Chavisa Woods never wanted to write a memoir. So, how did we get fourth book, 100 Times: A Memoir of Sexism? She explains, “I decided to put these stories to the page not because my life has been exceptional. I felt it was incumbent upon me to tell the stories exactly because, when it comes to sexism, my life is not exceptional at all.” What you see is what you get with Woods;s title: 100 times the author was sexually harassed (verbally and/or physically), fear for her life because she is a lesbian, and dismissed due to her gender. Woods emphasizes that there are not the only times she experienced sexism, but the most egregious, especially when her age and sexuality seem to embolden the abusers.
100 Times reads quickly because it has 100 brief anecdotes. Some are a paragraph, some need 3-4 pages for context and consequences. Smartly, the author organizes her experiences in chronological order by the age at which she experienced sexism. There was the time in 8th grade when a boy approached the pencil sharpener and smacked Woods with his textbook so hard that her head flew down onto her desk and bloodied her nose. The teacher, who did not witness the event, chalked up the boy’s violence to a crush. Woods asks, “What sort of lesson is it to teach girls that being physically assaulted by a boy is a sign of love?” To follow up the story, Woods writes the boy frequently assaulted her and other girls for two years without punishment.
Many of the author’s stories of sexism do not end with consequences for the perpetrator. When she was in high school, Woods signed up for a mentorship during which she would learn how to control the light boards in a local theater. The theater employee attempted to rape her, and when Woods told school officials about it, two other girls came forward, too. Although the sexual predator was fired, high turnover at the theater meant he was able to be hired again, then fired when Woods reminded the theater of his history, then hired again. By demonstrating that women who fight against sexism are mostly ignored and seen as “problems” for “complaining,” Woods hits home the point that sexism doesn’t exist because women have failed to point it out, but because complacency and deference to men is the norm.
Even artist spaces are not safe, though I know it’s a stereotype that people in the creative writing scene are more open-minded. We know this after several women came forth to name predators in the “alt-lit” community a few years ago. And yet well-known authors and photographers make sexist comments to Woods, including one man who frequented open-mic readings and pressured female poets to let him photograph their naked breasts for his binder collection. Woods felt, “He didn’t know I despised him because he was treating me like I was an animal whose hide he wanted to claim.” Although it’s hard to do acknowledge sexism in a lit community where knowing and supporting writers can change the trajectory of your own creative journey (publishing, blurbs, recommendations for writing programs), Woods clearly expresses the limitations on her rage at being sexually harassed. While she argues that her experiences with sexism are so common, vocalizing her objection to sexism is not so common, and in 100 Times she does it effectively.
A highly recommended memoir that affected me deeply, first having me nodding along angrily when Chavisa Woods was a minor and then shrinking back in fear as the sexism became bolder, scarier, more forceful in her twenties and thirties.