Issues

March 2018

Re: “Domestic noir and the #MeToo moment,” by Elisabeth de Mariaffi

I would argue that women are not just constantly told, as Elisabeth de Mariaffi says in her essay, that we are unreliable, we are also constantly told that our accounts of our own experiences are uninteresting to anyone but ourselves. Men have whispered to me—at dinner parties, book launches, in office-building elevators—that they read one of my novels, perhaps snatching it up in a weak moment from their wives’ nightstands, and liked it. “Welcome to the club,” I want to say to these slightly embarrassed men, and maybe I should. Women have been ashamed of ourselves and the things we find interesting for years.

What is happening now, though, is that women are realizing how absurd it is to be ashamed of who we are. In the stories we’ve been whispering back and forth for ages, we are not the characters who should be ashamed. We’re beginning to assert, in the kinds of books de Mariaffi cites in her essay, that a woman can be anything a man can be; that might mean powerful, but it also might mean unlikeable, unreliable, bad.

“Genre has always allowed the writer to speak in code,” writes de Mariaffi.  Genre has also dismissed women’s words and women in general for a long time. A novel written by a woman is almost never just fiction. It’s domestic noir, chick lit (the shame), women’s fiction, upmarket commercial women’s fiction. The uptick of “writers with literary reputations” crossing over to genre is indicative of many things, but I want it to also be the starting point of a necessary larger conversation about doing away with, or at least not relying so heavily on, genre labelling—especially given that readers “largely ignore” the lines in the sand drawn by the literary world. What I want most is female characters, and female novelists, to keep pushing boundaries.

More non-fiction written by female authors is an excellent way to keep pushing the truth out into the world, but telling the truth is more than just hard—it’s terrifying. Plus, fiction is very often where we find out the truth about ourselves, in the end.  So let’s stay in the darkness a little while longer. At least let’s stay there long enough for women’s voices in fiction to become what men’s voices in fiction have always been allowed to be: deeply human, glaringly imperfect at times, a reflection of our very selves and the age we’re living in.

Marissa Stapley
Toronto, Ontario


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