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The Complicated Woman's Guide to Surviving the Patriarchy Without Drinking Herself to Death
By Erin Gibson
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Since women earned the right to vote a little under one hundred years ago, our progress hasn’t been the Olympic sprint toward gender equality first wave feminists hoped for, but more of a slow, elderly mall walk (with frequent stops to Cinnabon) over the four hundred million hurdles we still face. Some of these obstacles are obvious-unequal pay, under-representation in government, reproductive restrictions, lack of floor-length mirrors in hotel rooms. But a lot of them are harder to identify. They’re the white noise of oppression that we’ve accepted as lady business as usual, and the patriarchy wants to keep it that way.
Erin Gibson has a singular goal-to create a utopian future where women are recognized as humans. In Feminasty — titled after her nickname on the hit podcast “Throwing Shade” — she has written a collection of make-you-laugh-until-you-cry essays that expose the hidden rules that make life as a woman unnecessarily hard and deconstructs them in a way that’s bold, provocative and hilarious.
Whether it’s shaming women for having their periods, allowing them into STEM fields but never treating them like they truly belong, or dictating strict rules for how they should dress in every situation, Erin breaks down the organized chaos of old fashioned sexism, intentional and otherwise, that systemically keeps women down.
During the Great Depression, Lysol was the number one form of contraception for women. You read that correctly. Lysol, the number one product for cleaning up elementary school puke, was marketed back then as a feminine hygiene douche for women. “Feminine hygiene” in the early 1930s wasn’t about keeping your flapper hoo-ha fresh and minty; it was woman code for “birth control,” which was illegal.1 So Lysol stepped in and became a woman’s first and only resort to prevent pregnancy.
While the days of disinfectant douches are behind us—because we are too young to have experienced it or because it melted our insides and we died—women still have about four hundred million obstacles to overcome. Some we know about—unequal pay, under-representation in government, reproductive restrictions, lack of floor-length mirrors in hotel rooms—but a lot of them are harder to identify. They’re the white noise of oppression that we’ve accepted as lady business as usual, and the patriarchy wants to keep it that way.
Too bad I don’t give a fuck about what the patriarchy wants.
I’m here to make sure we’re smarter than the patriarchy. That we identify every single way they’re trying to fuck with our lives. That we see through their lies and deceit and power-hungry motivations and find ways to subvert and destroy their system.2
It’s time to go HAM on the patriarchy. And I’m just the bitch to show you how.
For the last nine years, I’ve dedicated my career to repackaging lady sadness into digestible comedy so that we can all be a little smarter and a little savvier and can laugh together at the insane ways people try to control us. For the past seven years, I’ve been the cohost of the absurdist political comedy podcast Throwing Shade, where I’ve been talking shit about Mike Pence since he was just a small-time rat-eyed worm man/governor of Indiana. The time I’ve spent reading about his antichoice state legislation is more than I’ve invested in getting my brows waxed, and I am very punctual with my facial hair maintenance. On the show, I’ve covered women’s issues, from Catholic hospitals’ subpar treatment of black mothers to female students being kicked out of proms for wearing suits to the WNBA pay gap. Throwing Shade wasn’t my first job verbally eviscerating the worst of the worst. As a political writer/director at Funny or Die, Michele Bachmann, Megyn Kelly, Michelle Duggar, Jan Brewer, Mitt and Ann Romney, and the entire state of Utah made making fun of them too easy. But I truly owe my career to my first job in political comedy. As the host of “Modern Lady,” a segment on the TV show InfoMania, I researched the shitty trends of women in the media, like female cops all being victims of a crime or celebrity breastfeeding shaming, and made them funny. Or tried to at least. You’ve never seen my “An Independent Girl’s Guide to Valentine’s Day” segment and you never will.
