I’m afraid of men, by Vivek Shraya. Penguin Canada, 2018. ISBN 9780735235939.
There’s not a lot that is new in this short book with the provocative title. Women have been recording stupid and harassing male behaviour for eons. In this perhaps unique moment in history, however, when there exists the possibility that we might finally be able to put a stop to it, in the West at least, the perspective of a trans woman who has experienced misogyny in its many forms undoubtedly adds a little more to the conversation.
The book begins with a sentence that explains the title: “I’m afraid of men because it was men who taught me fear.” The introductory chapter that follows then demonstrates how this “fear governs many of the choices I make, from the beginning of my day to the end.”
I’m Afraid of Men is a mostly autobiographical piece that begins with experiences from her childhood as a brown skinned boy with troubling feminine tendencies to her time spent as a gay male and finally to her life as a trans woman. This shifting perspective allows Shraya to demonstrate how misogyny plays out in different ways. Many of the traumas are relatively mild and will be familiar to most trans woman, but it is the accumulation of these traumas that serves to beat us down and make us fearful. They remind us that male violence is always there, lurking in the background and, if we let it, governing our behaviour.
Shraya pulls the book together at the end into a broader critique of the restrictive notions of gender and the dominant male culture. In this section, she admits she’s afraid of women too, “afraid of women who’ve either emboldened or defended the men who have harmed me, or have watched in silence…of women who have internalized their experiences of misogyny so deeply that they make me their punching bag. I’m afraid of the women who, like men, reject my pronouns and refuse to see my femininity, or who comment on or criticize my appearance, down to the chipped nail polish, to reiterate that I am not one of them.”
Vivek Shraya is a talented woman. In addition to being an author, she is a creative writing professor, a musician, and has produced short films and photography exhibitions. She also has an imprint with Arsenal Pulp Press called VS. Books. You can expect to hear much more from Vivek Shraya in the future.