This piece originally appeared in Issue 3.37 (Winter 2019)
At 85 pages, Vivek Shraya’s nonfiction bestseller I’m Afraid of Men has been called “slim.” The trim size resembles that of a small notebook—you can slip it into a coat pocket and carry it with you. Many readers will be able to wrap our hands completely around it. This is where the participation begins: by holding it. I recommend holding it at eye level while riding the bus so that other passengers may glance at the bold orange text that reads “I’m Afraid of Men” on the front cover and the bright violet text that reads “Men Are Afraid of Me” on the back.
This is what change-making nonfiction does. It invites us to get involved. Where do we fit into the paragraphs and pages of a poignant personal essay like Shraya’s? How do we see ourselves as connected to her lived truths, as discomforting as her truths are? When we read lines from her opening page—“I’m afraid of men because it was men who taught me to fear the word girl by turning it into a weapon they used against me”—what do we feel, and where in our bodies do we feel it?
For me, reading Shraya feels akin to debriefing daily misogyny with my closest friends: like that late-night phone call where a friend recounts how many times she was harassed at her last job, or that brunch meet-up where the conversation turns to violence and every women around the table discloses that she’s been raped. These private conversations between women can offer much-needed solidarity; there is power in telling at least one other person about what we’ve been through. Now available in hardcover, eBook and Kindle, and as an audiobook read by Shraya herself, I’m Afraid of Men tells thousands of readers what women go through. Shraya changes the very culture of disclosure by taking these often private stories and making them public.
What I felt in my body is movement, a somatic shift in seeing the stories—that women, especially Indigenous women, women of colour and trans women, are taught to quietly bear as a part of simply existing—written concretely written in large, accessible font. In a “slim” 85 pages, Shraya transforms fear into something powerful that we can carry with us into the public sphere (like the bus), into something we can hold up.