International Women’s Day – two women’s firsts

I first heard the term ‘Women’s lib,’ sometime in the late 60s or early 70s. At the time we dreamt of men becoming more like women and to a certain extent, some men have softened their approach. It was never going to be enough to make a difference and so the outcome is understandable, but I don’t think anyone expected women to become more like men. E.g. Play rugby, football or cricket, box or wrestle.

OK! I can see it is right to enjoy team sports but I would have preferred men to abstain from  boxing, rather than women participate, but that is just an opinion and very few women wreck their health by boxing.

So, I’m gong to make two contributions to World Women’s Day. Here is the first. Is misogyny OK if women indulge themselves?

Damp Patches, Highsmith and Misogyny.

Two female authors revelled in hating their own sex. I’ve just finished Little Tales of Misogyny, by Patricia Highsmith, and Girl Friday, by Charlotte Roche. The original German title is Ein Mädchen für Alles.  There is the first fascinating conundrum. Charlotte Roche has a British passport, because her parents were both British citizens. Charlotte lived in Germany from her infancy. Hence her first language is German, her three novels are written in German, but the German press and reviewers always refer to her as an English authoress. Is the reason for this odd definition that she is the author to hate and one doesn’t want to own up to her?

Her first two novels received disgusting reviews from scandalised literati, became best sellers and have been made into films. They have also been translated. Feuchtgebiete appeared in English as Wetlands, which is a cop-out. OK. It is a correct translation, but Damp Patches would be better. Anyone and everyone who has read the book understands that Wetlands, refer to a woman’s damp areas. Her second novel appeared in German as Schoβgebete – translated as Wrecked. That’s kinda OK as a part of the novel is autobiographical and refers to the death of her brothers in a car accident, on their way to Charlotte’s wedding, but it isn’t a translation. The other sentiment in the story is about coming to terms with sexual relationships post accident. Schoβgebete – Prayers from the lap? Does it for me! It’s a correct translation and conveys the message.

Why are her novels so hated and so widely read? She tells it how it is to be woman, who has had a screwed up childhood and is now trying to deal with a decent portion of self-hate. She leaves nothing out in her study of the female anatomy and psyche. I now know what it means, as a woman, to have wet areas.

The critiques for her third novel, were so awful, I refused to part up with €16 in a bookshop. Within six months of publication, I found a second hand copy on for €3.50 including postage to the UK. It had never been read. The critics have won. It won’t be translated into English and won’t become a film. It is powerfully misogynistic, and blokes don’t do too well either. I’m glad I read it, because I can’t imagine she has another novel in her after that final chapter! I would so like to meet this woman.

Alongside Charlotte Roche, I read Patricia Highsmith’s Little Misogynistic Tales. They are gems of short fiction, but take every stereotype of female nastiness, amplify it and serve it up cold and indigestible. Edna is about a mother/mother-in-law, living with her son and his wife. This so reminded me of my own fraught relationship with my mother in the months before she died. Men get fat and lazy in old age. That can be annoying, but is better than wanting to run people’s lives under the pretence of being useful. While minding her own business, Edna takes over the house and the lives of her son and daughter-in-law.

In these stories, Highsmith takes every facet of the female psyche and gives it back with a hateful twist. She chose the title and the stories are misogynistic. Do such women, as she describes, exist? How would I know? All I can say is, I’ve never met them – or have I?

In order to understand where Highsmith and Roche were coming from, I looked up their biographies. Like Roche, Highsmith was brought up by dysfunctional parents, who failed to put the needs of their child, before their own. Most people involved in pedagogy agree, it doesn’t matter how you bring up your children, so long as you have thought about your system and it has the interests of the child as a priority. I suppose the corollary is – anti-authoritarian or the odd thrashing – it doesn’t matter, so long as the parents care enough to make the effort. One says that the difference between a successful school career and dropping out with no qualifications, is a five-minute chat with a parent every day, about what happened at school. Take those headphones off mums and dads and turn off the phone when walking your little ones to and from school. Otherwise your children might become novelists!

Highsmith never stopped hating. She became a brilliant writer, but couldn’t conquer her demons. Roche still has time to let go, unless her writing is therapy. She describes a bowel movement as a metaphor for getting rid of her anger. Her metaphors are the reason the critics hate her. Chapter 17 of Ein Mädchen für Alles by Roche (Girl Friday), is a red flag to nice middle-class critics with a degree in creative writing, who never got beyond page 3 of their own novel, but now have a cushy number trashing the novels of others. They would say, ‘Nice people don’t write like that!’

Highsmith is cleverer, or more skilful. Her stories are gems. She has the drop on the critics. She has them running scared.

This blog was first published for the last International Women’s Day in 2016 by New London Writers.

Published by Clive La Pensée

Clive La Pensée, ex-science teacher, recognised writer on history of beer, novelist, expressionist, dreamer, believer in never giving up, empathiser, hopeful for a future without class, gender or racial prejudice. It's tough and at the moment, one has to remember distance travelled, rather than where we are at.

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