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I’m Not a Female Writer; I’m a Writer

I remember once during my grad school time, I took a class on creative writing theory. One essay we read was by Langston Hughes, and in it he said that the young black writer who doesn’t want to identify himself as a black writer is wrong. Of course, discussion followed. I was against this idea. My professor hit the nail on the head when he asked me if I want to be identified as a “female writer”. I gave a very quick and very loud, No! in return. I’ll explain why this is so important to me.

To Be Identified Is To Be Qualified

We don’t say that Stephen King is a white writer or a male writer. We say he is a writer. Some may say he is a horror writer, and that is a qualifier of a different sort, but with all the minimization that the genetic qualifiers are used with. Identity social protest and politics are very in right now. I’ve never been behind them, and I’m not behind them in art either. When our identity is put before everything else, it pigeonholds us. It’s a qualifier. “Miceli is a female writer” vs “Miceli is a writer”. It’s clear to me that one of these implies that as a writer, I’m not on equal footing with others. It implies “less than”, a niche, a special case. We get the same thing with athletes and scientists. It’s not necessary to say a person is a woman. Let other people figure it out on their own.

To say that Stephen King is a male writer is to suggest that we can’t expect good women from him. But his first novel blows that theory out of the water. To say that he is a white writer is to suggest that we can’t expect him to understand the issues that ethnic minorities face. That’s also disproven. To say that I’m a female writer is to suggest that you can’t expect good male characters from me. Empathy is supposed to bridge these gaps. It is a writer’s greatest tool and we can stop qualifying people at any point.

The Womanly Effect on Writing

Well, being a woman has an effect on my writing in the same way that being a man effects a male writer: minimally, if you wield empathy correctly and well. I have no control over the sex I was born with, nor even with the sex I identify with; however, I’m a strange person. I don’t get along with most women. We often have less to talk about. I don’t wear makeup, and I get haircuts every two years. I hate fussing with my appearance and don’t like kids. This is basically the opposite of most women I know. I do identify myself as a woman, but about as much as I identify myself as a human being. All of us are human beings, and a little more than half of us are physically female. It’s what I am. It’s not who I am. I have other things that I feel make up who I am a little stronger than those two things. Those are foundation, not home.

I have a learning disability. It made me incredibly different those around me. It made learning how to read and write so much harder. Yet all the rewards were so much sweeter. I am an atheist, not by choice (it’d be easier in this world to believe and I tried), when everyone around me was devout. I had to discover Christianity and discover that I didn’t believe in it, nor anything else resembling creation, the divine, or an afterlife. I more recently discovered that I suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder and had to learn how to deal with that. These things more greatly explain the kind of person I am and explain the kind of writer I am a lot better than simply being a woman. Being a childfree woman has more of an effect than just being a woman.

Being a woman is so simply a part of me that it is hard for me to focus on it. Just as I imagine being a man is hard for men to focus on. I think only people who want to simplify themselves focus on their genetic differences. It’s easier to feel like you’re part of it all when you can pick out others who look like you and feel the same things you do. But I identify with no one and everyone, because everyone feels differently and feels the same. I think that’s what writing and art is supposed to show us, which is why what the writer is doesn’t matter, just what they write.

Proud to Be a Woman and My Name?

First of all, my name is Alex. It is not Alexis, Alexandrea, Alexa, or Alexandra. My first name really is just Alex. Yes, people have thought that I was male before meeting me on occasion. This doesn’t usually bother me too much. I am not proud of what I didn’t accomplish. I didn’t accomplish being a woman. That doesn’t mean anything. I didn’t control it. Genetic chance doesn’t seem like something I should be proud of. I’m proud of the things I do. I’m also not ashamed of things out of my control, like genetic chance. It doesn’t make any sense to me to be so. I feel like pride and shame should be wrapped up in actions, not chance. So I’m proud of this blog, my Patreon, my published play, the awards I’ve won, the stories and poems I’ve written, the actions I’ve taken to help others.

