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Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture

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Cultural critic and bestselling author Roxane Gay has edited a collection of essays that explore what it means to live in a world where women are frequently belittled and harassed due to their gender, and offers a call to arms insisting that "not that bad" must no longer be good enough.

368 pages, ebook

First published May 1, 2018

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About the author

Roxane Gay

121 books157k followers
Roxane Gay’s writing appears in Best American Mystery Stories 2014, Best American Short Stories 2012, Best Sex Writing 2012, A Public Space, McSweeney’s, Tin House, Oxford American, American Short Fiction, Virginia Quarterly Review, and many others. She is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times. She is the author of the books Ayiti, An Untamed State, the New York Times bestselling Bad Feminist, the nationally bestselling Difficult Women and the New York Times bestselling Hunger. She is also the author of World of Wakanda for Marvel. She has several books forthcoming and is also at work on television and film projects.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,417 reviews
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,962 reviews293k followers
May 18, 2018
Powerful. Raw. Stunning writing. Pretty much everything I would expect from a collection put together by Roxane Gay.
What is it like to live in a culture where it often seems like it is a question of when, not if, a woman will encounter some kind of sexual violence?

This is book about rape and rape culture. Some of the stories are empowering, some are depressing, but all talk about important aspects of the world we live in. Many of the writers explore how rape culture is not just about the act of rape itself, but also found in daily microaggressions, such as misogynistic jokes, "friendly" pats on the butt, and a guy suggesting a woman shouldn't take her pill in public because she is making a statement to men that they can do what they want to her without consequences.

The essays often play around with style, writing in everything from lists to graphic novel format, which I liked.

Many of the writers, I noticed, have a very similar writing style to Roxane Gay. So if, like me, you enjoyed the darkly gorgeous writing in Hunger and Difficult Women, then you should like it here in this book. Audrey Hirst's piece was a particular favourite of mine from this collection.

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Profile Image for Mario the lone bookwolf.
793 reviews3,606 followers
August 9, 2020
One of the most shocking books I´ve ever read, made possible by the courage and bravery of the authors who try to overcome their traumas by telling their personal stories of all kinds of sexual violence, enabling a far more open debate and discussions and thereby hopefully someday a society and justice system that helps and cares for the victims.

It begins with diminutives, escalates to sexism and sexual harassment, and ends with abuse. Already in childhood, a boy gets the instruction to manly defend himself, why a girl should please, for the sake of whatever, be quiet, obedient, and friendly. As a result, nobody would dare to speak to a man in a similar ridiculing, arrogant way than to a woman, fearing possible consequences, but if it's just a woman, who cares. Maybe she likes it. Described in detail in

In this circle of sexist deviancy, a little slap, a quick grope, a short date rape, isn´t seen as that bad, she wanted it, screamed for it, was already a hussy before, is now greedy and wants money or to destroy the poor man´s or several men´s reputation, deserves some victim blaming and slut shaming afterward, can have a hate crime or honor killing as extra if she doesn´t shut up, is there to be used and abused, should see it as a compliment, is possibly gay and thereby not normal, enjoyed it,…

Of course, there is also a differentiation of which women to abuse and harass. Wealthy, influential, mostly white women? Better not, that could lead to serious problems, better choose poor, dependent, uneducated, helpless women from rape cultures that are already used to it and conditioned to endure anything. Much better and securer because perpetrator protection is important.

I´m very critical of anything with group, organization, club,… in it and women won´t want to believe and be disgusted by what is commonly talked about in groups of men from ages 12 to 25, I´ve left that kind of peer group a decade ago. Not for that reason at that moment, more because it doesn´t seem to have any sense to continue worthless connections with people who don´t want to and thereby won´t develop further and get grown up. Subjectively I would say that quite many men stay at the stone age level.

Now, in retrospect, I see more and more of the monsters I was used to seeing in these groups, all isms, racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia,… any kind of prejudice against any group possible, all that makes it great to be a man. Cynical and cold that I have become, I would deem an overwhelming majority of the male population, no matter what profession or sophistication, prone to any kind of destructive ideology, although sexism as part of the evolutionary appendix might be the strongest.

The others are already tricky to overcome, but once a man has been indoctrinated and conditioned to have such an opinion about women, there won´t be any real chance to change him anymore. Reminds me of many historical inferiority complexes leading to megalomania and self aggrandizement. And what an argument it is, being born this or that way is an immense achievement.

And how hypocritical Westerners get when they talk about societies that treat woman The Handmaid´s Tales style, completely ignoring both the economic and social discrimination in ever so modern democracies. That, thanks to the stupidity of ideologies of the past and sadly present too, sexuality is the ultimate taboo, leads to being unable to openly talk about abuse and rape. The bigotry goes so far as that self-proclaimed moral guardians have no problem with extreme violence, nudity, and women degraded to objects in all media, while the slightest sexual act could lead to mass hysteria.

We live in a society in which, let´s say, 2 men openly kissing, a modern sexual education, free contraceptives, same rights for same sex couples,… would create more outcries than the numbers of hundreds of millions of women getting abused, assaulted, and harassed. There are 2 quotes by Neal Stephenson I´ll mix up together: „Ideology is a virus. No matter how smart we get, there is always this deep irrational part that makes us potential hosts for self-replicating information.“

There are also the undiscussed, underlying socioeconomic reason why the best places for women to live are countries inspired by the
followed by other Western democracies and the sad rest.

Some literature that shows the similarity of how our, in its core extremely conservative and bigoted, society, including all systems, tradition, and culture, brainwashes people to accept unspeakable things:

A wiki walk can be as refreshing to the mind as a walk through nature in this completely overrated real life outside books:
Profile Image for Kai Spellmeier.
Author 6 books13.6k followers
February 1, 2019
“Don’t ever use an insult for a woman that you wouldn’t use for a man. Say “jerk” or “shithead” or “asshole.” Don’t say “bitch” or “whore” or “slut.” If you say “asshole,” you’re criticizing her parking skills. If you say “bitch,” you’re criticizing her gender.”

Trigger warning: violence, rape, and sexual assault.

