I am consistently drawn in, and consistently disappointed, by bio-novels about women made unhappy by famous men. I read The Paris Wife, about Hadley Hemingway. I read Loving Frank, about Frank Lloyd Wright’s mistress. I read the diaries of Sofya Tolstoy. And now I’ve read Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald. I put each of them aside a heavy sigh when I’ve finished. I’m not disappointed in the books, but in the lives of the women. The point of these books is to tell their side of the story, but in reality, and definitely in Zelda’s case, they didn’t get their own side of the story.
“Russia’s most celebrated writers - including Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Nabokov, Bulgakov, Solzhenitsyn and Mandelstam - are often depicted as solitary geniuses. But many of their works were the fruits of creative partnerships with their wives. Far from being passive typists, they served as editors, researchers, translators, publishers and more.”
In most love stories, a man pursuing a woman is depicted as gallant, noble, and deeply romantic. When a woman pursues a man, we call her ‘crazy,’ ‘obsessed,’ and ‘unstable.’ Why one gender is gallant and the other nutso, I’m not sure, but one thing is clear: the female gone mad with love makes for one hell of an unconventional narrative
Not long after that, I was given Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. The book, which I had always thought of as belonging to my mother’s generation, was published in 1963, the year before I was born; it has sold more than three million copies. I had never read it. I have since done an informal poll among women I know who teach in universities, and most of them not only have not read the book, but also looked startled when I asked them about it, as if I had mentioned the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Norton is republishing the book about “the problem that has no name” in a 50th-anniversary edition this month, with a new introduction by Gail Collins and an afterword by Anna Quindlen. The edition also includes Friedan’s epilogue, written at the 10-year mark, in 1973, by which time she had, among other things, helped found the National Organization for Women. In that epilogue, Friedan recalls how, in the 1960s, before she wrote the book, women’s-magazine editors had tried to force her to rewrite her articles to cater to their advertisers’ pro-housewife line, or else they killed the pieces.
Some things have changed less than we would like.
The ladies are currently outnumbering the gentlemen for our speed dating event, so we are recruiting you, bookish dudes (glasses not required).
You know how you always walk into a bookstore and are like “Dang, these girls are so cool and well-read, oh look she’s reading Zadie Smith, I wish I could talk to her.” Or “… she’s reading Don DeLillo, I wish I could talk to her.” Well, now your dreams are coming true. We’re matching people by their literary tastes. Plus a free drink to get things going! Buy a ticket now.
Hey, men! Did you hear that? They have too many women signed up for this literary speed dating event. What the heck are you waiting for??? There’s even a DISCOUNT CODE for reduced-price tickets!
I’ve been thinking lately about the truly poisonous characters in fiction. The female ones, specifically. Because women are vilified every day for not doing or saying what they’re supposed to. Is it anti-feminist to write an evil woman? I hope not, because there are some truly fabulous cunts in fiction.
Upon completing A Man of Parts and Girl Land, the new offering from Caitlin Flanagan, I know that our young girls are in extreme peril: if they are not succored by their families, they will wind up in nude animal ecstasy with H.G. Wells.
In popular culture, Middle Eastern women are rarely depicted as such — willful and agentic. Instead, we see them as a category, rather than individuals, that is surrounded by inhuman (male) oppression. We often receive depictions of Middle Eastern women as submissive and helpless, forced to hide their bodies, and we hardly ever discuss their determination as individuals. Indeed, as Turkish writer Elif Şafak mentions in her TED Talk of July 2010, when Middle Eastern women in literature do not fit these descriptions, they are found not to be “Middle Eastern enough.