I Am Woman; Hear Me Roar?

I care about women’s issues. I  also care about men’s issues. I care about poverty issues. I care about animal cruelty. I care about messed up beaucracity. I care about everything that feels like it is hurting another living creature. Some are higher on the list of emotional response, such as women’s access to sterilization in the US and animal cruelty or the treating of animals as property. I don’t necessarily let these things guide my writing however. Instead, I let my writing guide itself. Will it be effected by these things? Of course, they are all in my head, and what’s in my head invariably comes out in my creations. I don’t sit down and say, “I’m going to write about animal cruelty”, unless I’m writing here in this blog or for a paper. In my creative work, I’m writing from an image or a character first, not an ideal or an injustice. Let the work be interpreted as audiences are wont to do. I know I interpret work I experience.

I’m Simply a Writer

The end goal of equality should be to be seen no different than someone who is different. Of course, that doesn’t apply when I go to the doctor, except that the doctor should still see me as someone who is smart enough to make decisions about my body. Overall, though, I am simply a writer. This is who I am above all things. I’m reading about Jonathan Swift right now, and I keep having some eerie feelings while doing so, because his attitude is so much like mine (Everybody can fuck off, but I worry that you’re being treated like shit). He lived centuries ago, in a different country, and with a different set of sex organs, but I keep getting the idea that I would have loved this man and also never hung out with him, just as I never hang out with anyone. I don’t like people when they are in front of me, but I certainly care about them. This seems to be something a lot of other people feel, and it doesn’t seem to be effected by gender. It’s an example of how characteristics transcend obvious genetic differences. They can also transcend cultures and times. We can all find something that connects us to someone else. Anyone else. We can all empathize, if we try, with everyone in the world. And that effects my writing more than my sex.

 

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Passive vs Active: The Language of Victimization, Victim-Blaming, and the Intent vs Effect of Communication

Recently some friends on Facebook posted this spiel about the use of passive voice in talking about gendered crime and statistics. Read it for yourself below.

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I immediately felt uncomfortable with the whole thing. I have several reasons why. Keep reading if you’re interested in why.

Passive Voice and Crime Reporting

The quote above by Katz is focused on gender related victimization; however, we use the passive voice when speaking about crime in general. Reporters will often write or say “Last night a man was mugged while walking to his car” or “Many people’s identities were stolen last week” or “A teenager was hit by a car yesterday”. So right off the bat, I question the validity of linking the use of passive voice with gendered crime exclusively. “Was murdered”, “was attacked”, “was car-jacked”, “was mugged”, “was abused” are all terms used in the reporting of crime and do not specify gender. I argue that rape isn’t even a gendered crime, so I cannot help but feel that Katz is limiting the use of passive voice to gendered crime is a limit of the mind and excludes victims.

Counting Crimes

Another issue with this argument is that the number of victims and the number of perpetrators is disproportionate. We can easily count those who have been victimized. We cannot count perpetrators until they have been convicted. The teen pregnancy is the best example of where in reporting the number of instances, the pregnancy count is more accurate than the number of males involved in those pregnancies. First of all, the chances of a male getting more than one teenager pregnant is pretty good (which is horrible, I agree), but we have no way of tracking that. We can, however, track the teen pregnancy amounts. If the guy got pregnant or had some sort of messed up score card emblazoned on his forehead, we would count that instead.

Focus on the Pain = Focus on the Victim

I don’t believe we should take the narrative of the event away from the victim. In doing so, we remove the focus on the pain they have suffered. We can argue that active voice about a perpetrator can express outrage; however, outrage should not be the focus. Empathy for the victim should be the focus. We do this by presenting the narrative of the event from the perspective of the victim. We keep the victim as the subject of the sentences. When the media reports on victimed crimes, they are required (generally) to do so impassively. They cannot present outrage in their tone, especially with written reports vs verbal ones. As such the narrative with the perpetrator as the subject of the sentences can create a dissonance because we are used to narratives wherein we are meant to believe and empathize with the subject of the sentences. We all have years and years of training to think this way. Imagine the story of Brock Turner and his victim as presented by him vs the letter she wrote to the judge. Or compare the dispassionate reporting of the events from his perspective vs from hers. If the press gave his story first, most people would be predisposed to disbelieve her story coming second. The act is not made illegal based on the inner thinking of the perpetrator but for the damage it causes the victim. While I see the dangers of passive voice in fictional narratives, I see it as a necessity in the reporting of victimed crimes to focus the empathy on the victim.