My transformation into a childless, career-obsessed, nail-biting, hell-bent feminist she-devil banshee was not easy or fast. It took me twenty years of soul-crushing defeats completely tied to my gender. When I was eight years old and standing a cool adult height of five foot nine in the third grade, I was a loveable, joy-filled dork who found the inner confidence to rock pink geometric Garfield glasses AND size 10 (adult) hot-pink Reebok high-tops. As a kid, I had my head in the clouds, dreaming of being the next Steven Spielberg. Dreams that were effortlessly crushed by teachers who didn’t have the imagination to consider a woman just as capable of standing behind a camera and bossing people around while the director of photography does all the work.
In junior high, having never grown into my massive feet, I tried to be “acceptably cool,” not “the way I want to be cool, cool” by getting contact lenses, which allowed me to see that even without glasses, I was still a gangly geek with a bad home perm who played the clarinet and wore paisley MC Hammer pants. I was made fun of, had chronic nosebleeds, and was known for farting as I tripped up the gym bleachers. Shitty preteens made fun of my nose hairs, told me I was ugly, and one seventh-grade boy threatened to murder me in science class once a week in graphic detail. My sister was also having a hard time, so we held our own school dances in the yard space under our A-frame’s deck, and a trickling of other white trash children would wander over after WrestleMania to eat pigs in a blanket and dance to C+C Music Factory.
I stumbled through high school an unfuckable dork, and in college I blossomed into a functional alcoholic with a sporadic sex life and a complicated eating disorder that involved taking daily double doses of appetite suppressants, drinking Starbucks venti vanilla lattes, and smoking more cigarettes than Humphrey Bogart and Kristen Stewart combined. I wanted to go to college to study photography but was scared people would think I was weird (I was weird; I am weird), so I got a useless marketing degree.
I was on a very specific life track. A track that ensured I would marry the first guy who was nice enough to hold my chunky highlighted hair as I vomited spaghetti and vodka into my Nine West pumps in front of the dumpster behind Club Europa. Then we’d have three terrible children, all of them different combinations of the worst things about both of us. He’d have the NERVE to divorce ME at forty-five, and I’d be relegated to taking my kids to soccer practice wearing oversized T-shirts printed with things like “I Gave Him the Skinniest Years of My Life” while watching him and his new girlfriend, a twenty-five-year-old Toyota repair shop receptionist named Mollee, feed each other corn dogs in the bleachers.
But before I headed down that path, my Feminist Jesus carried me on the beach of life just when I needed her. Tria Wood, a fierce, independent feminist, came into my life and set me on another road. She gave me a copy of Susan Faludi’s Backlash, which I read in three days.3 The book unraveled the suppressive gender sweater I’d been sweating in my whole life. I stopped hating myself and other women and redirected my rage at the dumbass, cis straight white men in authority who were ruining my life with their power, religion, wealth, and sex eyes. I started figuring out who I wanted to be and erasing the person I thought people wanted me to be. I came up with a really good personality for myself—a charming, funny bitch who wants to destroy the status quo by any means necessary…as long as RuPaul’s Drag Race is not on. A powerful alpha female who will figuratively stick her high heels in the patriarchy’s nutsack while eating a slice of margherita pizza. An unapologetic cunt who corrects any dude who thinks she gives a shit about his stupid, uninformed, unsolicited opinion. A feminasty.
1 It wasn’t until 1938 before married women were allowed to buy diaphragms without being jailed—and single women would have to wait until 1972 to get birth control, the same year email was invented.
2 Except for In-N-Out. They can stay.
3 Which is fast for me. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret took me three weeks.
THE TERRIFYING PROSPECT OF MIKE “VAGINAS ARE THE DEVIL’S MOUTH FLAPS” PENCE
When I was ten years old, all I wanted to do was listen to Def Leppard, marry Doogie Howser, and be old enough to smoke cigarettes. We had just moved to Ironton, Ohio, from Texas, and I had no friends. My favorite thing to do was take pictures of my baby dolls in dangerous situations like hanging them by one toe from an elm tree or placing their head under a car wheel. I was a busy child auteur living in my own bubble world, and the last place I wanted to be wasting my creative time was Sunday morning at Catholic church, listening as a priest made the story of a man with incredible powers mind-numbingly boring.
