5 Books Teaching Me to Not Give a F*ck

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Beth O'Brien

Staff Writer

Beth is an east coast Canadian, born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She is (unsurprisingly) obsessed with books and is a public library assistant and book blogger. When she’s not convincing all her friends to be friends with each other, she’s trying to convince them to read YA. She likes poetry and coffee and the ocean, but her true love is her cat Edith.

Beth O'Brien

Staff Writer

Beth is an east coast Canadian, born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She is (unsurprisingly) obsessed with books and is a public library assistant and book blogger. When she’s not convincing all her friends to be friends with each other, she’s trying to convince them to read YA. She likes poetry and coffee and the ocean, but her true love is her cat Edith.

Over the last year or so, I’ve been going through an identity crisis of sorts, doing that whole “finding yourself” thing people do in their twenties. I can see the light now, but there are many things I’ve been rethinking and re-evaluating. I’ve been trying to figure who I am and where I stand. And that’s involved a lot of change and anxiety.

One thing I know for certain is that I am a strong, feminist woman, and I want to find more strong, feminist women to look up to. I want to be the kind of woman who just does not give any fucks about what other people think of her. I want to be the kind of woman who knows who she is and what she believes, and doesn’t care whether you like her. I want to be compassionate, loving, and respectful… but I also want to be passionate, loud, and do whatever the hell I want.

This journey has been both revelatory and really difficult. I suppose all the most important journeys are. There is something so freeing when you can just be yourself, and decide that people are either going to like you or they’re not, and that’s it. You’ll still be you.

I’ve been writing this on and off for the last couple of months. Every time I would get on a roll, something would happen and I would realize I actually do give a fuck. I’d feel like a total fraud–who am I to write this? But that’s the thing. There’s not just some magic switch you can flip. It’s an attitude and a confidence that needs cultivation and care. It’s hard, and I’m not perfect, but it’s been making me a much happier person.   

These five books have been giving me the inspiration and courage to say I just don’t GAF.

Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen SuggestionsDear Ijeawele, or, a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimanada Ngozi Adichie

This tiny, 63 page book literally brought me to tears. As I sat on my couch pouring over Adichie’s suggestions for raising a feminist daughter, I could see how important it is to hear these things as a girl. And how I hadn’t. I was struck most by the suggestion about likability. It begins like this: “Teach her to reject likability. Her job is not to make herself likable. Her job is to be her full self, a self that is honest and aware of the equal humanity of other people.” This is a really important starting point for giving zero fucks. One line from this chapter has become a mantra of sorts for me: “[S]he is not merely an object to be liked or disliked, she is also a subject who can like or dislike.” This simple truth was somehow a revolutionary thought for me. I can choose to like or not like people, too. It gives me agency. I am not simply a thing waiting around for people to bestow their approval upon me. Remember, you are not an object. You are a subject. It is so incredibly empowering to reframe thoughts this way.

Bitch Planet series by Kelly Sue DeConnick

When the first volume of this series came out, I read it in one sitting (not that that’s hard to do). And then I read it again. This series had something I needed to hear, and many other people needed to hear it too. Who you are is okay. People might tell you it’s not, but fuck them. When the second volume finally came out earlier this year, I was over the moon. Completely, totally. Then, at the beginning of the summer, I finally got my Non-Compliant tattoo. This was a really important moment for me. I made a decision to mark my body–boldly, yet incredibly personally, proclaiming that I don’t prescribe to the world’s standards. I’m not going to fit in your box. I am going to be myself, whoever that is, and love it. Whenever I look at my arm, I’m reminded that I don’t have to be anything for anybody. I just have to be me. Not only so, it reminds me of the community of people who have also been inspired by this series and taken this symbol to heart. There are a few other rioters out there that have an NC tattoo, and others that don’t but still use non-compliant as a rallying battle cry. We will not be who you tell us to be. We will resist.

You Don’t Have to Like Me by Alida Nugent

This book is about growing up, finding feminism, finding your voice, and being comfortable with the fact that not everyone is going to like you, and that it’s okay. It says it right in the title: you don’t have to like me. You really don’t. If you do, that’s great. If you don’t, that’s fine. Because I like myself. I like who I am, who I’m becoming, what I believe. People think your insane lipstick colour isn’t “flattering” but you are in love with it? Fuck ‘em, wear your damn lipstick. When people give you shitty advice? DGAF. People are going to say all kinds of shit to you, expect you to be all sorts of things, often contradictory. Growing up is hard, being a feminist is hard, being a woman is hard. Just be you. That’s the thing with feminism–it’s about the right to choose how to live your life. So live it.

too fat too slutty too loudToo Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman by Anne Helen Petersen

In this essay collection, Peterson discusses five women who are celebrities and cultural icons that often go against societal stereotypes and expectations of femininity. They are always “too much.” While many, if not all, of the women in this book have experienced prejudice and harassment for their unruliness, they never stop. They are themselves, they fight for their right to exist, to be the best at what they do. They will not comply with society’s expectations. None of them are perfect, but they are all worthy of analysis and discussion. They don’t give in, they don’t give up. I’m not going to. Neither should you.

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

This book packs a serious punch. In the year since I bought it, I’ve read it three times. When I’m feeling down, need advice, or just want to read something beautiful, I turn to it. This book is a collection of pieces from Strayed’s advice column, Dear Sugar, that appeared on The Rumpus. In it, Strayed tackles a multitude of topics surrounding life and love. This book sometimes does literally tell you to not give a fuck, but for me, this book is an important part of my journey because it encourages acceptance. Life is long, life is hard, and shit happens. I’m the only person I can control. There are so many powerful lines I would love to quote to you, but this is the section that fostered the most change for me:

“We are here to build the house. It’s our work, our job, the most important gig of all: to make a place that belongs to us, a structure composed of our own moral code. Not the code that only echoes imposed cultural values, but the one that tells us on a visceral level what to do. You know what’s right for you and what’s wrong for you. And knowing that has nothing to do with money or feminism or monogamy or whatever other things you say to yourself when the silent exclamation points are going off in your head. [T]hey matter. But […] they don’t tell us how to rightfully live our lives. The body does.”