Passive Voice and Victimization

Katz presents the idea that by focusing on the victim, we are also holding them responsible for their victimization. However, besides leaving the victim as the subject of the sentences and thus the focus of empathy, passive voice perfectly matches the reality for victims. Being a victim is a passive act. Victims did not do anything to bring on their victimization. Of course, passive voice should be used when describing victims. They were not active in their victimization. It is the very opposite of victim-blaming to use passive voice. Victims themselves are allowed to use whichever form they please (I was mugged vs Someone mugged me) because as the authors of the sentences about the event, they are already forcing the audience to acknowledge them. But if a reporter were to use active voice with the victim as the subject, that sentence would have to be very carefully structured to avoid victim-blaming. I foresee sentences like that being unwieldy and unclear.

Violence Against Object Phrasing

While I get what Katz is saying that men aren’t involved in the structure of the phrase “violence against women”, the argument ignores the fact that most organizations that fight against violence structure it that way: Violence Against Children and Violence Against Animals are both used in organizations lending assistance to those groups. Most Violence Against groups are victim focused first. They try to help the victim out of bad situation. Secondary to rescue actions are education actions. It makes sense then that the title should focus on the victim of the act, not the perpetrator as the organizations usually have no direct contact with those people and legislative lobbying is not as big a focus.

If a person searches for “violence against” in an online search engine, most results will be about women. Half of those will be organizations with Domestic Violence in the organization name. I believe that Domestic Violence is a better term. While many believe that the term Domestic is problematic because it can imply Privacy, I relate it to Domecile, which implies co-habitation. Domestic Violence is specific to two people in a relationship living together, one of whom has become abusive of the other. This is non-gendered, which to me is highly important. So often, people say that domestic abuse is not about who is physically stronger, but who is more powerful and controlling. This is not a gendered issue, also because people of non-cis-sexualities are capable of domestic abuse. Believing that a man simply by being physically stronger can never be a victim of domestic abuse feeds into toxic masculinity and just compounds the gender divide. That is why Domestic Violence is a more inclusive way of describing the problems. Women can and do abuse men, emotionally, verbally, and yes, physically. However, abuse can still happen if the two aren’t living together, so even that term is not enough. Inter-relationship Violence is most encompassing of the terms I can come up with because while we have a word for a guardian abusing a child (Child Abuse), we don’t have a word for child to child abuse or a child abusing a parent, both of which do happen. Our terms unfortunately are based on archaic ideas of relationships and family, namely the nuclear family. The nuclear family was rarely a reality and even rarer now than it was when it was considered the norm. So I agree with Katz in saying that the term Violence Against Women is problematic, but not for the same reasons.

Intent > Communication > Effect

When I pointed out to someone that I felt that Katz argument was flawed, I mentioned intent and was parried with the statement that intent did not matter. I’ve been reading up a lot lately on how to speak to someone who has distorted thinking in order to properly communicate intent to the right effect, all of it written by psychologists and psychiatrists. So I’m going to break down what I’ve learned.