The only exciting thing that ever happened in church was being filled with absolute jealousy at all those braggers who got to take Communion. Not me. I wasn’t in the Cracker of Christ Club. I wanted watered-down grape juice and paperlike crackers (because I was hungry), but I wasn’t allowed bland early St. Lawrence brunch because my mom didn’t let me take catechism classes. We went out of a sense of duty and ritual, but there was something holding my mom back from leaving me there to learn from those people. She is justifiably scarred having gone to Catholic school, along with her ten brothers and sisters, until one of the nuns hit my uncle Freddy and my grandpa pulled them out temporarily. Sister Clematis, known in my family as “Pennywise in a habit,” would take a wooden ruler and slam it on my six-year-old mother’s tiny little lady hands for coloring outside the lines. Chew on a pencil? Get nun-slapped in the back of the head. Be restless in your chair, and she would give you a warm hug and tell you it’s going to be okay. Just kidding, she would sneak up behind you and rattle your chair like a hurricane.
Father Frailey drove a Corvette, which he parked by the children’s playground and then would go ape if their kickballs bounced into his holy muscle car. And I’d be filled with regret if I didn’t mention Monsignor York’s yearly all-boys trip to Myrtle Beach. Just an innocent romp to a beach city Coed.com named the number twelve “trashiest spring break destination” in 2016. But we still went to church, taking all that into consideration and whatever else my family doesn’t talk about, because that’s what you did. My grandmother Norma Bell was a devout Catholic, having converted to marry my grandfather, who was a first-generation Irish Catholic street rat.1 Norma Bell was raised Southern Baptist, and they let it be known with death threats that they didn’t approve of her jumping onto ship Catholic.2 Slowly, over a long period of time, my family stopped putting up with the church bullshit. They woke up from the spell and Kool-Aid Man–ed through the buttressed walls, running backward, middle fingers up. I owe the Catholic Church a lot. If they hadn’t been absolutely terrible to my family, I would have never developed a mafia-like hatred for them. You mess with my family, Pope, you mess with me…an adult woman who is always showing up at birthday parties dressed in the same clothes as the toddlers.
Who I dislike more than the church are the religious posers who take the parables of the Bible and use them as a weapon to hurt and control women. They’re like a Christian mullet—religion in the front, evil in the back.3 Well, I’m not fucking standing for this hypocritical behavior. Not from Christian minister and GOP superstar Mike Huckabee, who went on Fox News and compared women’s health clinic Planned Parenthood to a heroin dealer. I’m not taking it from Wisconsin state assembly GOP rep and Catholic Roger Rivard, who said, “Some girls, they rape so easy.” And I’m definitely not taking it from king religious ding-dong, husband to “Mother,” and analog phone enthusiast Mike Pence. Mike Pence, the forty-eighth vice president4 of the United States, is someone I am very worried might become the most powerful man in the Western world. There’s a lot of pressure to get Donald Trump out of the White House, but the man who would then be president is much worse. Trump can at least be tricked into doing sort of the right thing for a day, but Pence has been applying his steadfast religious anti-women dogma since 1999.
Mike Pence started sharing his moral oppression of females in the late ’90s, tackling one of the biggest threats to his worldview—Disney’s Mulan.5 Maybe you haven’t seen it—because you’re busy searching for pictures of baby animal enemies falling asleep holding each other—so let me explain the plot. The movie’s about a young woman who pretends to be her father in order to enlist in the Chinese army. When they find out she’s a woman, they spare her life even though it’s a crime punishable by death. She later sneaks into the emperor’s palace, disguised as a concubine, and rescues everyone. Mike Pence wasn’t upset about the implied sex slavery or executions. No, he felt the movie would radicalize women into thinking they could serve in combat, which was not permitted at that time.6 Just to be clear, he was so mad after seeing A CARTOON GIRL BECOME A WAR HERO, he opened up Word ’97 and started typing a diatribe that even paper clip helper Clippy was like, “Are you sure you want to type this ridiculous shit?” When he was done, he posted it on the website for his radio show, The Mike Pence Show. Or let’s be real, someone else uploaded it to his website. I believe Mike Pence knows HTML like I believe Johnny Depp volunteers at a women’s shelter. While Pence set out to air his opposition to women serving in combat, he took the opportunity to say that women shouldn’t be in the military at all. He wrote:
The hard truth of our experiment with gender integration is that is has been an almost complete disaster for the military and for many of the individual women involved.
