12.19.2004

Note to self: remember to get a piece on This American Life and in the Times the same weekend, just before book comes out, like Curtis Sittenfeld just did.

Her article today makes me wonder how many other women writers did like I did and finally got over their self-consciousness and doubt and started writing because they were so sick of the specter or reality of groupie-possibilities in the heads of their budding-musician boyfriends. You kind of want that same kind of adoration your drummer or trumpet player or guitarist boyfriend gets when he gets onstage, but you kind of also are so irritated with the whole setup, that stupid adulation of a guy who you know shoots rats and gets indignant/cries when his sister calls him fat.

It's more like: I got totally sick of the whole concept of groupieness, of these smart, determined women throwing their everything at Mr. Rat-Shooter. So silly! You don't want the groupies so much, you just want to get away from the gross setup where women are throwing panties and lives at "male genius"--so boring! And ew! You want to do your own thang thang, so you have pictures of Bjork up all over the house and your next boyfriend, the high-school teacher, wins fights by quoting back Tori Amos lyrics at you. I guess I have a lot of meandering things to say about this, which is why my second novel is about rock star wives and quantum physics, so for now, do yourself a favor and check out what Curtis Sittenfeld has to say:
The thing about groupie stories, and this is especially true of the salacious ones, is that they always seem to feature men in the starring roles. What I've been wondering lately is, has any woman writer -- ever, anywhere -- had a groupie? Does, say, Barbara Kingsolver get phone numbers after the bookstore closes? Do 20-year-old boys throw their boxer shorts at Toni Morrison? And finally, if women do indeed have groupies, might I acquire some for myself?

Based on conversations with editors, booksellers and fellow writers, I've come to believe women can have groupies, or at least there are plenty of female writers who strike the fancy of male readers. The catch is that typically these women fall into one -- or both -- of two categories: either the woman is very attractive or she writes a lot about sex. In the first category are, from the 70's, Jayne Anne Phillips; from the 80's, Susan Minot; from the 90's, Donna Tartt; and, most recently, Jhumpa Lahiri, Zadie Smith and Nell Freudenberger. The more sexed-up category includes writers from Erica Jong to Amy Sohn.

These are skilled writers, and some I admire greatly, but I'm pretty sure that their talent isn't the only reason men have a thing for them. Basically, I'm not convinced that female writers can transcend their hotness, that they can elicit lust based on literary prowess alone -- not because they're women, that is, but because they're writers. In an exception that proves the rule, my friend Antoine read the works of a well-known novelist and critic and developed ''the most epic crush of all time'' on her. ''Something about her prose made me think that she was of such companionable intelligence that I felt deeply attracted to her, whoever she might be,'' he said. Or at least he felt that way until he saw her picture and realized she's in her 70's, 40 years his senior. Of course, that's about the same age difference as that between a much-lauded male novelist I know of and the dewy-eyed students he dates in the New York program where he teaches. . . .

Groupie inequity applies not only to age but also to self-presentation. Jim Behrle, who has directed events at three independent bookstores in Boston and now works part time at BookCourt in Brooklyn, told me: ''There's something charming and forgivable about the slacker rock star literary guy who shows up in his AC/DC shirt and hasn't washed in a couple days. But I don't think women can pull that off as easily.''
What a Cupcake, this Sittenfeld.

You totally don't need to write a book as a woman to get groupies. This is what cracks me up about how insecure women get about their appearance or whatever. All you need to do to have groupies is be a woman, and be relatively happy--I mean not even that happy, look at C-Love. Let me amend: all you really have to do to have groupies is be a woman and do whatever the hell you want.

Sittenfeld writes: "I mean, where's the victory in getting people to love you because you're cute? Put on lipstick and a short skirt and, hell, you can get hit on without even going to the trouble of writing a book. But if I can show up for readings belching and reeking, arranging myself in unbecoming positions, and still manage to win adulation? Now that would be equality." You know, I think there is that possibility--and you'll weed out the timid ones, a perk--I just think it's a rougher road because while you do get your groupies and your fans, you also get the full-force backlash by the patriarchal establishment. My dad still winces whenever he hears the words "Roseanne Barr" from that time she sang the national anthem, for example. But who's got the pink Bentley now dad, hmm?

xo
Elizabeth
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