  • Intent: Person A’s desired effect fed or countered by bias, emotion, thoughts, memories, and situation – example: to report on a recent crime in an objective manner to make Persons B knowledgeable of the crime
  • Communication: the words by which Person A will attempt to match effect to intent
  • Effect: Persons Bs’ mental and emotional reaction to the communication, influenced by their pre-communication memories, thoughts, and feelings

Of course, in a perfect world, intent and effect would always match. We don’t live in a perfect world, so they don’t always match, because Person A’s conscious intent can be greatly effected by their unconscious intent. Person B can also be suffering from distorted thinking. Distorted thinking is a symptom of depression, anxiety, PTSD, several personality disorders, and other mental health issues. Disorted thinking can warp communication to mean something it doesn’t mean, such as seeing hostility where there is none. When the issue is Person A’s bias or unconscious intent, they can have this gently pointed out them and re-evaluate how they communicate their conscious intent. When the issue is Person B’s distorted thinking, they should be made aware of this, probably with a professional, and use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help them change their reactions to the communication.

Triggers

CBT is used to help people have more rational reactions to triggers. Now, I’ve been hearing a lot about trigger-warnings and safe spaces. About people trying to prevent people who suffer from bad reactions to certain things from experiencing those certain things. Especially victims. Now, victims of crimes are not the only people who experience triggering events, as explained above. Those with anxiety disorders, personality disorders, and depression who may never have been victims of crimes experience triggering events as well.

Every psychologist I’ve spoken to and every book on the subject I’ve read by psychologists and psychiatrists has stated that it is best if patients limit their contact with triggering events, but that they also learn to change their reactions to those events through therapy methods such as CBT or DBT. The goal is not to walk around in a bubble, silencing everyone around them to prevent them from ever feeling pain. Friends and family are meant to help by not exasperating the bad feelings by triggering them; however, strangers are not meant to change their behavior. Therapy does not expect this. In fact, it explains that a patient can expect to be triggered through non-personal interactions on occasion. Just because the patient is triggered, does not mean that their reaction is appropriate or requires change from others. Again, therapy expects the patient to eventually change their reaction. The basis is always that a person can control only themself, not others. We can only control ourselves and our own reactions. This is actually very helpful to hear when dealing with other people who have distorted thinking.

Does this mean that people get to be insensitive? No, of course not. There needs to be a balance between communication that matches the intent, which shouldn’t be to harm, and the reaction, which should be free of distorted thinking. Both sides require empathy; it is the only way for understanding to happen.

But there is one group of people who get to be purposefully insensitive: comedians. Why? This again takes understanding. First of all, it is a long standing tradition, as in centuries old, for comedians to be able to say what no one else is daring enough to say and to use that daring to satirize issues in our society. This includes sensitive, triggering subjects. The understanding from people listening to or reading comedians that is required is that comedians will do this and that is their job to do so. Acting surprised and hurt that a comedian said something shocking about a sensitive subject is frankly silly. Comedy is meant to make us laugh about sensitive subjects and relieve some of our tension and pain on those subjects. It’s also supposed to make us think about them differently. That’s a good thing. I’ve had bad reactions to jokes before. Yes, some of them were in poor taste and/or not funny in my opinion, but that just means I don’t have listen to that joke again. I can say I don’t think it’s funny or that it’s not for me. I can turn off the special and decide not to watch that comedian again. Again, I can only control my reaction and actions. I let my feet doing the talking when it comes to my opinion on comedy. I don’t expect the comedian to change. But if enough people agree with me and decide not to watch that comedian, well, that comedian will get the message that they aren’t all that funny. But then again, maybe other people think they are funny and that’s fine. Even if they are offensive. It’s called freedom of speech.

Conclusion

Language is a tricky thing. It is also one of my favorite subjects to think about and discuss. It’s a subject that requires a lot of critical thinking. I don’t believe I have all the answers because language is constantly changing because society is constantly changing. Some things are always the same. Comedians make jokes. People get hurt. People say hurtful things, both on purpose and by accident. People learn to get past being hurt. Or at least, they should try to. I react to things in overly negative ways too. I say things that get distorted. I say things that are hurtful. We all do these things. This is life. It requires us all to think about what we say, what we mean, and what others mean. There are no easy answers, and we can’t just look at one way and expect everybody agree with us. I don’t expect all of you reading this to agree with everything I’ve written here or even any of it. That’s discourse. If you still agree with Katz’ point of view after reading this, that’s fine. I’m not upset. It’s not necessary that you agree with me. You’re your own person, so you’re allowed to have your own point of view. That’s also life.