I can't even begin to express the whirlwind of emotions that I felt while reading this book. They ran through my veins like poison, twisted my guts, brought tears to my eyes, and made me so very angry. No, this is not an easy book to read. It is, after all, a collection of real-life accounts of abuse, suppression, sexual violence, trauma - in short, rape culture. So why read a book this difficult and depressing?
Because I do not want to stay silent in a world where boys are raised in the belief that girls are theirs for the taking. I do not want to sit idle when women are harassed and hurt because of their gender. I do not want to close my eyes and ears in a world where boys are taught not to talk about their wounds and hurts. I do not want to ignore the fact that one in four college women experience rape or attempted rape.
The least I can do is read this book. The least you can do is read this book.

"If rape culture had an official language, it would be locker-room jokes and an awkward laugh track. Rape Culture speaks in every tongue."
- Aubrey Hirsch

This book finds its strength in the many diverse voices that speak out, that speak their truth. Every voice chips away at the ugly and foul thing that we call rape culture. Above all, Not That Bad is a declaration of war. It is as empowering as it is dark. It also shows that there is no "right" way to act if rape culture has ever affected you negatively. It says "it is that bad. Every person is different, every experience is different. Every reaction is different. There is no need for justification.

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Profile Image for Hannah.
591 reviews1,051 followers
May 14, 2018
Sometimes, when a book speaks deeply to me, I have problems putting into words what my thoughts are. This is one of those cases. Roxane Gay has built an anthology so strong, both in subject matter and in style, that I am feeling inadequate talking about it. I will try though, so bear with me while I work through my feelings.

It comes as no surprise that Roxane Gay is my hero. When this anthology arrived on my doorstep (I had preordered it months ago), I could not wait to start reading it. And I read it breathlessly, taking breaks in-between when the essays became too much, but adoring every minute of it.

The essays are not grouped together but rather all stand on their own while building a crescendo of voices. Because they are not thematically grouped together they always met me unawares. Every single voice is needed, every single voice adds something to the conversation. I have not read an anthology that I found this strong, ever. The essays are all perfectly structured and wonderfully realized. There is not a single weak essay in here but there were some that spoke to me even more than the rest did.

The anthology starts of beyond strong with Aubrey Hirsch’s Fragments and Jill Christman’s Slaughterhouse Island. Both essays different in tone and style but each beyond accomplished. My personal favourites of the book were Lyz Lenz’ All the Angry Women and Samhita Mukhopadhyay’s Knowing Better spoke to me in a way that I cannot just yet put into words; especially not in a forum that is by design public.

Do you do that thing were you need to take a break from a book but clutch it to your heart because it is so important and brilliant? I did that here, multiple times. Do read this.

You can find this review and other thoughts on books on my blog.
Profile Image for Cindy.
407 reviews112k followers
March 14, 2019
Update: Bumping this down to 3.5 stars as I thought more about the anthology's lack of cohesion and editing.

Really tough to get into at first, obviously due to the emotionally difficult subject matter. I appreciated the diversity of stories, both in terms of the authors' backgrounds and their experiences with rape culture. I expected all of the essays to be from people directly affected by rape, but liked that the authors had different experiences within the culture as a whole, and I think that wide range (and occasional blurriness of what constitutes as rape) helps show how insidious our culture is. The reason why I'm not giving this 5 stars is because many of the essays don't feel complete - they read more like the beginning of a theme, a thought-starter, but don't follow through into a cohesive thesis. The downside of this book being an anthology (and perhaps not edited as thoroughly) is that each piece is not strong enough on its own, which leaves more to be desired both individually and cohesively.
Profile Image for emma.
1,822 reviews48.1k followers
April 25, 2022
This is heavy necessary reading.

It's beside the point to review a book like this, which is powerful and true, so I will just say the newest and freshest and most lingering thing I got from it:

This turned the common sexist adage "women call sex they regret rape" into "there were moments I asked myself it was okay to feel raped even if I wasn't."

Few moments as a reader have made me feel as seen and accepted as that one.

(The sexist f*ck-ups never ask why the regretted sex felt like rape.)

Bottom line: Read this book when you feel able.

currently-reading updates

getting angry and sad on a tuesday afternoon
Profile Image for Hanna.
155 reviews29 followers
March 22, 2018
This has been, by far, the toughest book I've ever read. A numerical rating doesn't even seem to make sense with this essay collection. How do you rate people's trauma? Raw. Unflinching. Haunting. An essay collection that will be sitting with me for a long time.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,457 reviews8,562 followers
July 17, 2018
Excellent anthology about rape culture and the patriarchal world we live in that perpetuates it. Roxane Gay serves as editor of this powerful collection in which several writers share their stories of date rape, inappropriate touching, child molestation, and other instances of violence and harassment. I appreciate the diversity in Not That Bad, both of the writers’ experiences as well as their identities, as the collection includes women of color, queer and trans individuals, people of various ages, etc. Some stories end with more resolution than others yet all show an incredible courage and vulnerability on behalf of these writers who reach into their painful pasts to shed light on our messed up culture. I especially loved the stories that honored and celebrated anger against oppressors, as well as those that featured help-seeking behaviors. Would highly recommend this collection to anyone, though of course I will provide a trigger warning and say this book contains graphic depictions of sexual violence and assault. Not an easy read yet one that is essential so we can work to change an epidemic that has gone on for too long.
Profile Image for Maede.
274 reviews395 followers
August 31, 2021
هفت و نیم صبحه. کنار همت از تاکسی پیاده می‌شم. هندزفریم رو توی گوشم می‌گذارم و از پل‌هوایی بالا میرم. دانشگاه رو از دور می‌بینم. فکر می‌کنم اگر عجله کنم قبل از کلاس میرسم. پام رو از پله‌ی اول پایین می‌گذارم. مرد معمولی‌ای با جین و کاپشن داره پله‌ها رو بالا میاد. چرا اینجوریه؟ یک پله میرم پایین. دستش کجاست؟ پله بعدی. شلوارش چرا بازه؟ مغزم از خواب می‌پره. برمی‌گردم بالا ولی دیر شده. بهم می‌رسه و هلم میده به میله‌ها. گیر کردم. تقلا می‌کنم. چرا صدام در نمیاد؟ می‌زنمش. چندبار؟ یادم نمیاد. لحظه بعد پایین پله‌هام و پشت مرد مسنی که با تلفن حرف می‌زنه پناه گرفتم. با چشماش داره میگه چه غلطی داری می‌کنی؟ نمی‌تونم بگم. صدام در نمیاد. تا دانشگاه رو می دوم و هزاربار پشت سرم رو نگاه می‌کنم. مسیر مورد علاقه هر روزم حالا خالی و ترسناکه. یک صورت آشنا می‌بینم و انگار برمی‌گردم توی بدنم. می‌زنم زیر گریه. بقیه میان و تکه‌تکه و نامفهوم تعریف می‌کنم. همه با هم میگن
بازم خوبه کاری نتونست بکنه

