our fault. I don't see a lot of books that tell that story, and this one did it well.

As I mentioned, there was a good deal of variance in quality among the essays.

For me the strongest essays by far were "I Said Yes" by Anthony Frame (absolutely guttingly honest - it brought new truths to the discussion) and "The Ways we are Taught to be a Girl" by xTx. Other standouts were Fragments by Aubrey Hirsch; "Slaughterhouse Island" by Jill Christman; "What We Didn't Say" by Liz Rosema; Good Girls by Amy Jo Burns; "Why I Didn't Say No" by Elissa Bassist; "Bodies Agaisnt Borders" by Michelle Chen and "What I Told Myself" by Vanessa Martir. Surprisingly (at least to me) I was also really moved by "Wiping the Stain Clean", Gabrielle Union's addition. Another essay that really moved me until it started down an insane "all rape is political" rabbit hole was Floccinaucinihilipilification by So.

The essays I thought weakest were: "The Luckiest MILF in Brooklyn" by Lynn Melnick (I get her point, and its not a bad one mostly, but man so much of it was offensively self-involved and privileged. When she gets pissed a cop does nothing when she is cat-called I wanted to reach in and smack her.); Spectator by Brandon Taylor; "Utmost Resistance" by VI Seek (this centers on her time in law school, and with all sympathy for her trauma and PTSD, I have to assume she is a shit lawyer based on her inability to follow any logical thought process) and "Invisible Light Waves" by Meredith Talusan.

Some other stories failed because their narrators were unreliable or because they fell into simple man blaming rather than cultural commentary, but they were the exception. A few essays weren't bad, but neither were they very good. Overall a thoughtful and thought-provoking collection, an important read sure to start some important conversations and an even more important read for anyone who has ever asked the question, 'what is rape culture?" ( )
1 vote Narshkite | Jan 5, 2022 |
Obviously, this is heavy subject matter. I think the representation of demographics and topics in these essays are excellent, though the quality of writing varies vastly. There are some standout essays, like "All the Angry Women," while others just did not get off the ground, from a prose perspective. It was also hard to read this book for long stretches at a time, but that's because the subject matter is heavy and utterly crushing. I recommend reading this when you have good mental space to process it. ( )
  DrFuriosa | Dec 4, 2020 |
I feel like a bad person for not totally loving this book. It was just hard to get through and some of the stories didn't really move me one way or the other. I ended up just feeling sad while reading and finally finishing this book off with some wine. I think also that looking at rape culture is a huge undertaking, and so the stories could have flowed a bit better between them to the next story. Also I wish that things were not left vague in a few stories. A few times I went wait what happened when we had someone recounting their story.

Fragments by Aubrey Hirsch (4 stars)-the story begins when she is being harassed for taking birth control by her supposed friend James. Apparently birth control equals putting out a certain signal (blech). Hirsch begins telling stories about her time in college and the one disturbing story is about how after a night of drinking too much she woke up in a friend's room (where he put her to keep her safe) and took out her contacts while she was unconscious. I full body shuddered.

Slaughterhouse Island by Jill Christman (5 stars)-Christman tells what sounds like a typical college story (which makes me sad). A young girl meets a guy she feels meh towards, but still keeps hanging out with and one night things get ugly and he rapes her. She sees him again because part of you hopes for a different outcome. Nope, the outcome the second time is him attempting to rape her. At this point I put the book down and went to the gym to work out.

& The Truth Is, I Have No Story by Claire Schwartz (2 stars)-This one was so weird after reading Slaughterhouse Island. We have Schwartz telling her about everything "after" which I assumed to be her rape. I just found the whole essay to be more spoken poetry and it just jumped around a lot. Which I imagine was done to show how confused and separate a person feels after being raped.

The Luckiest MILF in Brooklyn by Lynn Melnick (1 star)-I loathe the word MILF and this story was about catcall culture which is still a form of rape culture. I don't know. This one seemed off to me in a way. Melnick tells how she started giving blowjobs for attention and was led to believe that her body was her only thing to offer the world. At the end of the essay I don't know if she doesn't get that is not all she has to offer.

Spectator by Brandon Taylor (3 stars)-this was hard to read. Recounting memories of their rapist (who was also their uncle). The story flits around a bit though with Taylor remembering their mother who also died and seems to segue into how Taylor is judgey towards his brother who is judgey towards them.

The Sun by Emma Smith-Stevens (5 stars)-Stevens recounts tales of being objectified at an early age (13) by older men her whole life. And then the story gets even scarier if possible when she tells how she got invited to a party with 5 other teen boys (she was the only girl) while they watched porn. She chose one in order to not be raped by all and was called "whore" and "slut" at school. I think at this point I took another break from the book.

