100 Times: A Memoir of Sexism by Chavisa Woods

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.

15 comments

  1. I was hoping if I came back 12 hours later there would be comments, but nup. It’s difficult for an old bloke like me to know what to do or to say. I was brought up the old way in a house full of boys. I certainly wasn’t ready to absorb any women’s lib stuff in my twenties, in the 1970s, and I didn’t really begin to internalise any of it until my daughters were teenagers and my marriage had failed, mostly through me being unable to give up control.

    Numbers I’d thought were ridiculous, like one in three of all women have been assaulted, turned out to be demonstrably true. Indeed, I’d accept that all women are assaulted in some way.

    We’ve discussed before that boys learned to push hard for sex, and I’m sure many girls gave in, still give in, for the sake of the “relationship”. I’ve never gone round deliberately harassing women, but that’s what all old white guys say. i think my son is better than I am, and I hope things improve.

    In Australia right now the Prime Minister is disputing that the government doesn’t have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy about sexual assault despite the fact that a young female staffer raped in the office of a (woman) senior minister two years ago, was made to go away and the PM “wasn’t told”.

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    • I think that it’s important to hear all perspectives with an open heart, and just because you’re an old white dude, that doesn’t mean you have things to say that won’t inform me. For instance, women are pushed to really wait to engage in sexual activities, whereas boy seem pushed just as hard in the opposite direction. That’s hard for me to get my mind around because I can’t image men wanting to encourage boys to have sex. I mean, it’s gross on a mind-blowing level. On the website Reddit I often see toddlers, just little boys around 2-3 years, looking at a mannequin or giant poster of women in bathing suits or underwear, and the caption is always, “That’s my boy!” GROSS. You’re boy is still shitting in a diaper, sir. Why are you thinking about his future sexual activity?? I can’t fathom thinking that way, so knowing that people do open’s my perspective. It’s also good to know how people gauge their own behavior. I’ve said things that I’m sure made someone uncomfortable, even if I didn’t mean to. Honestly, I would be interested to read a similar book to Chavisa Woods’s but written by a man. I’ve read articles about how men find the pressure to “conquer” women oppressive and harmful to them. Both sides need in on this conversation, and I’m glad you were part of it.

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  2. An interesting and brave book, especially given that she models vocalising her objection to sexism. I do that now, but I had times I didn’t – and couldn’t – and I think all women can probably say that. Well done to her for putting this out there.

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    • I think we’re so used to it that in many situations we don’t think of what happens to use as sexual assault or sexism. And there are so, so, so many situations that I could easily recall that fit the definition of sexism or sexual harassment.

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  3. Great to hear your thoughts on this one. It was infuriating to me how common these stories were as I read and how terrifying these experiences are when you read them all together like this. And yet how often her fears and concerns were dismissed by others.

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    • I’m amazed by how much bullying and sexual harassment was permitted in the 90s when my husband and I (and you) were in school. The only time the school took one of my concerns seriously (that is, in the situations for which I felt like anyone would listen) was the time this young man, whose father was later imprisoned for building bombs in his basement, told me on the school bus, “Don’t worry. I won’t kill your hick brother.”

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  4. Stunning review, and thanks for the reminder that I really need to pick up my copy soon! This sounds like exactly my type of read.

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    • I really enjoy Chavisa Woods’s work. She’s someone who has won all these awards, but you never see her trending all over Goodreads or anything like that. Currently, I’m reading her only novel, The Albino Album, to Nick each night. The first couple of chapters read more like short stories, and then you get into main character and her first-person narration, and hoo-boy. Good stuff.

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  5. This would be a difficult book to read for sure. And her point is one we can all nod along with; experiencing sexism, harassment etc. is something all women grow up with, we are just conditioned to expect it and shrug it off, which is so wrong, and enrages me as a mother of a young girl.

    I had this short convo with my daugther yesterday, after i noticed her friend (who is also a girl) being very physical while they were playing; she kept trying to hug her, was shouting at loudly, just being very ‘in your face’ and i could tell my daughter didn’t like it. So as we were walking away I told Ava she needs to tell people ‘no’, her body is her body alone, no one has a right to touch it or get into her personal space, etc. Hopefully these little talks rub off on her but I’ll keep mentioning it as she gets older!

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    • What a weird kid? Getting in someone’s face takes a certain brazen attitude that she must see at home. Your average kid is fairly shy.

      I’m glad parents have gotten rid of the mandatory hug. Small me would have loved that.

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      • she is definitely a weird kid, but I think her family may be struggling which is why I don’t interfere too much, she needs my daughter as a friend right now I think. And yes! mandatory hugs should never be ok 🙂

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  6. This reminds me of the series (airing on Peacock) that Amber Ruffin did last year about how many times she experienced racism in the course of living her day-to-day, ordinary life. I think she ultimately shaped the content into a book that she’s written with her sister? And I think there’s even been a sequel announced since? She’s got a LOT of stories. (Also, if you don’t know her…I think she’s hiLARious…and her take on the news has saved my sanity many a day. But, of course, humour is very individual.)

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    • I’d never heard of Amber Ruffin, but I looked her up and found You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories about Racism, a book she wrote with her sister, so you were spot-on there! I don’t have Peacock, but my mom was just telling me about it yesterday. She got an Apply TV thingy so she could get apps on her TV.

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      • I don’t have a TV or Peacock: you can stream some of her stuff with a ‘net connection. But maybe there’s more to it, and I’m only catching the highlights this way. *shrug* S’ok, I’ll take my giggles where I can get them.

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