A bunch of you wrote in yesterday, wondering why we hadn’t covered the death of one of America’s most infamous misogynists, Norman Mailer. I for one, was reticent to write about him because I didn’t feel like speaking ill of the dead. But I changed my mind. To honor of the death of a man who stabbed his second wife with a penknife at a party and called the women’s movement “dykily psychotic, crippled, creepish, fashionable, frigid,” here’s a quick list of the 20th century lady-hating writer hall of shame. One caveat: just because these writers are unfortunate in their portrayal of women, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be read and heralded. Philip Roth, for instance, is one of greatest contemporary American writers, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a complete asshole.
Philip Roth: So the aforementioned Roth! Ol’ Phil made his name writing about self-involved, Oedipally-complected Jewish men who fucked nearly-illiterate but gorgeous shiksas and then denigrated them later. Example: Portnoy’s Complant where he dehumanizes his object of affection by calling her “the Monkey” and fixating on her physical attributes to the point of fetishization.
Ernest Hemingway: Zelda Fitzgerald once said that The Sun Also Rises was about “Bullfighting, bullslinging, and bullshit,” and our girl Z was pretty much on the mark. Lady Brett Ashley, who is the pants-wearing, sexually-emancipated object of affection in the novel, causes only trouble for the men she comes in contact with. Because any woman who acts and dresses “like a man” is a threat to real men and appropriate notions of masculinity.
Charles Bukowski: Attacking Bukowski for misogyny sort of seems like kicking someone when they’re down, since Bukowski was such an alcoholic mess most of the time. Sort of! The women in all of Bukowski’s stories are one-dimensional cyphers if not actual prostitutes, but one particular story comes to mind in terms of its dastardly portrayal of a woman. It’s called “Six Inches.” Henry Chinaski, who is Bukowski’s alter-ego, marries a woman named Sarah, who boasts a voracious sexual appetite. As the months wear on, Henry starts shrinking, and doesn’t stop shrinking until he’s 6 inches tall. At that point, Sarah calls him her little pet and puts Henry into her vagina. He describes the experience:
Sarah picked me up and placed me down between her legs, which she spread open just a bit. Then I was facing a forest of hair. I hardened my back and neck muscles, sensing what was to come. I was jammed into darkness and stench. I heard Sarah moan. Then Sarah began to move me slowly back and forth. As I said, the stench was unbearable, and it was difficult to breathe...Suddenly, I was ripped out of that terrible tunnel...”O, my darling! o, my precious little cock! I love you!”
That’s right! Watch out for the vagina dentata, boys!
So there’s a case to be made for Mailer, Roth, Hemingway, and Bukowski. Who else so you nominate for this literary hall of shame?
Norman Mailer, Towering Writer With Matching Ego, Dies at 84 [New York Times]