Every so often gender feels funny to me. Like a concept foreign and external. The other night when I shared this with C, he assured me, that’s because it is external. As external as the concept of race, but that’s for another post.
I resist the inclination to internalize things that are external to me. Put another way, I’d rather be the subject of who I am rather than an object. A doer rather than someone to whom something is done. A woman, however, is often described as an object of desire. This would explain my mother noticing my heels before asking about my accomplishments. The idea of woman as object runs deep in media, culture, how women see ourselves. So every so often when I see gender norms as external realities, and I struggle to inject subjectivity into my sense of self, it’s as if cognitive dissonance takes solid form with a jarring buzz in my head.
With that buzz in my head, and while nursing heat-induced dizziness all weekend long, I read Mavis Gallant’s Hunger Diaries in the New Yorker, finished Alison Bechdel’s Essential Dykes to Watch Out For, watched Catherine Deneuve in Belle De Jour, and attended a concert by JD Samson in her new, cheekily named band MEN. A writer, a cartoonist, an actress, and punk rocker: four women creating four very different narratives.
I learned about Mavis Gallant only today, even though she published more than a hundred stories in the New Yorker, and the New Yorker is the only publication I read almost cover to cover every week. I like her pared style and keen descriptions, and I look forward to reading more from her extensive oeuvre. The writing in “Hunger Diaries” is as stark as her experience living hand to mouth in a poverty-stricken part of Madrid as a determined but despairing writer. In an entry she marks that her drive to write a novel precludes the possibility of love. A male friend “advises” that she, though deficient in satisfying a man’s desires, will become more interesting to a man as a published writer. I should note, this conversation happened in 1951.
Conversations with Frederick. Told him I thought I might still be capable of loving someone but I felt no one would ever love me again…I have been so driven inside myself that I don’t think anyone could see where I am, or care. Frederic then “advises” me about men — warns me! He says I am not interesting enough for the kind of mind I seem to want. He says, “When you have a novel out you will be much more interesting, because you will be someone else. Now, there are many women like you, just as pretty, just as nice. You give all, you do all you can, you can fill a man’s life, but many women are like that. It is not enough.”
A quick glance through her Wikipedia page shows that as a writer, as subject of her own life and doing, she proved herself to be more than enough.