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DOES SEXISM STILL EXIST, IN AMERICA? A Brief Demonstration

So, I have this thing where I don’t Write About Writers. Living Writers, that is! I think it is goofy, and boring, and promoting yourself at the expense of someone else in your same field is a shitty thing to do, and I myself am so under-experienced and non-professional and basically bad at everything that I don’t feel qualified to do it, AT ALL, and also, I don’t know what happened to you while you were writing that article or blog post or whatever. Once I wrote something on a very tight (like: “can you have it to us within the hour” tight) deadline while also puking. Unsurprisingly, it was not Didion! Or even, like, Didion’s stupider, less insightful cousin with a blog! And if someone had said anything mean about that article on their own personal blog, I would have booked a plane ticket so that I could come over and puke at THEIR house while THEY tried to analyze gender politics issues in a pithy and concise manner and also I believe that morning I was doing interviews. I have this theory that they would be distracted, too!

So, no. I don’t write about writers, or blog about bloggers. Unless, that is, they make me EXTREMELY ANGRY!

There is a review of And the Heart Says… Whatever by Emily Gould. This review, it is in Time Out New York. I happen to disagree with it! Strongly! I liked the book! (And, for the record, I think any review that runs, “but why didn’t the author write a completely different book, on a topic of my choosing” is sad and like your brain just took a crap all over a Microsoft Word document, for money. No-one wants to hear your fan fiction fantasies, Professional Reviewer!) But that is not what is most relevant here. What is most relevant are my feelings about the little sidebar or underbar or whatchamacallit that ran with it! Here is the text of that sidebar or underbar or whatthefuckever it is, in its entirety:

Emily Gould’s memoir doesn’t quite make it to the “tell-all” category. If you’re looking for a kick in the pants, these novels and memoirs deliver.

At Home in the World
By Joyce Maynard
J.D. Salinger’s former gal pal went public with their relationship in this 1999 memoir, which recounts Salinger’s psychoses (sleeping in the bathtub, drinking his own urine) and the existence of tons of unpublished writing. Scandalous!

The Bell Jar
By Sylvia Plath
Worried about what her mother would think of this severely autobiographical novel, Plath published the book under a pseudonym in the U.K. She was right to be apprehensive: When the book was finally published in America after her death, Aurelia Plath flipped out, along with the rest of the country, at Plath’s scathing and terrifying honesty.

The Kiss
By Kathryn Harrison
Harrison’s memoir of her four-year incestuous relationship with her father and her difficult relationship with her mother is absolutely devastating and beautifully written.

All the Sad Literary Young Men
By Keith Gessen
If you’re looking for a truly relentless look at the New York literary world, check out Emily Gould’s boyfriend’s compelling and at times even touching novel.

Deceived with Kindness
By Angelica Vanessa Garnett
The niece of Virgnia Woolf revealed much about the sexual proclivities of the Bloomsbury group when she told all about learning the identity of her biological father (painter Duncan Grant) and marrying his former lover when she was 24.

I’m sorry. Did you catch that? Because I caught that. Because LET’S BREAK DOWN THIS LIST OF “TELL-ALLS”:

  • Memoir.
  • Novel, which, from what we know of the author’s life, bears remarkably close and almost one-to-one similarity to the author’s experiences; although, there is the question of whether something you publish as fiction and with a pseudonym on it can be considered a “tell-all” when it really seems to have been purposefully distanced from the author, not so much a “tell all” as a “tell as little as possible,” really, and also, we should maybe respect the choice to publish it as fiction as a sign that it is probably fictionalized, but ah fuck it there’s worse on this list so let’s just move on.
  • Memoir.
  • “Check out Emily Gould’s boyfriend’s” novel; amount of information about how closely any or all of this parallels the author’s life is not nearly as available or well-substantiated as anything about The Bell Jar; also, it says “fiction” on the cover.
  • Memoir.

So, again, in case I am being too subtle for you:

  • Autobiography
  • Autobiographical fiction
  • Autobiography
  • Boyfriend!
  • Autobiography

Now: I liked the book. I think the reviewer is wrong about the book. But the reviewer’s thoughts on the book are beside the fucking point, at this point. The point is that I have never read a professional fucking review of a man’s work, however negative or ad hominem the review might be, in which the reviewer felt compelled to add, “but also, his female partner’s work in a completely different genre is better!” Like, “I don’t know how I feel about The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, but if you want something that is like The Yiddish Policemen’s Union but better, I recommend Ayelet Waldman’s memoir about parenting!” I keep looking at that byline, and it keeps being a lady’s name, and that keeps making me want to stab my own eyes out.