تا مدت‌ها مسیرم رو چهل و پنج دقیقه دور می‌کنم که از روی پل رد نشم. تقصیر خودته. اونجا خلوته. دو سال بعد، روزهای آخر دانشگاه، هنوز هربار از روی پل رد میشم قلبم کمی تندتر میزنه و پاهام قدم‌هاش رو تندتر می‌کنه

شش بعد از ظهره. کنار دکه پل سیدخندان‌ مجله‌ام رو می‌خرم و به سمت خونه راه می‌افتم. شلوغه، مثل همیشه این ساعت، ولی یکی داره درست پشت سرم راه میره. شروع می‌کنه به حرف زدن. همون دری وری‌های همیشگی. شماره‌ات رو بده تا برم. رسیدم به مغازه لوازم التحریر و هنوز داره میاد. عصبانی می‌شم. داد می‌زنم که چرا نمیری؟ معنی نه رو نمی‌فهمی؟‌ داد که می‌زنم مردم نگاه می‌کنند، ولی کسی چیزی نمیگه. میگه از خداتم باشه که با من باشی. فکر کردی کی هستی؟ یعنی خودش صدای خودش رو می‌شنوه؟ داد می‌زنه. داد می‌زنم. میره. اما سیدخندان تا خواجه‌عبدالله رو تا روزها زهر من می‌کنه


با دخترها توی پارک دانشگاه نشستیم. هرکی یکی از این داستان‌های لجن رو می‌گه و ما با دهان کج می‌خندیم. تلخ. از پشت روی پله‌برقی بهم دست زد. جلو نشسته بودم توی تاکسی، راننده دستش رو گذاشت روی سینه‌ام. از محل کار تا خونه دنبالم اومد. تمومی نداره. همه میگن و سرمون رو تکون می‌دیم. باز شانس آوردی اونجوری یا اینجوری نشد. آره آره. خدا رحم کرد. بازم خوبه چیز خاصی نشد


پسر عموم بود. نه من پسر دوست بابام بود. چقدر یادته؟ نه خیلی. فکر کنم پنج سالم بود، تو چی؟ من کلاس چهارم بودم. بیشترش رو یادمه. خواستم در برم اما گفت بابات بفهمه می‌کشتت. می‌دونی همش به این فکر می‌کنم که بازم در حد شیطنت بچگانه بود و اونجوری نشد. آره می‌دونم چی می‌گی

فرهنگ تجاوز یعنی هر کدوم از این داستان‌های اینجوری با این دسته سوالات مواجه میشن
چی پوشیده بودی؟
چی خورده بودی/مصرف کرده بودی؟
چرا اونجا بودی؟
چرا تنها بودی؟
چرا بیشتر مقاومت نکردی؟
چرا توی ماشینش/خونه‌‌اش بودی؟
چرا حواست رو بیشتر جمع نکردی؟
و همه‌ی این سوالات از پایه مشکل دارند، چون بار اتفاق رو روی دوش قربانی می‌گذارند

فرهنگ تجاوز یعنی

تصور غلط. یعنی اینکه تجاوز رو عمل دخول بین یک زن و مرد غریبه بدونی
متجاوز همیشه مرد نیست، غریبه نیست
کسی که بهش تجاوز میشه همیشه زن نیست
تجاوز همیشه دخول نیست، تجاوز یعنی از بدنت بدون اجازه خودت استفاده باشه، تجاوز به سادگی یعنی تو بگی «نه» و اون بگه «آره». این اتفاق ممکنه هرجا و بین هر دو آدمی بیوفته. توی خونه زیر سقف پدر و مادرت، توی رابطه و حتی توی ازدواج

فرهنگ تجاوز یعنی

وقتی اتفاقی برات می‌افته «تو» شرمگین باشی و نتونی برای کسی تعریف کنی. یعنی وقتی میخوای این ریویو رو بنویسی استرس بگیری. یعنی اگر برای کسی اتفاقی افتاده برات تعریف نمی‌کنه، چون می‌دونه که راجع بهش فکر بد می‌کنی

فرهنگ تجاوز یعنی

هیچی اونقدر بد نیست، مگر اینکه قربانی بمیره و اونوقت دیگه زیادی بد بوده. سوت برات می‌زنن؟ فکرای کثیفشون رو بلند می‌گن؟ جلوت خودشون رو نمایش دادن؟ جلوت خودارضایی کردن؟ دستمالی شدی؟ باهات به زور رابطه داشتن؟
ببین، مهم اینه که تو زنده‌ای. به این فکر کن که چقدر می‌تونست بدتر باشه. تو دیگه توی کالبد خودت حس امنیت نداری، ولی ممکن بود اتفاق بدتری برات بیوفته
اما بد در حقیقت یعنی همین که اتفاق افتاده و تا اینطور دیده نشه تلاشی برای جلوگیری ازش اتفاق نمی‌افته