An adult man, triggered by a Disney movie.7 This children’s entertainment is a threat to our military system and he’s the only patriot red, white, and blue enough to say it! On the outside he’s a red, white, and blue patriot who thinks women are precious porcelain dolls Jesus gift-wrapped for men to impregnate while we Clorox shower tiles, but on the inside he’s scared of us. And he doesn’t want us to have guns in the Sunni Triangle because we might discover the real enemy is our country. Or he’s scared that little girls might grow up to feel that they are capable of doing anything a man can do. Whatever he’s afraid of, he’s afraid, and he might make you believe this outrage-wrapped fear is justified by referencing in his piece that women are sexually assaulted in the military. He specifically references what he calls the “Tailhook scandal,” which is, according to him, an incident “involving scores of high ranking navy fighter pilots who molested subordinate women.” For the purposes of this chapter, I’d love to use different language that paints a clearer picture of what Tailhook was. I’d like to refer to it as “the Ultimate Gang Rape at Tailhook, a living hellscape where eighty-three women and seven men were sexually assaulted by more than one hundred officers.” Pence is afraid that Mulan will send a message to little girls—you won’t get raped in the American military—and he knows that’s not true. Mike Pence could have used Mulan as a paradigm for what the U.S. military could be, where women are treated with respect and not just reiterated the un-Jesus-like way the military actually treats women (and men). Take rape out of the equation and Mike Pence still thinks women have no business in the military. He type screams:
Housing, in close quarters, young men and women (in some cases married to non-military personnel) at the height of their physical and sexual potential is the height of stupidity.
Don’t you picture him saying this while chugging an A&W root beer on the back of a plugged-in golf cart, parked in the middle of his garage, surrounded by unused tools and his pals, four old white guys wearing varying translations of blue polos. The kind of guys who excuse themselves to fart outside but still cover it up with a too-loud cough just in case.
“Guys, you know how children’s cartoons get you thinking about how sexually explosive eighteen-year-old soldiers are?”
“Uh, yeah, sure, Mike?”
Confused looks all around. Kip Tupper, real estate mogul and prayer buddy, snaps off a bite of celery and swallows it aggressively. This might be a loooong night.
I know Mike Pence because Mike Pence is every dad I grew up around in Texas. My friend Avery’s dad used to drink Natural Light with us in his garage and talk about how women shouldn’t be cops—well, his exact words were “I hate bitch cops”—and then make a hard left turn into some Rain Man–like regurgitation of pages of Scripture. The experience is like enjoying the whimsy of the It’s a Small World ride one second, and then the next you’re in a whiskey barrel about to go over Niagara Falls.
Think Mike Pence is only focused on destroying the lives of men and women “at the height of their physical and sexual potential”? He’s also given your grandma a nice one-two punch in the crotch when he tried to pay for Katrina relief by cutting Medicare. Yes, he cut the budget that assists the old mothers and fathers we should be honoring in order to pay for the blessed poor because the Bible has all those passages about “thou shalt never cut the warmongering budget to help the helpless.” Either group he chooses not to help, he’s hurting the good Christians. Like the best Christian who ever lived, my grandma Norma Bell Thompson. She wore a rosary, prayed before every meal, never missed Mass, and gave money she couldn’t afford to give to the church. She made me biscuits and gravy even when it was clear I was getting fat. She laughed when I cussed. She took in homeless people. And she loved everyone exactly the same. When I was ten, sitting on Grandma’s porch reading Bridge to Terabithia, again, while my cousin Stephanie and her Filipino boyfriend made out, a neighbor walked by and abruptly directed a racial slur toward Stephanie’s boyfriend, and my grandma came flying out the screen door and went HAM on that guy. She was screaming, “Jesus doesn’t discriminate in this house!” Mike Pence could learn a lesson from Norma Thompson! If someone told my grandma they were gay, she would hold them and squeeze them into her DD boobs and tell them they were loved. She wouldn’t do everything in her power to destroy them using the Bible as her weapon. As governor of Indiana, Mike Pence diverted funds from the state’s Ryan White CARE Act—the largest federally funded program to assist people living with HIV/AIDS—and put that money into conversion-therapy facilities.8 At best, conversion therapy is like going to a camp for a week where adults yell at you to force you to be straight; at worst, it’s like going to a camp for a week where adults yell and hit you to force you to be straight. It doesn’t fucking work at changing someone’s sexual orientation, and the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association both agree it’s awful. Both oppose conversion therapy because it’s attempting to fix something that’s not wrong, oftentimes using psychologically and sometimes physically violent methods.