 
 

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Couple Fights: Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald vs Leonard and Virginia Woolf (and Jim and Aurora from Passengers a bit)

Amazon Prime has a new show called Z which follows the life of Zelda Fitzgerald, starting from around the time she met her husband, F. Scott Fitzgerald. I watched the pilot during the pilot season more than a year ago and was immediately hooked. It doesn’t hurt that Christina Ricci is an amazing actress and the Modernist time period is one of extreme interest. A few months ago, I read an article on the women behind the men whose names we all know, while the women, who actually did the work, are hardly known to most of us. Zelda was one of these women, and in the brief history of her life that was given, my whole world and my trust in all the American Literature courses I took in both high school and college was completely destroyed. Suddenly, I understood the social justice warriors’ need to force our schools to shape up. Because the truth behind the juggernaut that is F. Scott Fitzgerald destroys any enjoyment I ever had of his work. But this isn’t just about how horror music should play in Amazon’s show when Zelda meets Fitzgerald. It’s about how two real life couples, in the same time period, in the same creative business, with very similar personal hardships and backgrounds, resulted in two completely different outcomes, both tragic, but one absolutely outraging.

Outrage

So many people hated Jim from Passengers and they hate the movie for forcing Aurora for forgiving him and they hate her for doing so. I love this movie and I love Jim and Aurora, and it’s not just because it’s interesting sci-fi or that Jim and Aurora are played by two of the hottest and funniest and, it turns out, most talented actors of our age, though that helps a lot. We all know that Jennifer Lawrence is an amazing actor. She kills all her parts. I was not expecting Chris Pratt to deliver the same level of skill in that movie. Now, I remember the trailers presenting the film as a sci-fi romance, and to some extent it is, but it is more of a satirical examination on romance and what some people consider romantic. Many people would say that that statement is a little too deep for such a film, especially because it just makes them so uncomfortable. But uncomfortableness from fiction is usually a sign of a theme that no one likes to think about. People often display outrage at satire that is totally justified but they aim at the creators of the piece and not at the idea they are showcasing as messed up.

We see this a lot on Swift’s A Modest Proposal. It happened when he wrote it, and it still happens today in our college classrooms. I don’t remember realizing that Swift wasn’t serious about eating Irish children. I just know that I knew that. Too often teachers have to explain to students that Swift is trying to create outrage in the English people against the mistreatment of the Irish by bringing that mistreatment to a ridiculous level. This happened in the last century again on the stage production of Caberet, which has a song wherein a man dances with a gorilla, saying how much he loves her and how everyone treats him like a pariah for his love. At the end of the song, he drops the bomb that she’s Jewish. There was a protest over this by a Jewish organization because they didn’t get the idea that the song was pointing out that that is how the Nazis thought about miscegenators, not how the minds behind the song felt, and wasn’t that just a messed up way of thinking about Jewish people and those who loved them. Sigh. I hate having to explain satire. It hurts to do so.

