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Searching for the Self-Loathing Woman Writer

7 January 2018

From Hazlitt:

I was once asked to write an essay that would answer a question: why do so many women writers hate themselves? Self-loathing, they called it, and she was the self-loathing women writer.

I did not like this question, but I did recognize it. I could have given a simple answer in a straight line, cataloguing the many instances of women who wrote about their selves and their hate, and said that this approximated self-loathing. I could have written about women who write about mutually masochistic affairs with people they don’t love or can’t trust, or the posthumous collections of women who lived sad lives and died sad deaths, or I could have written about novels or poems or memoirs about addiction, depression, abusive childhoods, recollections of grief. I could have looked at honest admissions of guilt or regret or sadness or anger and used those emotions to say there, I found her, there’s the woman who hates herself.

But did those women hate themselves, or did they write about their relationship to a world that hated them? Wasn’t self-loathing the symptom, rather than the condition? And anyway, why did we have to consider it in terms of a diagnosis? I thought the inquiry was a statement trying on a question for size, and said as much. I went looking for an answer that would improve the question, which either did not exist or I was not able to find.

. . . .

In 1971, Linda Nochlin published her canonical essay, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” Also a bad question, she argued, one that baited and switched by redirecting our attention to the tip of an iceberg, so we wouldn’t consider its depths. The world as it existed, this question suggested, was good and right, and that women had not succeeded in it must be a mystery for them to solve. “[L]ike so many other so-called questions involved in the feminist ‘controversy,’” she wrote, “it falsifies the nature of the issue at the same time that it insidiously supplies its own answer: “There are no great women artists because women are incapable of greatness.’”

. . . .

“Women,” whatever that means as an identifier or category, is not enough of a link between all the people who could be labelled as such. As Nochlin wrote, when considering the work of Artemesia Gentileschi, Mme. Vigée-Lebrun, Georgia O’Keefe, Helen Frankenthaler, Sappho, Jane Austen, Emily Brontë, George Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Susan Sontag, just to name a few of her examples, they “would seem to be closer to other artists and writers of their own period and outlook than they are to each other.”

Link to the rest at Hazlitt

PG knows lots of female writers and can’t think of any he would describe as self-loathing. Perhaps he’s thick, but when he talks about their writing, he’s impressed by the feeling that lots of female authors know what they want to do and where they want to go and how they’re going to get there. He would suggest Self-Confident as a better hyphenated adjective to describe female writers.

Are some artists insecure? Are some non-artists insecure? Are some men insecure? Are some women insecure?

When PG attended college, his in-class and out-of-class friendships brought him into close contact with lots of people who wanted to become professional performing artists of one sort or another, including actors, musicians, directors, etc.

He’s happy to say that some of them (far from the majority) became very successful by way of industry awards and money.

Were some of them insecure about their abilities? Yes. Were some of them completely secure about their abilities? Yes. Were some self-loathing? Maybe, but there were few, if any, PG would describe that way. Other emotional characteristics were far more dominant.

Writers and actors don’t have the same sort of character profiles, but each group is subject to rejection on a regular basis. If you talk to an experienced actor, he/she can tell reams of stories about being rejected.

According to an article PG stumbled across recently, one of PG’s actor friends has been in 87 movies and TV shows. He’s also experienced rejection on a regular basis, probably more than 87 times.

So PG could be wrong about self-loathing women writers, but he’s skeptical.


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6 Comments to “Searching for the Self-Loathing Woman Writer”

  1. I’m guessing you didn’t really read the (very long!) article or you might have noticed that the author shares your skepticism and this line — “it certainly did not occur to me to think about who decided which movies got made and which books got published” — might have struck you as more worthy of note.

    Also, the fact that it’s as much about #metoo as about writing might have caused you to decide against linking? But thanks for sharing it, because it was worth the time spent reading!

  2. “Searching for the Self-Loathing Woman Writer” — Scratch out the word ‘woman’ and the title makes more sense, though I imagine you don’t need to search far. Many writers claim to hate themselves or their work.

    After babbling on, it occurs to me the whole premise makes little sense. All people have varying emotions at different times of the same day, writers or not.

  3. Alas, my reaction to the headline was to imagine a college English professor sending Research Assistants through literature anthologies and novel synopses to gather titles for a theamed class.

  4. Let’s search for the article “Searching for the Self-Loathing Man Writer.” Or better yet, let’s not.

  5. Nope. Frustrated, maybe, when the work is just before the place where the solution occurs to me and the sun bursts through the clouds and angels sing, but no self-loathing going on.

    It would waste time. Writers (and maybe especially women writers?) don’t have time to waste.

  6. There is one consistent difference between the genders. Men pretty consistently OVERESTIMATE their own talent, while women consistently UNDERESTIMATE their own talent.

    Not sure that’s related to self-loathing, though. It seems to me that putrid characteristic is shared equally by both genders.

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