Sixty-Three Days by AJ McKenna (3.5 stars)-I was confused by the timeline in this one which took me out of the story. I felt for McKenna and loved the essay overall. I just couldn't understand when the person this essay was written for was in McKenna's life and also the other people who were named after.

Only the Lonely by Lisa Mecham (2 stars)-This was confusing. A woman at a Yankee swap gets a vibrator and somehow it signifies something about her marriage. I don't know. I was just left confused.

What I Told Myself by Vanessa Martir (4.5 stars)-A hard story to read. Martir ties in her mother's own history of rape with her history of rape which happened when she was 6 years old. I just hated how everyone kept telling her that what happened to her wasn't as bad as what happened to her mother. I just died a little inside while reading this essay.

Stasis by Ally Sheedy (5 stars)-Yup that Ally Sheedy. Sheedy talks about being a young actress in Hollywood and being told she was "fat." I grew up watching Sheedy in films, I am gobsmacked that a director would even think this. She recounts discussions with other young actresses who got typecast and told to lose weight, be more sexy, or told they were not seen as sexually desirable.

The Ways We Are Taught to Be a Girl by xTx (5 stars)-a girl's friend lures her (she won't say it, I will) to be forced to be alone with her and her brothers and how they kissed their sister with their tongues and told her to do it too. And the story is the first lesson on how to be a girl. How to keep things inside, to not tell everything horrible thing that happens to you because you don't want to be blamed (you still will be blamed by some though). There are five more lessons xTx imparts.

Floccinaucinihilipilification by So Mayer (5 stars)-How you survive being raped. Mayer's rapist was her father.

Rape was where my rebellion started. His small sense that--small as I was, an infant--I needed to be controlled was my hint that I had power that had to be curtailed.

The Life Ruiner by Nora Salem (3 stars)-Salem recounting being raped when she was 8 by a 18 year old boy who lived with her and her family. Salem's family was doing with the death of her brother and she didn't want to break her family apart by telling them what was done to her. This one didn't grab me as much as the story before it which is why I gave it 3 stars. I do think it would have worked better if this one was up front and the stronger stories anchored the ending.

All the Angry Women by Lyz Lenz (3 stars)-Lenz discussing what I think is a rape survivor's group. She dances around it. I thought some of the comparisons she made about how women are not allowed to be angry but men in the NFL who are abusers are let back in was an off comparison. Just state flat out women are not allowed to be angry. Shoot, I am a black woman and can't even show a grimace without being told I am being an angry black woman. It's been that way my whole life.

Good Girls by Amy Jo Burns (4 stars)-

The truth no one told you is that, in order for a good girl to survive, she make some things disappear. You know because you used to be one of the good girls; you used to know how to forget.

Utmost Resistance by V.L. Seek (2.5 stars)-there are a lot of foonotes and quotes in this. I think Seek was trying to show this as a case of law, but it didn't work for me.

Bodies Against Borders by Michelle Chen (3 stars)-This reads as a scientific article more than an essay. Chen goes into violence against women worldwide and it definitely made me sad.

What We Didn't Say by Liz Rosema (5 stars)-This was in comic strip form and I really loved it. This was my favorite essay in this collection.

I Said Yes by Anthony Frame (5 stars)-Terrible story (all of them are honestly) of a man recounting when he was raped by his friend's father. I think the part that will grab at you is that his wife realizes he was raped when she sat and watched their wedding video which showed the change in his eyes after he got older. Then Frame recounts how he was raped and then the toxic masculinity he experienced as he got older in school and college.

Knowing Better by Samhita Mukhopadhyay (2.5 stars)-I have never heard of Mukhopadhyay who apparently wrote a book about love and dating. This one was pretty short so it didn't stay with me when I finished it.

Not That Loud by Miriam Zoila Perez (2 stars)-I thought this one was pretty lackluster too after reading Knowing Better.

Why I Stopped by Zoe Medeiros (4 stars)-Why a rape survivor finally stopped telling people why she was raped.

Picture Perfect by Sharisse Tracey (5 stars)- A woman relaying how her black family wanted to be perfect, but ignored what Tracey's father was doing to her. Starting off from a photo shoot that becomes sexualized to physical rape later is hard to read. The whole story is pretty heart wrenching. Tracey tells her mother, who does believe her, but her father stays. Also there is some BS about a counselor coworker of her father's who tells her mother that if he leaves it will damage the family. I hope that counselor is somewhere sitting on sharp tack. This is in my opinion, one of the second strongest stories in this collection.

To Get Out from Under it by Stacey May Fowles (5 stars)-Recounting the many times she said no while raped. Fowles does a good job of showcasing the many sides to being raped. Telling yourself that what happened wasn't that bad. Then Fowles recounts the many questions that are asked.