این کتاب صدای سی انسانه که از تجربه خودشون از تجاوز میگن و توسط این نوشته‌های کوتاه صدای عصبانیتشون رو به گوش می‌رسونند. داستان‌ها متفاوته و از هرچیزی که می‌تونید و نمی‌تونید تصور کنید در اون گفته شده و به همین دلیل خواندنشون آسان نیست. درد و سیاهی روایت‌ها روی قلب آدم سنگینی می‌کنه. رکسان گی، نویسنده‌ای که این مقالات رو تجمیع ‌کرده، به این افراد فرصت داده که از هرچه که دوست دارن شنیده بشه بگن و نویسنده‌ها از اون اتفاق، سال‌ها بعد، قبل و روزهای بد و خوبشون میگن. اما هدف این مقالات یکیه
تجاوز و تعرض، به هر نحو و شکل و شدت، بده و بار مسئولیت فقط و فقط بر دوش مجرمه

کتاب رو با صدای خود نویسنده‌ها گوش دادم که حال عجیبی داشت. شنیدن نوشته‌هایی چنین شخصی با صدای خود فرد این حس رو بهم می‌داد که رو به روشون نشستم و ص��بت می‌کنند

کتاب رو بخونید اگه

قربانی تجاوز و تعرض بودید
می‌خواید قربانی‌ها رو درک کنید و بشنوید
می‌خواید به قربانی‌ای که می‌شناسید کمک کنید
می‌خواید این اتفاق‌ها کمتر بیوفته
می‌خواید از آدم‌هایی باشید که فرهنگ عقب‌مانده تجاوز رو اصلاح می‌کنند

امتیاز واقعی ۴/۵
M's Books :کتاب رو اینجا گذاشتم
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,399 reviews11.7k followers
August 5, 2020
A hard book to read. The pervasiveness of sexual abuse in all our lives is sickening. There is a wide variety of stories, and I wish I didn't have to say to myself: "Yes, I've experienced this. And that. And that too." I hope writing these essays was cathartic. Not all essays were equally well written, but they all were equally affecting and of value.

The one stood out for me, and it couldn't not to because of my identity as a reader and my interactions with other readers here, on Goodreads, was the first one, in which the author, a creative writing teacher, had to explain to her students that what they were writing and reading was in fact rape, abuse, assault. (Yes, having sex with a girl you like when she is completely unconscious is rape, not a romantic encounter, what's wrong with you?)

This misunderstanding of consent and rape is something I come across a lot here, much more than I should, it seems, especially when I read and review some retrograde fantasy (like The Last Wish), when people routinely stop by to debate and mock the notions of consent and misogyny. To me, lines are clear, for some others - not so much I guess.

The other one I remember, from years ago, was arguing with my real life book club (not the one I am in now) is what happened in the beginning of this " YA romance" - The Wrath and the Dawn - was rape or not. Half judged it rape, some didn't. Let me see, a girl "consents" to have sex with her husband who had previously killed all of his numerous wives. She is scared for her life and needs to stay alive to exact her revenge. She "consents" with hate and fear in her eyes. He sees it, but she is so beautiful, he just can't resist. I look at my friends' old 5-star reviews of this trash pile and weep.

Do we still need to debate this? Or we all have learned something since 2015?
Profile Image for ALet.
279 reviews241 followers
January 3, 2021
Trigger warning: violence, rape and sexual assault.

This book was a very well-crafted book with various important voices talking about such an important subject matter. This is an important read not just to people who do not understand the lifelong impact of sexual abuse, rape, and trauma but for everyone.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,049 followers
October 19, 2018
Anyone who doesn't understand the lifelong impact of sexual abuse, rape, and trauma (and how very different it is from regret over a bad date) should read this book. An alternate title could have been been "Get Over It."⠀

This also will probably be valuable to people who haven't been able to share their own stories but can find comfort in not being alone. These personal essays are not all by straight women, so that adds a necessary diversity to the picture.

Roxane Gay says in the introduction that she intended originally to collect personal accounts alongside pieces that were more on the research/journalism side, but ended up with so many compelling personal essays that she changed the focus of the book. Each writer has a different approach. Some are more like lyric essays, some are blunt and to the point.

Because of the content I read a few essays in between other things rather than reading it cover to cover but this is highly recommended.
Profile Image for da AL.
366 reviews365 followers
September 27, 2018
Everyone needs to read this. Everyone. So many brave stories. The audio version is phenomenal. Throughout, I'm reminded of Frida Kahlo's painting, "A Few Small Nips," which quotes the words of
a man after he murdered his girlfriend.
Profile Image for Obsidian.
2,734 reviews938 followers
February 16, 2022
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 dealing 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.
Profile Image for Schizanthus Nerd.
1,151 reviews241 followers
August 4, 2018
I went on a bit of a journey through Opposite Land while reading this book. I love that this book exists. I hate that it has to.

The title was what initially grabbed my attention: Not That Bad. How many times have I and countless others said that?! Was it because it wasn’t that bad? No. It was that bad but we still live in a world that, on the whole, doesn’t want to know about sexual assault.

It doesn’t quite feel right to say I have a favourite anything where rape culture is concerned so instead I’ll say that the best definition of rape culture I’ve read to date is by Clem Ford:
“A state of existence in which the impact and reality of sexual violence is minimised while the perpetrators of it are supported by a complex system built on flawed human beliefs, mythologies about gender, and good old fashioned misogyny."
Usually I’d give each contributor in a book of essays an individual star rating and comment on their writing style or whether I connected with their story or not, but I won’t be doing that here. I’m so proud of everyone that contributed to this book and while some essays impacted me more than others, I’m not comfortable critiquing anyone’s experience of rape culture.

Instead I’ll be sharing a quote from each contributor. I highlighted so much of this book and found it difficult in most cases to choose just one for this review. In the end I decided to share the one that stood out the most when I reread my highlighted passages. As such, both the book and my review need to come with a trigger warning. Stop reading now if you need to. 💜

Introduction - Roxane Gay
It was comforting, perhaps, to tell myself that what I went through “wasn’t that bad.” Allowing myself to believe that being gang-raped wasn’t “that bad” allowed me to break down my trauma into something more manageable, into something I could carry with me instead of allowing the magnitude of it to destroy me.

But, in the long run, diminishing my experience hurt me far more than it helped.
Fragments - Aubrey Hirsch
If rape culture had a national sport, it would be … well … something with balls, for sure.
Slaughterhouse Island - Jill Christman
If nothing changes - and in thirty years, not nearly enough has changed - next year, there will be one hundred thousand more assaults on our campuses.