You can really tell that the reviewer is passionate about the Gessen novel, and not at all including it as a gratuitous detail, though, because of the tremendous care taken to publish its title correctly. I mean, my copy says All the Sad Young Literary Men, and not All the Sad Literary Young Men, but whatever! I am sure that is but a typo, on the book’s jacket cover! Right next to the red lettering under the author’s name that reads “fiction,” when clearly it is meant to read “tell-all memoir of all my life and scandalous doings.” Yes, I too own All Sad Young the Literary Men, professional reviewer! Men All the Literary Sad Young has a place on my bookshelf, right next to Sense Sensibility and, and Year Thinking of the Magical.

Shitting me got to be you have. Christ Jesus.

18 Comments

  1. TheDeviantE wrote:

    ahahahaha. Last paragraph: pure gold.

    Wednesday, May 5, 2010 at 1:46 pm | Permalink
  2. Sarah TX wrote:

    This is why I don’t want to get my master’s degree. I know that when I publish my master’s thesis, and it’s all nicely bound, someone will feel compelled to add a note to the list of references and say, “Did you enjoy this thesis? Check out her husband’s thesis in a completely unrelated field! I mean, it’s still engineering, but it’s mathy! I bet you like math better than whatever this bitch wrote about!”

    Actually, that would NEVER happen, because we’re professionals.

    (More on-topic, I also greatly dislike reviews that are just ‘I don’t like this book because it’s not about X! Write the book I want you to write!” I also dislike blog comments along those lines, although they seem to be very popular…)

    Wednesday, May 5, 2010 at 2:18 pm | Permalink
  3. Amanda Hess wrote:

    Haha I also love how her summation of At Home In The World is, “Read this book by some lady about her famous boyfriend, for it includes many scandalous details about said famous boyfriend!” . . . And fails to mention that Maynard is an amazing writer in her own right who actually has interesting shit to say about her own experiences? Nope: This book is only about how Salinger drank his own pee, and then wrote some other books, which you are not reading right now.

    Wednesday, May 5, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Permalink
  4. Sady wrote:

    @Amanda: GODDD, yes. Not only is it, “this lady had a boyfriend! She will tell you about her boyfriend! HER BOYFRIEND!” It’s also demonstrative of an UNWILLINGNESS to value any memoir on the basis that it might include, like, relatable details about life as it is lived, rather than PEE-DRINKING FATHER-DATING TALES OF INSIDERDOM! Ugh.

    Wednesday, May 5, 2010 at 2:38 pm | Permalink
  5. Travis wrote:

    Hey, maybe you’re being unfair. I know if I were trying to compile a list of compelling and prominent autobiographies and memoirs written by women I’d have to start padding the list out around five too.

    I agree with Sady’s discretion up there about not being too quick to judge, but it does feel like an indirect attack. Like the reviewer is waggling eyebrows and saying, “Well it’s obvious where the talent went in THAT (boyfriend/girlfriend) family, amirite”

    Wednesday, May 5, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Permalink
  6. Samantha B. wrote:

    I sort of wonder, though, if ultimately the very sexist boyfriend mention doesn’t boost the marketing of this book, a la the inclusion of her high school class pic in the press package on Curtis Sittenfeld’s book “Prep?” A voyeuristically eroticized woman author is a marketable woman author, the conventional wisdom seems to be? My feminine intuition, a powerful thing to behold, tells me that this approach might be helpful for short term book sales but damn problematic for long term career-making.

    Wednesday, May 5, 2010 at 2:40 pm | Permalink
  7. Samus wrote:

    “And, for the record, I think any review that runs, “but why didn’t the author write a completely different book, on a topic of my choosing” is sad and like your brain just took a crap all over a Microsoft Word document, for money. No-one wants to hear your fan fiction fantasies, Professional Reviewer!”
    – Sady

    Oh man. This made me laugh so hard (and also sort of consider bashing my own head in), because I am a “professional reviewer”. And I fall into this trap, er, on occasion. My co-workers do it too. Because it’s SO HARD NOT TO DO THIS when you don’t like something, especially when you’re expecting it to be X and it’s Y and you’re like “damn it, it would’ve been so NEAT if it were X, though!” and that makes it harder to see why maybe Y is good, or even better, and … yeah.
    It’s no excuse, but perhaps this reviewer was like, “hey, a memoir written about such and such! I am expecting it to be X,” and when it was Y, she couldn’t. Reconcile. That. (Just a guess, no idea what the reviewer was really thinking of course.)

    I haven’t read the book you’re talking about here, yet, but it seems to be getting a lot of really whiny press from people who are saying things like, “this isn’t a position that a woman is SUPPOSED to be asserting!” I know nothing else about the book, but statements like that make me want to read it. Even if I disagree with it, it’s bound to be interesting.