Did you know him? Did you invite him in? Did you go willingly? Did he hurt you? Did he have a weapon? Did he force you? Did you wear something that provoked him? Did you want to have sex with him? Did you cook him dinner beforehand? Did you put on makeup? Did you tell him you liked him? Did you tell him you loved him? Do you regret anything you did that night?

How bad was it really?

Reaping What Rape Culture Sows by Elisabeth Fairfield Stokes (5 stars)-Weirdly Stokes telling us when she first was told about rape was when I also heard about it too. Watching Little House on the Prairie and seeing the Sylvia episodes. And then the sadness when Stokes takes her father's definition of rape and doesn't understand that it's not the only way to assault and harm a woman. Stokes blames herself after she is raped anyway because she had been drinking and hurt her left making herself vulnerable. The whole essay just like the two preceding it was very strong.

Invisible Light Waves by Meredith Talusan (3.5 stars)-pretty short and I honestly didn't feel as engrossed in this one as I should have.

Getting Home by Nicole Boyce (3 stars)-This jumps around and doesn't really land in the end for me.

Why I Didn't Say No by Elissa Bassist (3.5 stars)-Bassist recounting the many ways in which she didn't say no while she was raped. I think the main reason why I didn't rate this one higher was because it was kind of a stream of consciousness thing that didn't work for me. ( )
  ObsidianBlue | Jul 1, 2020 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Roxane Gayprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bassist, ElissaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Boyce, NicoleContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Burns, Amy JoContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Chen, MichelleContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Christman, JillContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Fowles, Stacey MayContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Frame, AnthonyContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hirsch, AubreyContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lenz, LyzContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Martir, VanessaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Mayer, SoContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
McKenna, A. J.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Mecham, LisaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Medeiros, ZoeContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Melnick, LynnContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Mukhopadhyay, SamhitaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Perez, Miriam ZoilaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Rosema, LizContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Salem, NoraContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Schwartz, ClaireContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Seek, V.L.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sheedy, AllyContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Smith-Stevens, EmmaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Stokes, Elisabeth FairfieldContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Talusan, MeredithContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Taylor, BrandonContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Tracey, SharisseContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Union, GabrielleContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
xTxContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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For every person who has been scarred by rape culture and survives, nonetheless.
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When I was twelve years old, I was gang-raped in the woods behind my neighborhood by a group of boys with the dangerous intentions of bad men.
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Edited and with an introduction written and read by Roxane Gay, the New York Times best-selling and deeply beloved author of Bad Feminist and Hunger, this anthology of first-person essays read by all 30 contributors including Gabrielle Union, Ally Sheedy, and Lyz Lenz, tackles rape, assault, and harassment head-on. Vogue, "10 of the Most Anticipated Books of Spring 2018" * Harper's Bazaar, "10 New Books to Add to Your Reading List in 2018" * Elle, "21 Books We're Most Excited to Read in 2018" * Boston Globe, "25 books we can't wait to read in 2018" * Huffington Post, "60 Books We Can't Wait to Read in 2018" * Hello Giggles, "19 Books We Can't Wait to Read in 2018" * Buzzfeed, "33 Most Exciting New Books of 2018" In this valuable and revealing anthology, cultural critic and best-selling author Roxane Gay collects original and previously published pieces that address what it means to live in a world where women have to measure the harassment, violence, and aggression they face, and where they are "routinely second-guessed, blown off, discredited, denigrated, besmirched, belittled, patronized, mocked, shamed, gaslit, insulted, bullied" for speaking out. Contributions include essays from established and up-and-coming writers, performers, and critics, including actors Ally Sheedy and Gabrielle Union and writers Amy Jo Burns, Lyz Lenz, and Claire Schwartz. Covering a wide range of topics and experiences, from an exploration of the rape epidemic embedded in the refugee crisis to first-person accounts of child molestation, this collection is often deeply personal and is always unflinchingly honest. Like Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me, Not That Bad will resonate with every listener, saying "something in totality that we cannot say alone." Searing and heartbreakingly candid, this provocative collection both reflects the world we live in and offers a call to arms insisting that "not that bad" must no longer be good enough. Narrators include: Roxane Gay, Gabrielle Union, Ally Sheedy, Amy Jo Burns, Lyz Lenz, Claire Schwartz, Aubrey Hirsch, Jill Christman, Lynn Melnick, Brandon Taylor, Emma Smith-Stevens, A.J. McKenna, Lisa Mecham, Vanessa Mártir, xTx, Sophie Mayer, Nora Salem, V.L. Seek, Michelle Chen, Liz Rosema, Anthony Frame, Samhita Mukhopadhyay, Miriam Zoila Pérez, Zoe Medeiros, Sharisse Tracey, Stacey May Fowles, Elisabeth Fairfield Stokes, Meredith Talusan, Nicole Boyce, and Elissa Bassist.

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