One is too many. One hundred thousand.
& the Truth Is, I Have No Story - Claire Schwartz
This is not about that. This is about everything after.

This is about how, all of a sudden, there was only one after.
The Luckiest MILF in Brooklyn - Lynn Melnick
I know that saying please stop made it no more likely that these things would stop.
Spectator: My Family, My Rapist, and Mourning Online - Brandon Taylor
The only way through all of it was to promise that I would remember it and that at some point, I would make it known what happened there.

I am a hard person because hardness is what comes from a life lived underground.
The Sun - Emma Smith-Stevens
So many times my mind left my body only to return to find it soiled
Sixty-Three Days - AJ McKenna
I resent having to face up to it. I resent having to be a survivor.

“Survivor” is the “special needs” of victimhood. If I say I have survived, I’m fooling nobody. I didn’t.
Only the Lonely - Lisa Mecham
And my hands, my hands. I wrapped them around my shins and pulled in tight and cried and thought about how when you’re hurt, way before you say it, you have to feel it.
What I Told Myself - Vanessa Mártir
I looked over at my daughter, who had moved on to the swings, and that’s when it hit me: I’d been blaming myself for thirty years for what happened to me when I was six.
Stasis - Ally Sheedy
I didn’t go on auditions for films that I felt glorified sex work, that depicted women being sexually abused in a gratuitous way, or that required me to leave my sense of self on the doorstep. (All of these films became huge hits.)
The Ways We Are Taught to Be a Girl - xTx
We learn not to tell everything. We know telling everything will make them see the bad in us. How it is our fault. How we contributed. We fear repercussions, albeit lighter than the ones we will administer to ourselves; slut, bad, ugly, weak, whore, trash, shame, hate. We tell just enough, if we tell at all.
Floccinaucinihilipilification - So Mayer
It’s a conundrum: if you survive, then it - that, the trauma - can’t have been that bad. Being dead is the only way to prove it was. It really was bad. It was terrible. It was so awful there was no way I could survive.

What did this child die of? Shame, mainly. And narrative necessity.

If you survive, you have to prove it was that bad; or else, they think you are.

Surviving is some kind of sin, like floating up off the dunking stool like a witch. You have to be permanently écorchée, heart-on-sleeve, offering up organs and body parts like a medieval saint.
The Life Ruiner - Nora Salem
Perhaps the most horrifying thing about nonconsensual sex is that, in an instant, it erases you. Your own desires, your safety and well-being, your ownership of the body that may very well have been the only thing you ever felt sure you owned - all of it becomes irrelevant, even nonexistent.
All the Angry Women - Lyz Lenz
Anger is the privilege of the truly broken, and yet, I’ve never met a woman who was broken enough that she allowed herself to be angry.
Good Girls - Amy Jo Burns
Much of the furor spread not because a crime occurred, but because these girls had the nerve to say that it had.

A good girl is a quick study, and this is what you, always a good girl, learned: It doesn’t matter how good you are, because a man will always be better.
Utmost Resistance: Law and the Queer Woman or How I Sat in a Classroom and Listened to My Male Classmates Debate How to Define Force and Consent - V.L. Seek
When your truth is so inherently questioned, it is easier to say nothing than anything at all.
Bodies Against Borders - Michelle Chen
The flip side of treating “victims” or “survivors” as subjects of a narrative is that the process of intellectualizing the issue also requires neatly transmuting the subject into the object. And objectifying people who have lived through sexual violence is not a good place to begin, or end, any story - not our own, and not theirs.
Wiping the Stain Clean - Gabrielle Union
Rape is a wound that throbs long after it heals. And for some of us the throbbing gets too loud. Post-traumatic stress syndrome is very real and chips away at the soul and sanity of so many of us who have survived sexual violence.
What We Didn’t Say - Liz Rosema
I don’t even remember his name but I remember what he said - the corner of that page is folded in my memory. I turn right to it.
I Said Yes - Anthony Frame
“It’s your eyes. They’re so … Was that the year it happened?”
Knowing Better - Samhita Mukhopadhyay
She had learned, somewhere in the interim, to do more than simply reveal what had happened to her; she had learned to tell the story of it so that it didn’t become her only story.
Not That Loud: Quiet Encounters with Rape Culture - Miriam Zoila Pérez
Sexual assault is no longer an undercurrent in political life: it shouts at us from news headlines, colors the electoral debates, shapes rally slogans and protest chants. But something doesn’t have to be loud to be deafening, to suck up all the oxygen in the room, to shroud the windows and dim the lights.
Why I Stopped - Zoë Medeiros
Sometimes I see ghosts. The worst ghosts for me are not usually the flashbacks, although those can be pretty bad, but the ones who show me what I might have been if it never happened. It’s like suddenly feeling what it would be like to run on a leg that had never been broken, just for a second, and then it’s gone and the old bone-deep pain is with me again.
Picture Perfect - Sharisse Tracey
For once, I was glad I didn’t have a little sister.
To Get Out from Under It - Stacey May Fowles
What I need is what most women need when they talk about the sexual violence they have endured. I need someone to listen. I need someone to believe me.
Reaping What Rape Culture Sows: Live from the Killing Fields of Growing Up Female in America - Elisabeth Fairfield Stokes
the world, I had learned, was a place that didn’t condemn sexual violence; it accepted and excused it.
Invisible Light Waves - Meredith Talusan
I stayed to prove that he could not affect me
Getting Home - Nicole Boyce
There’s something so naive about insisting that daylight makes a difference. Why do I imagine that violence wears a wristwatch?
Why I Didn’t Say No - Elissa Bassist
Because when a woman challenges a man, then the facts are automatically in dispute, as is the speaker, and the speaker’s license to speak.
Early this week I had my latest experience with rape culture. At a time when I had already read about half of this book I found myself in a room with a man in a position of authority who, while telling me that it wasn’t a matter of whether he believed me or not, also told me numerous times that my story was “unbelievable”, along with an incredulous “How is that even possible?!”

