Tuesday, April 9, 2013

'Cause everybody knows, she's a femme fatale

If you read the forward to any novel or short story collection published today, there is a strong chance it is going to read more like a psychiatrist's notes on a patient than a discussion of the fiction you're about to read. Especially if the author is a male author from the Bad Old Days.

You can be assured you're going to be treated to some Freudian wrongheadedness about the author and his mother. If she was in his life, she is the model for every female character he ever sketched (including the IHOP waitress featured in chapter two. Lotta mommy stuff going on there. I mean, c'mon, waffles with two scoops of ice cream? Do I have to draw you a map?). If she wasn't in his life, the "anger towards women" he evidently displays on every page stems from his anger about her absence. Where else would all these "femme fatales" come from?

Listen: until very recently, the vast majority of writers were men. What concerns most men most? Women. Hell, what concerns most readers most? Relations between the sexes. So if most writers were men, and men are concerned with women, and relations between the sexes have a long history of holding readers' interest, it is not that far fetched to think that maybe literary tropes like "femme fatales" have more to do with statistics than a deep seated, structural hatred of women. Plots have to come from somewhere.

Also, in the past fifty years ago many colleges have been reduced to liberal arts softball leagues built around kids who got a -17 SAT math score. This means MUCH bigger liberal arts/social science departments, many more people sitting through the witchcraft taught in those classes, and many more people graduating with useless degrees that train them to do what? Teach liberal arts foolishness to others, naturally. This means many more dunces getting graduate degrees in Liberal Arts Hypnosis meaning many more dissertations meaning many more contrived investigations into the alleged "sexual repression" and related "misogyny" found in every syllable put on paper prior to the Summer of Love.  

Not surprisingly, such an echo chamber has produced multiple generations of indignant dullards whose M.O. is to shout misogyny first and ask questions later. Even twenty years ago, the word misogyny was still fairly obscure. Now you find it in tweets about Matlock.

How did the word misogyny become more overplayed than Led Zeppelin? Statistics. More liberal arts "schooling" means more circulation of words like misogyny means more foolish Freudian analysis of every male author who ever lived. And with liberal arts-contaminated women now dominating the publishing biz, perhaps it isn't shocking that today's book reviews and literary essays take it for granted that if you scratch any male author hard enough you'll find a mommy-hating brute.

Let's look at the assumptions of all this pseudo-analysis, starting with "sexual repression." I--and most other men-- probably wouldn't mind sleeping with at least 1 out of every 20 women I see. But I can't, because that just isn't the way life works; not even in today's sexually free society. Does this fact of life equal sexual repression? After all, my urges are not being expressed as I would like them to be. And I would like to sleep with 1 out of every 1 supermodels I see. Unfortunately, I am only tall enough to come up to mid-calf on most supermodels, so I do not do well with that demographic. Does this automatically mean I'm walking around with Petruchio-like rage against supermodels? Of course not.

Lots of things were different back in the day. Many more women used to die during childbirth, so having a woman die in a novel could just as easily have been attributed to the realities of the day, as opposed to "matricidal urges" or an innate fear of lady parts. 

Imagine if every male reviewer (or student) approached every female author looking for...no, EXPECTING misandry. Imagine if every literary review and college paper about female writing had misandry as its baseline assumption. Well, to begin with, no one would know what that meant, because misandry--hatred of men--is a largely unknown word. How telling...
Fiction has to at least nominally be about something (even in French literature). Usually this requires imperfect characters (women and men). If the characters were perfect, there wouldn't have been any drama or suspense to keep readers' reading:

Meet Suzie. She's a self-assured, free thinking woman with an IQ of 180 and remarkable ability to match or exceed men in every physical activity. She meets Nathaniel. Nathaniel doesn't notice her looks at all, and instead immediately falls in love with her immaculate sense of self. The End.

Not exactly a page-turner. Drama requires flawed characters, and writing a flawed woman doesn't necessarily stem from hatred, yet this assumption is now as common as the cold. 

Another piece of flint off Occam's Razor: Lots of writers are just untalented, so they can only write one dimensional characters. To say that a hack was deliberately out to savage women by writing them crudely is probably overstating his abilities. No need to go spelunking through his personal life to find out why the female characters weren't fleshed out in a piece of hackwork called, "Scotch Egg, English Yolk."

Frankly, there's no need to even read novels anymore. The best fiction can be found in literary criticism.

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