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Difficult Women, a book by Roxanne Gay is a hard look at strong women who face tough challenges, and are found everywhere among us.
Difficult women are ruthless but difficult women are also extremely compassionate. Difficult women can avenge but difficult women can also forgive. Difficult women continue to persist while difficult women are also brave enough to give up. Difficult women are full of hope while difficult women also tackle despair. Difficult women can give tremendously but difficult women can take it all back too. Difficult women are warriors but difficult women also have the strength to let go.
Difficult women are difficult but what made them so difficult? And is it wrong to be difficult of your own kind?
Roxane Gay, the author of Bad Feminist, explores these difficult women in her book titled the same – Difficult Women. It is a compilation of short stories that bring to the fore those women who have refused to succumb to the norm despite multitude of pressures. These stories are also a mirror to the fundamental truth that what is right in one situation may not always be right in another and what seems extremely easy also requires mammoth courage.
I have listed a few quotes and passages of the book to give you a glimpse.
Child rape is a horrendous reality. The below passage highlights it brutally that even when you grow up, the scars are painful and run deep. You can never grow out of it.
“Mr. Peter was up for parole and Mr. Peter was a changed man. Mr. Peter needed to prove he was a changed man and to prove that Mr. Peter needed our help. Mr. Peter found God. Mr. Peter wanted our forgiveness. Mr. Peter needed our forgiveness so he could get parole. Mr. Peter was sorry for every terrible thing he did to us. Mr. Peter couldn’t resist two beautiful little girls. Mr. Peter wanted us so bad he couldn’t help himself. Mr. Peter was an old man now, could never hurt another little girl. Mr. Peter begged for our forgiveness. We were young once. I was ten and Carolina was eleven. We begged Mr. Peter for everything—food, fresh air, a moment alone with hot water. We begged him for mercy, to give our bodies a break before they were broken completely. He ignored us. We learned to stop begging. He would, too, or he wouldn’t. It did not matter.”
Gay has also highlighted various traits of various women – some traits defined by the society, while some traits acquired as per the boundaries women have to live into for their own safety. Here is how a crazy woman walks down the street:
“She tries to walk not too fast and not too slow. She doesn’t want to attract any attention. She pretends she doesn’t hear the whistles and catcalls and lewd comments. Sometimes she forgets and leaves her house in a skirt or a tank top because it’s a warm day and she wants to feel warm air on her bare skin. Before long, she remembers. She keeps her keys in her hand, three of them held between her fingers, like a dull claw. She makes eye contact only when necessary and if a man should catch her eye, she juts her chin forward, makes sure the line of her jaw is strong. When she leaves work or the bar late, she calls a car service and when the car pulls up to her building, she quickly scans the street to make sure it’s safe to walk the short distance from the curb to the door. She once told a boyfriend about these considerations and he said, ‘You are completely out of your mind.’ She told a new friend at work and she said, ‘Honey, you’re not crazy. You’re a woman.'”
Motherhood is essentially the ultimate destination a woman is supposed to reach as per the society. No one asks her whether she wants it or no. If you decide to say no to motherhood, then you are a cheap woman as per societal norms. This mythical linking of maternal traits to biology, is not only wrong, but is scientifically unproven too. Here is a mother trying to make sense of her love for her child.
“She and her son like to watch documentaries about wild animals. Mothers are often vicious when protecting their cubs, sharp teeth bared and shiny wet. She wishes she could feel that way about her own child, whom she likes well enough. She understands people will never be as true as animals.”
Not all women want romantic love always. There are some who do not want to be loved but simply to be liked.
“A man has never told me he likes me. Like is more interesting than love.”
Difficult women carry their pain like their armor. They don’t speak a word but when they tremble unconsciously, only the ones who pay attention know it.
“As Hanna sleeps, Laura calculates how much money she has saved, the tread on her tires, how far they will need to travel so that Hanna might begin to forget about the life she’s leaving behind. It all makes Laura very tired but then she looks at Hanna’s lower lip, how it trembles while she’s sleeping.”
Fatness, in this age of surgeries, is akin to shame. A fat person is not spared anywhere. A passage that gives a small glimpse in the mind of a fat woman and why body type-shaming is equal to being racist and sexist:
“Milly is fat and ugly but she gives good head so she rarely sleeps alone, which is not to say she’s not lonely. Milly is not, in fact, ugly, but she might as well be. She has a pretty face, which is the same thing as ugly when a woman is fat. In the complex calculus between men and women, Milly understands that fat is always ugly and that ugly and skinny makes a woman eminently more desirable than fat and any combination such as beautiful, charming, intelligent, or kind. Milly is all those things. She knows it doesn’t matter. The truth of things makes Milly angry but she is quiet about it, her anger. She keeps it to herself, knows it sits at the bottom of her chest growing and growing, but there’s not much she can do about it. She knows how difficult it is to change the world. She used to try, to change the world, but she learned better.”
Gay’s women are all disturbed and injured in some way or the other but so have been us, everyone, since ages. Time to understand that fighting doesn’t always mean shouting out loud, it also means keeping quiet and remaining loyal to self.
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