Tough Girls Part I

It’s Women’s Day! I’m in the library and wearing red socks. I may make a brief appearance at the rally later in the day, but it’s counter-revolutionary for me to delay finishing this dissertation any longer than I already have.

This morning I finished Kate Zambreno’s Heroines. I probably would not have a read it, but a friend of mine is translating it and she wants someone to ask questions to, an authentic American feminist, maybe? (If I can even be called that.) Zambreno’s writing is hard for me. I read a review of her novel Green Girl when it first came out, maybe in Bookforum? And it sounded so intriguing, I went way out of my way to obtain a copy. It has now been re-released by a major publisher and is probably not such a pain in the ass to get ahold of now. And then, I could not finish the book. I could sense what Zambreno was doing, she was saying “here is this girl that the whole world says is vapid and toxic, spend time with her and think about why that is.” And in theory, I loved that idea, craved that literary challenge. I haven’t had much trouble in my real life befriending women in general, or women deemed toxic and/or vapid specifically. Literarily, this has been more of a challenge for me, even when these characters are written by women, but I figured the fault may lie with me?  Yet, the novel did not work for me, it felt hostile and also boring, I gave up and sold the book to the Strand, did not miss it.

Heroines often made me furious. It was, first of all, condensed white privilege feminism. Which, white middle-class ladies with college educations have it hard too! I  know, I know! Sadness! Cosseted by access to mental health care, even shitty sexist mental health care! But, still, perhaps not the exact book for this climate. And the focus on the wives of the modernists- OK, they should be read as a group. But it felt as if Zambreno were collapsing them into one ur-wife, she was claiming for her purposes, making paper dolls of them and their lives, and clearly she’s less of a fucking asshole than F. Scott Fitzgerald, but still, didn’t feel good. And god, what a book obsessed with men. For all her rage against the canon, there’s still a sense in this book that you are nothing if you are not acknowledged by men. And, if this were a materialist claim, I’d agree, but this is supposed to be a more transcendent claim, I think. Men still are the arbiters here. In addition to this books overwhelming whiteness, it was so hetero. And, though I have some serious issues with it now, at least Chris Kraus asked some interesting questions in I Love Dick about the position of the straight woman. Here, in Heroines, it was just the default position. We are all straight women, obsessed with our husbands. The last two pages of the book are a call to arms, great, fine.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this fissure in feminism, between the Tough Girls and the Wounded Girls. I became a tough girl earlier on, it’s been a part of my image since I was 14, or even younger than that. Zambreno has such a hard time with the Tough Women, the de Beauvoirs and the Hardwicks and the un-sisterly women who didn’t coddle their damaged sisters. I take her point but I also think Zambreno is operating with a tremendous blind spot. Not all women are Ophelias, and that’s just the way it fucking is.



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