Only twelve states in the United States ban conversion therapy, and Mike Pence’s state is not one of them. Neither does Louisiana, a state that housed a legal conversion camp that took one of my best friends away. During college, I was working at America’s finest chino retailer, Gap. The floor manager found out very quickly that my perfectionist anxiety was uniquely suited for the fitting room, and that’s where I stayed for two years, stuck in a windowless hallway, repeating the same greetings and folding the reasonably priced separates again. Most of the people who worked with me were high school kids who only had the job because they were bored. They would stand in my three-by-four-foot work box and refuse to put back clothes. But then there was Hope. She was a twenty-five-year-old social worker from a small town in Louisiana who worked at the Gap for extra money. She was loud and sweet and loved to put people in their place. She called everyone “babydoll” and when she came into my glorified closet, it was for jokes and to help. We were inseparable. After work on Saturdays, we’d get drunk at P.F. Chang’s, go to the gay clubs, smoke a ton of cigarettes, then get up on Sunday and watch Meet the Press. One night, she took me out for a non-PFC Chinese dinner and nervously blurted out to me that she was a lesbian. I don’t think she expected me to squeal with joy, and then squeal even louder when she told me she’d been dating our queer hairdresser. I was so excited for both of them! When the three of us would go out, I could feel how happy they both were. And bonus, since Hope was hotter than me, it meant way more dick for me. Everyone wins!!! Then out of nowhere, Hope disappeared. I didn’t know where she was; her girlfriend hadn’t heard from her in days. Neither of us knew her parents, and she never really talked about them much, so we couldn’t call them. Then one day, she emailed to tell us her parents had come to “rescue” her and put her in a place with people who could help her “figure things out.” Her email read like a letter from someone sucked into a cult.
“I’m safe here with the Branch Davidians. David may be a megalomaniac who thinks he’s Jesus, but don’t worry, there are also plenty of guns.”
She said she wasn’t a lesbian anymore, she was never a lesbian, just confused. I never heard from Hope again. I’ve lost her email since I abandoned Adidas69@hotmail.com, an address I hope a Korn fan is putting to good use. Wherever Hope is, I hope she’s okay. These Christian conversion centers are not only dangerous, but also when you’re put there by your family, you have very few options of finding someone to help you escape them, which is why they should be illegal. Because honestly, what’s worse in the eyes of the Lord—bringing a snake to Mardi Gras, which is illegal in Louisiana, or forcing a teenager to watch lesbian porn and then hitting her whenever two women have sex, which is legal in Louisiana?
When he’s not busy voting against the minimum wage, making low-level offenders stay in jail forever, or defunding Syrian refugee rescue groups in his state, Pence is using his impenetrable armor of religion to roll back reproductive rights. He’s tried to redefine rape as “forcible” or “not forcible”; he’s signed laws to shut down abortion clinics; he’s encouraged women with nonviable pregnancies to carry them to term, and, the worst of the worst, he’s forced women to pay for the burial of fetal remains after abortion procedures or after she has a miscarriage.
“And on the seventh day, Christ rose and told a grieving woman to wipe her tears and fork over $1,500 for the burial costs.”