But I will explain how Passengers actually is satire here because I am tired of all the hate it gets. Most romance movies are under fire right now for showing stalking, harassment, and sexual assault as “chasing” or “courting” and thereby, acceptable. Passengers dives right into that debate with more vehemence than any journalist or debater is capable of. The trailers somewhat misled people into thinking that Passengers would be like any other romance movie: sweet, light-hearted, and sexy in it’s presentation of their relationship with a bit of disaster thriller thrown in there for conflict. The truth of the movie far more interesting. Jim, who wakes up alone ninety years early, tries his best to make the best of the worst possible situation. He has no way of fixing his situation and he holds out against his two only choices for as long as he can. Those two choices: kill himself or consign another person to his same fate. Being alone is only a choice in stasis. As long as he is alive, he is constantly going to be battling those two choices. He nearly kills himself. Then he becomes obsessed with Aurora, in a way of self-medicating his loneliness, much like any stalker does. But unlike a real stalker, Jim has no misunderstandings that waking up Aurora is wrong. Stalkers believe the other person loves them and they believe they have a relationship. Jim knows they don’t and knows he has no right to wake her up. There are several scenes wherein Jim debates doing it, shows extreme self-hatred for even considering it, and begs himself not to do it. But I argue that the movie showed Jim going through every possible other option of living in his situation for as long as he could before this was the only thing he could do to survive. I also argue that by showing Jim as a normal guy at the beginning, nervous and excited to meet the other passengers and even smiling at the second word he uttered upon waking up (“Friends”), that not only were they trying to show that anyone in his situation would choose to wake someone up but that Jim fought the urge as long as he could which was torture for him considering the fact that he is an extrovert. We would all do what Jim did. Only an actual hermit wouldn’t wake up someone else. We are all Jim, and we are all capable of this horror.

Does that make it okay? Of course not, and the movie says so. When Aurora finds out that Jim woke her up, the cinematography and music shift dramatically from low-key romance to thriller and horror styles. The point of view of the shots also focus on her instead of him, in contrast to the previous scenes of the film. The movie makes no bones about whose side you should be on: hers. As such, the film does a brilliant job of showing how typical film romance tropes are in real life dangerous and sometimes violating. You are meant to be outraged, revolted, and uncomfortable. And frankly, you should feel that way when you watch a bunch of other romance movies. If the man lies, stalks, harasses, or manhandles (something Jim never does) the woman, you should feel that way. Regardless of the tone the film presents. Passengers sets the romantic tone before she finds out to juxtapose it with the reality which is horrifying, and when that tone flips with her new knowledge of his lies and stalking, near murder and some would argue rape through misleading circumstances, it is drastic and we all feel it viscerally. It is in the movie. The shot does that Hitchcock move that throws the layout off kilter, her face is a silent scream, and the music warps from smooth, caressing notes into discordant and painful sounds. The following scenes show her fear and her anger. When he tries to explain himself over the PA and she screams that she doesn’t care, we all get it, and so does Jim who stops trying to explain himself. When she attacks Jim, we all get it, and so does Jim who doesn’t even defend himself. She is now the center of the movie and his violation of her is the focus. The only reason we and Aurora don’t want him dead is because he doesn’t defend himself from her. He acquests in that moment that what he did was worthy of death and she has every right to do it to him. He already hates himself for what he did, and he is completely prepared to die in reprepration. Some may argue that because he did date her and have sex with her that he only hated himself after he was caught. I counter that the dating period allowed him to forget on a conscious level what he did, but because he was doing everything he could to be the most movie perfect romantic boyfriend ever wasn’t just a way of the film again playing off romantic tropes but also from a character standpoint, born out his extreme guilt. As if he could offset what he did by being absolutely perfect in every possible way for her.

Jim again proves that he is ready to die to make up for what he did at the climax of the movie. Why does Aurora try so hard to save him? She says she can’t live without him. I believe when she realized that he was possibly going to die, that she also realized that if he did, she would have to live the rest of her life alone, the prospect of which was more terrifying than living with him. This fear also made her further realize that that was what Jim faced and what he did was completely understandable, not justifiable, but also irresistible. Why does she forgive him? That’s easy. He found a way to fix what he did. Jim found that he could put Aurora back to sleep, and then he told her about it. He let her choose whether or not she would do it. It wasn’t that he saved the ship or was willing to die to save the ship. It was that he was willing to go back to being alone, meaning he would let her go, and die (probably within a year because he would commit suicide) without her all based on her choice alone. That’s why Passengers is a real romance. It’s not perfect. It is in fact painful and hurtful at times. But it is truthful, and Jim learns that it is about letting Aurora make her own decisions. This makes Passengers better than most romances.