    Wednesday, May 5, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Permalink
  8. Sady wrote:

    @Samantha: Eh. I think people who are drawn to the book to gawk at Gould or at the VERY EXCITING NEW YORK MEDIA WORLD (which, as a very marginal member of said world, I can tell you consists at least in part of me sitting here in jean shorts re-watching LOST for a recap and wondering if I should follow up on some e-mails) are going to be disappointed: See, for example, this reviewer who seems basically pissed that it doesn’t offer enough opportunities to gawk at Gould or enough information about THE VERY EXCITING NEW YORK MEDIA WORLD. Although it does have that information, actually, but that is mostly in the form of hilarious one-liners and asides about how disgusting your personal habits become when you work at home, and how many days of wandering around the apartment and waiting to fall asleep again are involved in “freelancing.” The boyfriend aside isn’t just sexist, it reads like the reviewer wants to travel back in time and work for Gawker three years ago, and is boosting her Insider Cred by… including a detail about who is dating whom that at this point is common knowledge and not actually scandalous or interesting, at all? I don’t even know what the fuck the reviewer was after here, to be honest.

    Wednesday, May 5, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Permalink
  9. KMTBERRY wrote:

    Me like when you talk like…that horrifying Star Wars character that was kinda reggae….Bim Something…..(OK I just googled “horrible Star Wars Character” and it came RIGHT UP!)

    Jar Jar Binks!!!

    Me likey when you talk like JAR JAR BINKS!!

    Wednesday, May 5, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Permalink
  10. Erin wrote:

    Yeah, this post was OK, but I really wish this post was a review of all 6 books you mentioned and an in-depth analysis of the Build-a-Bear franchise.

    Also, some random aside about your boyfriend’s literary talent.

    Also, I wish you had gotten another blogger, who had a boyfriend who was also a blogger, to write this post so that my ironic comment could have more successfully paralleled the review.

    Wednesday, May 5, 2010 at 4:00 pm | Permalink
  11. sarah wrote:

    Ummmm, was that someone else who wrote that hilarious takedown of James Franco for Salon? Pretty sure he’s not dead.

    Wednesday, May 5, 2010 at 11:43 pm | Permalink
  12. Abigail wrote:

    I keep looking at that byline, and it keeps being a lady’s name, and that keeps making me want to stab my own eyes out.

    If it makes you feel better, I don’t think the sidebar is necessarily the reviewer’s work – like article titles and sub-headers, I think these sorts of items are often the work of editors. Doesn’t mean it wasn’t a woman who wrote it, of course.

    Thursday, May 6, 2010 at 2:23 am | Permalink
  13. Sady wrote:

    @Sarah: Well, he is also, like, an actor. With a writing sideline.

    Thursday, May 6, 2010 at 9:53 am | Permalink
  14. Tiana wrote:

    De-lurking to say that I think I have injured myself by nodding too vigorously as I read this.

    Thursday, May 6, 2010 at 10:57 am | Permalink
  15. So, I have this thing where I don’t Write About Writers. Living Writers, that is! I think it is goofy, and boring, and promoting yourself at the expense of someone else in your same field is a shitty thing to do, and I myself am so under-experienced and non-professional and basically bad at everything that I don’t feel qualified to do it,

    I LOVE THIS. I am guilty and convicted of this terrible crime and I agree these are exactly why I’m a repeat offender.

    I might couch it between so-called analysis of Vonnegut or Baldwin, but really I’m just saying, “I’m funny and thoughtful like them. Wanna bang?”

    Thursday, May 6, 2010 at 2:06 pm | Permalink
  16. alanna wrote:

    Yes yes yes yes yes.

    The “why didn’t you write about what I think is important” complaints always seem to get louder/more widespread when the author is a woman. Because, as we know, men’s experiences are universal to both men and women, but how can ANYONE understand the thoughts of A WOMAN? [sigh]

    On the other hand, while the “Emily Gould’s boyfriend’s novel” bit makes me want to tear my hair out, I do kind of like the idea of referring to all (straight) male writers as “[name]‘s boyfriend/husband” and such. Perhaps Gessen can be Mr. Emily Gould?

    Thursday, May 6, 2010 at 5:00 pm | Permalink
  17. SarahB wrote:

    It’s as if to say ‘perhaps you’ve heard of this charming young woman Ms. Gould, and perhaps you are interested in her life, her career and oh yes her sexual exploits as well. Well, dear reader, if this is indeed your interest then what you should really pursue is the writing of her beloved, whose work and experience far better reveals the mind and life of our Ms. Gould.’

    It wouldn’t be so offensive if it weren’t couched in a negative review. If she were positively trying to recommend books that originated in the same sphere as Gould’s then it would be worthy of little more than an irked eye roll, but to say one should read his entirely unrelated work instead of hers is patronizing in so many senses of the word.

    Thursday, May 6, 2010 at 9:18 pm | Permalink
  18. Kate wrote:

    Those summaries are just…gah. Beyond including her boyfriend there in the first damn place, it’s pretty telling that all of the texts by ladies are reduced to their salacious gossip rag material, while the bf’s book is “relentless” (with all journalistic connotations intact, despite the fact that it’s explicitly fiction) in it’s pursuit of…some apparently non-sexy stuff that happened?

    Thursday, May 6, 2010 at 11:40 pm | Permalink