Despite a society hellbent on silencing their stories, there will always be nasty women, fragile women, slutty women…difficult women. Roxane Gay’s “Difficult Women” went to print at a time when the United States was putting its first female Presidential nominee against its most vehemently and openly misogynistic candidate in this century. To beat that female nominee, the misogynist would use labels: “liar,” “criminal,” “traitor,” and more. The label that would later unite women across the US against him, however, would be “nasty woman.” He would follow up with “lying woman,” “frigid woman,” “man-eating woman,” and “crazy woman” before the end of the election. These labels are the very root of Roxane Gay’s “Difficult Women”, a book about feminine labels, create at a time when the leader of the free world tried so hard to reduce women to labels, and the women found the strength to push them back. In fact, 2017 could be called the “Year of the Difficult Woman”. From the indictment of white women for electing Trump the black women who saved Alabama from itself, the pink pussy-hatted woman, silenced and disrespected women of Congress, as well as the most prominent difficult women, those of the #MeToo movement. The year was all about women marching, speaking up and speaking out against the sexual harassment that men once thought was their birthright. It was as if the Universe had read Gay’s work and decided to have it acted out in a single year. In 21 stories and 256 pages, Gay explores the labels given to women in today’s society when that woman becomes something other than compliant. She takes the label, distorts it with the image of the woman carrying it. That distortion reduces the woman to a character that is still human, but now she is her label but is more palatable to a reader who has been conditioned to NOT see past the label. By the end of the story, the reader has no choice but to see the strength and power that underlies every woman as she struggles under the auspices of the label. The reader must empathize with her or simply gather an understanding and move on. This is how each woman fared in the 21 stories.
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