On a side note, I found the final point of decision to be contrived and flawed. The idea that there is only one Autodoc for 5500 people is insane. There was a way to create this same point of decision without that flaw: someone had to be outside the Autodoc to activate it. Voila! Problem solved and impact intact.

But why is Passengers so important to how I feel about Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald and Leonard and Virginia Woolf? It’s because it showcases a troubled relationship in a perfect balance and in a way, Leonard and Virginia Woolf are similar to Jim and Aurora, only often the roles were reversed. While the Woolfs make me think of how similar the Fitzgeralds’ situation was and how perverted their relationship was. The Fitzgeralds’ relationship is the way most people see Passengers. Only, in my opinion, even worse than people see Passengers. So I guess we should get to it.

Premarital Life

Virginia Woolf née Stephen born in 1882 suffered many nervous breakdowns since she was a young teenager and was even institutionalized. Her mental health issues, which were often manifested as depressive episodes, were thought to be caused by sexual abuse at the hands of her half-brothers and brought to the forefront by the loss of family members, such as her mother, a brother, her father, etc. It is believed that Woolf suffered from bipolar disorder as opposed to major depressive disorder. But before her marriage to Leonard Woolf was not entirely a time of unhappiness for Woolf. She, in fact, took part in a hoax, along with Leonard Woolf. Leonard also happened to be a writer, though he would never reach the notoriety that Virginia would. I have heard, however, that before they married no one told him that Virginia had suffered multiple breakdowns, preventing her unstable mental health from scaring him off. If true, it is a serious lie, but given the times, also understandable. To read Woolf’s journal entries pertaining to him though, one clearly understands how much she loved him.

Zelda Fitzgerald née Sayre was born on the other side of the Atlantic, eighteen years after Woolf. Zelda was always a very outgoing person. She liked parties and often lead the charge of her social groups in the changing ways of her times. She very much liked being the center of attention, shown in her long-running relationship with the ballet. She also liked to flout social conventions and started rumors about herself skinny-dipping. Her life very much encapsulated carpe diem. All this along with what would become of her later, however, has led many people both in her personal and professional life and those looking back on her biographically to believe that she was mentally disturbed in someway. This actually seems unlikely to me. Many people who are simply different or just don’t like the way society wishes them to act are erroneously considered mentally ill. Though I do believe that the circumstances of Zelda’s life led to mental instability, though so did F. Scott Fitzgerald’s.

Married Life

The Woolfs married, and I wish I could say, they lived happily ever after, but that was not to be. Virginia and Leonard started a publishing company together that often did not do well financially. Then they met a popular writer of the time, Vita Sackville-West, who loved Virginia and helped boost her self-confidence, pushed her to write more, and starting publishing with the Woolfs’ company as a way of helping support them financially. Not only was she there for them in those ways, but Virginia and her started a romantic liaison of sorts. Leonard knew about this and didn’t take issue with it. In fact, the couple set their relationship as an open one. To many people, this would appear to mean troubled waters in a relationship, but Virginia and Leonard never expressed any bitterness or resentment over their extramarital relationships. This is obvious in Virginia’s diary and her suicide note to Leonard, expressing nothing but love for him and guilt over her illness and how it affected him. Some may argue that the guilt was a sign that he blamed Virginia for her illness, but depressed people often feel like they are dragging down their loved ones and that their death would free them. It doesn’t seem to matter how much their loved ones express the falsehood of this belief. As such, I don’t believe that Leonard ever truly pushed Virginia to believe her illness or herself were an albatross in his life. I don’t believe her expressions of love for him could be so heartfelt if that were true.

