It is just not every single day quick story goes viral. Indeed, it’s not every single day that many individuals take note of quick tales in any respect. As a type, in Britain not less than, they’re notoriously tough to get printed, and their authors are hardly ever granted the effusive reward that’s dished out to the lengthy type novelist.
Yet this week, Kristen Roupenian’s first story to be printed within the New Yorker was greeted with unparalleled enthusiasm on social media and off it as nicely. But why? There are not any stylistic fireworks on show in Cat Person, a merely written story of Margot, a 20-year-old school pupil’s sexual encounter with 34-year-old Robert. Nor are there daring experimentations with type or construction.
It is a story, straightforwardly instructed via the eyes of a younger lady, of an disagreeable sexual encounter that she has with a considerably ambiguous stranger who seems to be actively disagreeable. And lord, has it resonated painfully, particularly with younger girls.
But the timing of this dialogue isn’t any coincidence. Since the explosion of #MeToo, girls’s experiences of sexual encounters, each consensual and never, are lastly being heard. Our views on sexual dynamics that had been for thus lengthy ignored are being taken severely. We are being granted authority and respect. We are being listened to. Though the New Yorker story is fiction, Cat Person has discovered a spot on this courageous new world the place all of the sudden our ideas and emotions concerning the males we meet, our boundaries and our behaviours matter.
In some methods Cat Person will be summed up in Margaret Atwood’s line: “Men are afraid girls will chortle at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.” The female character has sex with her date because she fears hurting his feelings, not only because she doesn’t know what violence he could be capable of (his moods have already proved unpredictable, his actions manipulative), but because she has been conditioned to believe that wounding a man’s pride is to be avoided at all costs, even if it means transgressing her own boundaries to the point where she feels physically sick at thought of the sexual contact.
“It speaks to the way that many women, especially young women, move through the world: not making people angry, taking responsibility for other people’s emotions, working extremely hard to keep everyone around them happy. It’s reflexive and self-protective, and it’s also exhausting,” Roupenian said in an interview about the piece. It is this same impulse that might leave a woman frozen, smiling awkwardly as a powerful man masturbates into a plant pot in front of her, rather than running for the door. It explores a nest of feelings that are rarely articulated in public.
The way women respond in uncomfortable sexual situations has been up for scrutiny of late. Cat Person allows us a peek into one young woman’s motivations. Neither of the characters are especially fleshed out – encouraging the reader perhaps somewhat to regard them as ciphers for their own experiences. Margot thinks unkind thoughts about Robert’s flabby belly, and ultimately rejects him.
How horribly relatable, women readers have cried. “What a bitch,” certain male readers have responded. Such has been the backlash that a Twitter account has been set as much as chronicle males’s responses. The feminine gaze, and its appraisal of male our bodies, is overseas territory in a lot up to date fiction. We are used to at least one gender being objectified, not the opposite. So no marvel this story and its sudden fame makes some males really feel uncomfortable, wounded even. I’m not within the recreation of policing the ideas of fictional characters, nor do I flip to literature for ethical steering. Others do, and have made their emotions recognized. Discussions have been passionate.
No doubt the fuss will die down, because it all the time does. But like Patricia Lockwood’s viral poem Rape Joke from 2013, Cat Person has neatly encapsulated the place we’re when it comes to public dialogue of the dynamics between women and men. It raises way more points than there are house for right here, together with the nonetheless new and continuously befuddling web courting panorama, and the way in which we are able to mission our concepts about love on to folks we barely know.
It additionally raises questions concerning the nature of fiction, and the way girls writers are sometimes thought-about as mere recorders of human expertise slightly than gifted the inventive imaginations to invent complete literary worlds, as males so usually are – many readers have responded to the story as if it had been a private essay, not a piece of fiction.
Whether you like Cat Person or not, and I don’t particularly, I hope that new converts to the quick story type won’t abandon it after this 1’s second within the solar, and can as a substitute now delve into the works of Alice Munro, Lucia Berlin and Lydia Davis. The means Cat Person has been acquired most of all highlights how sometimes the inside lives of younger girls are given critical literary consideration.
As with the hype across the bad-sex Girls on HBO, there is a component of astonishment with the truth that one thing so seemingly banal and common when it comes to feminine expertise has gone uncommented on for thus lengthy. If so many people really feel this fashion, in different phrases, then why has it gone unsaid till now? And, extra importantly, will males begin to hear?
• Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett is a Guardian columnist
Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett from theguardian.com