Feeling disempowered by his lack of belief and judgement, and vulnerable after being given no choice over the location of our meeting, I found myself minimising my experience by telling him that the sexual assault I’d experienced in that building (a few offices to my right) wasn’t as bad as the sexual assault I’d experienced across the street from where we were meeting.

“Not as bad.” As soon as the words were out of my mouth the title of this book flashed in my mind and I internally chastised myself. While I couldn’t take back those words I made sure I wasn’t silent when this man went on to talk about the “gains” people achieve by making up false allegations against “poor” men. I (we) have a long way to go but I believe that by refusing to be silent about the “unbelievable” we (I) can be catalysts for change.

If you have read this review and have experienced any form of sexual assault please know that you are not alone and it was not your fault. I believe you. Your story matters. You matter!

If you need support or information you can contact:

* RAINN (America) - www.rainn.org - chat online or call 800.656.HOPE

* 1800RESPECT (Australia) - www.1800respect.org.au - chat online or call 1800 737 732

You can also search for resources in over a hundred countries at:

* HotPeachPages - www.hotpeachpages.net
Profile Image for Malia.
Author 6 books551 followers
July 12, 2018
As is always the case with anthologies, some stories are more engaging than others. I also listened to this as and audiobook and I have to say, some narrators were very good and some so bad I almost couldn't listen to them.All in all, this was an interesting collection, if not exactly illuminating. I did think it was good to include authors with such a wide array of backgrounds and that not each experience was rape, but each experience did show that the threat of rape lies even in something certain men would deem as harmless or even complimentary. It is going to take time to teach sons, brothers, husbands and friends that some of their actions - even if far removed from aggression or assault - simply frighten women and for that reason they should stop. It's so simple and obvious and yet, when I think about some of the stories, apparently very difficult for some to grasp or to be impacted enough to change their behavior.
I want to share a little story with you. The other day, I was at an ATM. It was pretty deserted and as I was putting in my card, a man approached. Though I didn't feel afraid, exactly, maybe he sensed I would. He stayed waaay back and loudly said, "The line starts here." It's small acts of consideration like this that make all the difference and I have to say, I was a little moved, even though it would be really nice if acting like this was just the norm.
In hindsight, this anthology was better than I felt it was while I was reading, maybe that's to do with the uncomfortable subject matter. I did feel the authors all had a vaguely similar style to Roxane Gay herself, so if you liked her other books, you might find this one interesting as well. I'll remember some of these stories for a long time, while others will likely fade quickly, but that's just the way it is with anthologies and overall, I am glad I read this book.

Find more reviews and bookish fun at http://www.princessandpen.com
Profile Image for Nat K.
415 reviews155 followers
September 25, 2021
"This is your life. This is your life. This is your life."

I'm a huge fan of Roxane Gay & her ability to get the conversation started about topics we'd prefer not to talk about.

The introduction of this book has Roxane Gay recount the "terrible, life-changing experience" where as a twelve year old, she was gang raped by a group of boys, in the woods near her home.

It was a horrific event which she tried to forget. For a long time she shrugged it off as being "not that bad" (in comparison to what other people had endured), even though it impacted her feelings of self worth & relationships with others.

Many years later, the idea came to her to put together an anthology of other people's stories. To address what it means to "live in a world where the phrase 'rape culture' exists." And to try and figure out what "not that bad" really means.

It is both sad and frightening that the phrase "rape culture" even exists.

There are twenty nine stories in this anthology. Twenty nine voices that speak out about what happened to them. About the impact the event had on their lives... has on their life.

"My story isn't as serious, it isn't as important. I am dealing with it. I am ok."

From unwanted lewd comments made by strangers on the street, to suggestive "accidental" touching, to inappropriate fondling, to sexism & sexual harassment in the workplace. Suggestive critiques of appearance regarding a person's desirability (though obviously this is put in much cruder terms). To actual sexual assault and rape.

"My biggest fear is that I'm not actually real."

Non-consensual means just that. But how can a child possibly speak up? How can this message even be formed in one so young? What about someone abused by a family member. Or taken advantage of at a party. Or at a function. Or when not being fully capable of making decisions. The scenarios are endless. There is something very wrong here.

"I like you, but I think we're both a little drunk. Here's my number. Let's get together another time."

And don't assume that it's only women who are victims of sexual assault. Male and transgender people share their stories too.

"Spectating isn't free. No one gets something for nothing."

There are frightening statistics quoted throughout the book. Human trafficking, unsafe border crossings, migration across war torn and unstable countries, where people have the ugly layer of sexual violation to also contend with.

None of it is ok.

This is raw. It is uncomfortable. It is in your face. This book will make you think. And it will get under your skin. A powerful book that will stay with you long after you've turned the last page.

I have to say all respect to each one of these people for opening up and speaking their truth.

"The truth may set you free, but the truth will also cost you."

Essential reading.

"I watch the sun rise, which tells me it's time to start again."

Trigger warning! Sexually explicit. Mature themes. Emotionally overwhelming.

I don't know if it's because I read this while 'recovering' from the spring flu, but it made my head hurt. That my heart hurt, that's a given.
Profile Image for Monica.
592 reviews621 followers
August 15, 2018
Impressions, perceptions, ideas, emotions, concepts on rape and rape culture. Far more complex than is evident.