The Fitzgeralds married once he got his first novel published (a common occurrence for couples to wait for financial success of the man at the time) and moved to New York. The two blazed through the party scene, surprising everyone with their antics. The two drank to excess and only slightly slowed down once she became pregnant. Even then though, the two didn’t let parenthood stop the party. During this time Zelda no longer performed in any ballet and really only wrote sporadically, though she continued to write in her diary regularly, as many women and writers, such as Virginia Woolf, did at the time. This diary became a point of contention between the Fitzgeralds, not for anything that Zelda wrote, but because F. Scott would steal entries from the diary to include in his novels. Parts of The Great Gatsby are taken straight from her own writing about her life. Zelda was even once asked to write a review of her husband’s latest novel, upon which she discovered the bits of her diary in the novel and stated that Fitzgerald believed that plagiarism began in the home. While written in a flippant tone, one could understand the underlying resentment that would begin to fester. Once the two moved to France, F. Scott met Ernest Hemingway, who did not get along with Zelda, and spent less time with her. In this period, Zelda grew close with another man and asked for a divorce. F. Scott’s reaction was nothing less than abusive and mentally unstable: he locked Zelda in their house until she gave up. Let me restate that: he imprisoned his wife who was asking for a divorce until her will was worn down. The two of them, at this point, really couldn’t stand each other. I’m not sure why F. Scott resented her so much, when she was the one with all the cause for feelings of resentment, except to say that he didn’t like that he couldn’t control her, which her wildness is what attracted him to her in the first place. At one point, the two went back to the States because Zelda’s father was dying. F. Scott did not stick around for his passing, instead, going off to Hollywood to begin writing scripts. After her father passed, Zelda was in and out of mental hospitals with F. Scott barely around. During one of these hospital stays, Zelda was inspired to begin writing seriously. Upon getting out, she wrote a novel: it was highly autobiographical and included her attempts to get back into the ballet and her father’s death. She even got a publishing deal; however, F. Scott was furious and demanded that she change many parts of the novel, removing whole sections of it, which he wanted to include in a novel he’d been working on. The result is a very broken novel that has never garnered much attention from the public. F. Scott even berated Zelda’s writing and her will to do so. Zelda’s fragile self-confidence was even further shaken. This whole time F. Scott was drinking more and more and his own self-worth was damaged by a lack of further success, but he had also started a long-term affair with another woman.

Through the Years

At one point a lit-crit writer published a book about how Leonard Woolf never supported Virginia emotionally in her endeavors and actively worked against her until she killed herself. This writer is an idiot. A lot of people also disagreed with her. I say if she wanted to write about a creative woman who was driven into an early grave by a horrible mistake of a marriage, she should have written about Zelda Fitzgerald, who sadly died in a fire when the asylum she was checked into burned down. We have work by Woolf, lots of work, enough to fill a grad level course all on its own. We have one novel by Zelda, we have no ballet performances by her, we have barely anything by her. Obviously, she was the one of the two women who was actively and successfully silenced by her spouse and the world around her. And still some people look upon Zelda’s wild lifestyle as the reason behind or a symptom of her mental illness and downfall, even though F. Scott was just as crazy. Without knowing which sections of Fitzgerald’s novels are word for word from her diary, we should be printing them as novels “by F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald”. So far this is the only instance wherein I feel like “correcting” history, but as a writer, I can’t help but think that if people were to quote from my blog or my private journal and pass it off as their “fiction”, I would want my freaking credit!

We have so much outrage over the satirical depiction of romance in Passengers, but way less people know about the horrible reality that was Zelda’s life. We have a TV show depicting her life now for a wide audience, and my hope is that it shows F. Scott for the theif and controlling jerk that he was. If they try to show his kidnapping  of her as somehow romantic, hopefully the Passengers outrage will carry over. But if they try to do it satirically, I’m okay with that, and then hopefully, the outrage will be focused on F. Scott Fitzgerald as it should be.

What do you think? Should Zelda be recognized in the lit classrooms of our colleges and in the English classrooms of our high schools? We don’t teach Woolf much here in the US, but we do teach The Great Gatsby all across the country in high schools. Shouldn’t our teachers be telling the students that pieces of this work are straight from her mind? Shouldn’t it be obvious by the print on the cover of the book?

 
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Posted by on October 10, 2017 in Gender Relations, Social Issues

 

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