You’re probably thinking, How does Mike Pence find the time to hate so many different kinds of women and keep his skin looking so young? I have it on good authority he ritualistically sneaks into prison births to soak his skin in newborn vernix while watching the mother shackled to her hospital bed. It’s the only thing keeping that turkey neck in check. His nastiness comes directly from the edicts of the Evangelical Church, which he joined in college. According to an election piece the New York Times did on Pence, he was enamored with one of his frat brothers’ gold cross necklaces when his brother said to him, “Remember, Mike, you have got to wear it in your heart before you wear it around your neck.” And then he was at a Christian music festival in Kentucky, which we’ll go ahead and call Godchella, where he “gave [his] life to Jesus Christ.” So, Mike Pence found extreme Christianity because of a shiny necklace and shrooms.
According to a study by the Public Religion Research Institute, white Evangelical Christians, compared to other religious groups, think they are more persecuted than any other sect9, which is supremely delusional considering they are dictating the terms of American politics. Mike Pence makes laws that hurt other people because he feels his faith is under attack. Because in his Christian worldview, the freedom of women and minorities and LGBTQI people is an attack on Christianity, so he has to be a bad Christian to protect his Christian life of being a nice person. If he’s a true Christian, in the purest sense of the idea, he’d downsize from his state-subsidized Tudor-style home filled with silk shantung armchairs into a modest home or at the very least, give his BUTLER, which the state of Indiana pays for, a day off. But the reality is, Mike Pence and his wife Karen’s freedoms aren’t under attack. Their way of life is not threatened. The truth is, they don’t have many problems. Karen has so few problems in her life, she has to make them up. Which is why she invented “That’s My Towel!” towel charm. Karen is concerned with so many things—the death of babies at abortion factories, gay people marrying—but she’s focused much of her time on this absolutely relatable global crisis. On her website, she writes:
I have had so many times where I was swimming at a friend’s beach house, pool, or lake house, using their matching beautiful beach towels. Lo and behold, I would go in the water for a dip or up to the house for a beverage, and when I came back to my towel, it was gone! Someone else had grabbed my towel unknowingly…because all of the towels looked the same.
We dare you to find a more relatable book title. Comedian and Throwing Shade podcast host Erin Gibson gave us the gift of this collection of omg-I'm-literally-dying level hilarious essays that tackle the 'hidden rules that make life as a woman harder.' Not only will you learn sh*t, but you'll also laugh a lot. What could be better than that?"
- "The rhetorical purposes of the work are clear: Gibson seeks to lift up women at every opportunity, especially by changing the gender balance in political power."—Kirkus Reviews
- "Gibson uses her very presence as an act of defiance-she's a loud Southern lady with size-11 feet who grew up poor white trash-and readers will be grateful that she can't keep her mouth shut."—Booklist
- "Erin Gibson--one-half of the crazy-popular Throwing Shade podcast--is as sharply funny as she is unabashedly feminist. Damn smart, too. Each of the essays in this book is an eye-opening lesson in how the patriarchy is working against us, and how to fight back. #themoreyouknow"—Cosmopolitan
- "In her edgy, fierce, and funny debut essay collection, comedian and 'Throwing Shade' podcast cohost Gibson serves up scathing wit and graphic observations on the 'insane ways people try to control' women...The result is a bubbly acid bath of clever invective encouraging her fellow women to make the world a better place."—Publisher's Weekly
- "Feminasty is laugh-out-loud funny. But it'll also make you seriously mad. Erin Gibson, co-host of the podcast Throwing Shade, sheds light on niche women's issues that aren't at the forefront of the news but desperately need our attention."—HelloGiggles.com
- "Gibson blazes across the page like a firework shooting over a landscape of ALL CAPS and italics for emphasis...Feminasty is a Best-Friend Book. Reading it feels like having a feminist hype-woman in your corner. She's taking patriarchal bullies apart with the catty, flippant venom they deserve. She's pouring you a glass of something bubbly. She's making you laugh til it runs out your nose."—Portland Mercury
- On Sale
- Oct 8, 2019
- Page Count
- 288 pages
- Grand Central Publishing