Roxane Gay compiles a cornucopia of essays about all aspects of rape and rape culture.  Rape culture is defined as a society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and abuse. Multiple points of view are explored here (though only from the victim perspective).  There are testimonies about how the rape culture somewhat shaped behaviors of promiscuity or shyness/isolation or cynicism etc.  Also there are many essays from victims of all genders (including transgenders).  Essays about why they did or didn't report events.  There are essays from reporters who have studied the statistics and the victims and compiled some very interesting observations especially among immigrant women.  It really was a fascinating and heartbreaking foray into the minds of people who have been victimized by rape culture and how oftentimes they characterize the fact that they survived (versus those who didn't) as "Not that bad" compared to how it could have been.  Oy.  These essays concentrated on the after effects though there were a few (in most cases based upon rapes by a friend etc) where the pre signals were analyzed.
There is a lot of confusion in our culture over what constitutes rape because we have a rape culture.  Can a boyfriend rape you because of past consent?  Do we send signals that implied consent?  Of course the victims are the folks doing all of the self-analyzing. I understand the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness and anger and disgust  and the entire host of negative long term emotions and baggage leverage on victims of rape. The theft of peace of mind, self-confidence and security is one of the most underrated assaults on human beings imaginable.  I would like some insight on the perpetrators.  Do they feel remorse or anger or guilt?  Did they see their victims as people with rights or did they just take what they want?  Also if I recall correctly, all of the perpetrators in this book are male.  Is Gay going after the patriarchy?
I thought of a quote from Laurie Penny that keeps resurrecting itself for many of the nonfiction books I am reading these days.
"It is no longer an overstatement to suggest that toxic masculinity is killing the world."
This is not to suggest that men are the only gender that contributes to the maintenance of rape culture.  Nor is this meant to suggest that women cannot force unwanted sexual contact on any person that could constitute rape.  But I think the very twisted concept of strength and power in America and realistically worldwide in every known civilized culture, is the perception of what it means to be a man. Weirdness like strength=respect, power=strength, sexual prowess=strength, power=respect, strength=entitlement, might=right, strength=self-worth, power=character. And the converse of that which is ever present in the self-analysis of victims. Weirdness like: weak=powerless, weak=disrespect, weak=wrong, weak=incapable, weak=hopeless, weak=object, weak=worthless, weak=vulnerable and most importantly victim=weak. Of the most heartbreaking of emotions are the ones where the folks were unsure at the time. It seems to me that both victims and perpetrators live in a binary world where everything is mutually exclusive. It's either rape or it's not. Like there cannot exist nuance. The examples of this were: That's in fact a part of the rape culture. The idea that any sexual interaction is binary and that consent to something means consent to everything.

This book was heart wrenching and heartbreakingly sad as it showcases the after effects of the victims. I think these stories need voice. My perception of the book was that despite the efforts of both the survivors and Gay, its dripping in self-loathing, and negative self-judgement. It's a sad commentary that just about every woman that I know has endured some type of unwanted, sexually-charged encounter; be it unwanted inuendo, stray comments or much worse. What I found was a whole lot of self-flagellation and though self-aware; a lot of desire to wave it all away, not experience any of it. I think people on a whole (and this comment goes well beyond sexual assault and the rape culture--or maybe it's a key component of rape culture), are just so tuned out of their emotional impact on anyone else that what is being described here is a microcosm of what is going on worldwide. Humans are either oblivious to the impacts of their actions or just don't care. Perhaps as a result of the relentless pugilism in the way we tend to deal with and confront nearly all of life's challenges. As for the victims (and I suppose in many ways all of us are victims), we tend to internalize, and isolate and the worst thing in the world is the idea that someone else would know about our pain and be frivolous or callous in the response. We'd rather people not know than to view us as weak. This is a worldwide phenomenon that knows no racial, ethnic nor gender boundaries. When our peace of mind is stolen we become confused, weary, fragile, and humiliated. Ultimately even I tend to wonder if there is any hope for humankind, because realistically the state of the world right now is the epitome of rape culture. {deep sigh} I think/hope/pray that all this restlessness, uncertainty, and discomfort with the current state of the human condition is a sign of evolutionary change (for the better) in civilized society. Hold on tight.

4.2ish Stars

Read on kindle.

Edited to Add: The essays are designed to speak for themselves and the order etc all has some kind of organic, intended affect. My issues with the book are that there is tremendous repetition, and there may have been too many essays. It's a lot to take in and all the misery turns compelling into a slog. This was not a tedious read, but fewer essays would have made this a better book. Also there was no coherent structure to the order of the essays. Not enough essays on rape culture, but a metric ton on the aftermath of rape. A necessary but painful book.
Profile Image for Scott.
1,744 reviews123 followers
May 25, 2018
Author/editor Roxane Gay has assembled nearly thirty essays from people who experienced rape, sexual abuse and/or child molestation. From understandable outrage ('Good Girls' by Amy Jo Burns and "All the Angry Women' by Lyz Lenz) to young innocence destroyed ('I Said Yes' by Anthony Frame and 'Picture Perfect' by Sharisse Tracey - both extremely heartbreaking) to the ugly side of the American entertainment industry (actress Ally Sheedy's timely 'Stasis') to the therapy process (Stacey May Fowles' 'To Get Out From Under It'), there are numerous types of personal experiences that will make any reader run through a gamut of emotions.
Profile Image for Katie.dorny.
979 reviews498 followers
December 7, 2019
This just sent me in a fucking whirlwind. Read this book. I can’t provide a review of this book that gives it justice.

Roxanne Gay is a fierce fucking force of nature who I now adore.
Profile Image for Nadia.
270 reviews175 followers
September 15, 2018
I don't even know where to start reviewing this, Not That Bad evoked so much reaction in me and I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to read it. If I only had one word to describe this book, I would choose POWERFUL.

I took my time reading this book, not because I didn't like it but because it is not an easy read. Each story in Not That Bad is written by someone who experienced rape or sexual abuse in some form. There is suffering, pain, depression, hate, self-blame... All of these emotions feel very real, because they are real, this really happened, it is still happening and it is shocking. I would urge everyone to read this.

Many thanks to Atlantic Books and NetGalley for my ARC in exchange of an honest review.
Profile Image for Vanessa.
868 reviews1,093 followers
December 3, 2018
This I think is a very important read, but also definitely not one for the faint of heart. If I could change anything about my reading experience, I would have read this over a longer period of time and not essay after essay after essay in one sitting - unfortunately I had to do this as it was a library book with an impending due date, but I think I was by the last 25% not really engaging as much as I would have liked with the content. And these women's stories need to be heard. Well worth picking up, but don't go for it if you're having a dark period, and be aware that this could obviously be incredibly triggering if you have suffered any kind of sexual abuse.
Profile Image for Bonnie G..
1,295 reviews188 followers
January 5, 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?"
Profile Image for BookOfCinz.
1,404 reviews2,354 followers
August 15, 2018
"Perhaps the most horrifying thing about nonconsensual sex is that, in an instant, it erases you. Your own desires, your safety and well-being, your ownership of the body that may very well have been the only thing you ever felt sure you owned—all of it becomes irrelevant, even nonexistent."

I felt so deeply for everyone who contributed. We are all fighting this battle and now more than ever we need to speak out.

Required reading.
Profile Image for Ashley.
2,649 reviews1,691 followers
June 15, 2018
I have never had such a hard time getting through a book that I liked. "Liked" actually feels like the wrong word here. How can I say I liked something that made me angry and frustrated almost 100% of the way through, and which filled me with dread every time I tried to convince myself to pick it back up again? Perhaps "appreciated"? Understand is necessary? See its importance? But not liked.

I didn't expect this reaction, even though rape is a tough subject to read about under the best circumstances, because I've never really read about it the way it's presented in this book: unrelentingly, and chapter after chapter. Different perspectives on the same horrible thing; variations on a theme. And it was exhausting. Even when reading the words of survivor's in the past, it's always been bearable because it was one essay, one story, maybe two. Or it was an entire book told in the third person, an objective third party. This book was close and intimate and uncomfortable.

The only essay I don't think worked, at least in the context of the collection, was the one about sexual assault and refugees. It was a highly impersonal, verging on academic, essay. Despite how informative and well written it was, all the rest of the stories were in the first person, and featured the voices of survivors. It just felt out of place.

So, anyway, pick this up if you think you have the stomach for it, but it will not make you feel good after reading it. The purpose of the collection is to show the fallacy of "not that bad", the lie behind the idea that if it doesn't kill you it makes you stronger, that someone else has suffered more, so your suffering doesn't mean anything. It succeeds, but it will piss you off make you feel helpless while doing so. Just to warn you.

Read Harder Challenge 2018: An essay anthology.
Profile Image for Dannii Elle.
2,032 reviews1,424 followers
August 27, 2018
Wherever you come from and whoever you may be, if you are reading this then go and read the book instead.

This is a raw collation of individual's responses to and experiences with rape culture. Many diverse perspectives are amalgamated here and it provides an entirely heart-breaking but powerful and necessary read.

Roxane Gay introduced this collection by relaying her own experiences with rape culture. What she encountered afterwards became a common theme throughout. Many individuals suffered from horrific abuse and assault, others were touched or spoken to inappropriately, and almost all were told that their experience was 'not that bad'.

There seems to be a socially constructed ideology that whatever the individual suffers it could always be worse. Many of the essays and recollections collected expose individuals in authority telling the victim that they are lucky to be alive. To have survived means it was 'not that bad' because others have died in similar circumstances, right? But then to be catcalled or petted without instruction is 'not that bad' because rape is worse, right?

To tell an individual all they have suffered is 'not that bad' is to allow the perpetrators to continue; it encourages individuals to think of themselves as one of the 'lucky ones' rather than the victim; it disallows time to grieve and the confrontation of true emotions.

The next time you tell yourself or another not to walk down a dark alley alone, to wear a longer skirt, or not to get black-out drunk for fear of bringing a bad situation on yourself, just remember that you are essentially advocating for others to suffer in your place, the ones who did not make these 'safe' choices. The next time you tell yourself or another that your actions could have instructed another to react to you in a way you would rather they wouldn't, ask yourself what they would have to have done for you to react in kind? The next time you instruct yourself or another to adopt that grin-and-bear-it mentality you are allowing the casual sexism and misogyny to continue.

We are brainwashed to fear encouraging worse abuse, through the voicing of concerns and discontent, and are encouraged to always wonder what the victim's portion of blame should be. The answer is none. The answer is always always none.

All this has created a culture which is now our reality - a rape culture. Gay has collated these experiences to illuminate the problems of our contemporary society. It will not change the world and it will not heal the emotional and physical wounds of the sufferers, but it does send the message of a united front and it does provide hope for a future that differs. Because yes, it is that bad.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to the editor, Roxane Gay, and the publisher, Harper, for this opportunity.
Profile Image for Laura Noggle.
676 reviews387 followers
May 14, 2019
Important. Challenging. Powerful. Heartbreaking.

Essential as it not only lets survivors of sexual assault know they are not alone and fighting similar demons, it should make you a better, more empathetic person from reading it.

Statistically, you know at least one survivor—if not more. It's impossible to know what someone is dealing with. By all means, be kind to your fellow humans.

These stories provide a range of experiences from all walks, ages, and perspectives of life. They need to be HEARD so that we can fight sexual assault and work towards eliminating sexual violence.

“If I do not remember and do not hold people accountable for that boy's pain, then no one will remember it, and no one will remember that it was not acceptable for him to be treated that way. If I forgive all of the things done to me, done to that boy that I was, then I will betray everything I promised that boy when we endured those things. The only way through all of it was to promise that I would remember it and that at some point, I would make it known what happened there."

[Brandon Taylor, "Spectator: My Family, My Rapist, and Mourning Online"]

"There is this impossible paradox when you are victimized by sexual assault. You want to—you have to—convince yourself that it wasn't 'that bad' in order to have any hope of healing. If it really is as bad as you feel like it is, how will you ever get out from under it? How will you ever get 'better'?

On the other hand, you need to convince others it was 'bad enough' to get the help and support you need to do that healing. To get out from under it. To get an appointment at the clinic. To get friends to come over with Styrofoam food containers when you can't feed yourself.

You tell yourself how bad it is and then you numb yourself to how bad it is. You repeat as needed, for so many years."

[Stacey May Fowler, "To Get Out From Under It"]

"You can cry quietly, or you can howl. You can scream softly, or you can pierce the air like a missile. But silence is just silence. It doesn't sound any different no matter how deep it is. It doesn't look like anything you or anyone else can see, especially when you don't look in mirrors anymore. If I didn't look at myself, I could pretend that nothing has changed."

[Elisabeth Fairfield Stokes, "Reaping What Rape Culture Sows: Live from the Killing Fields of Growing Up Female in America"]

"O my friend searching for an absurdity necessary to train the self to be tolerant . . . do not reconcile with anything except for this obscure reason. Do not regret a war that ripened you just as August ripens pomegranates on the slopes of stolen mountains.”

— Mahmoud Darwish
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