I feel bad for Emily Gould. Next week, the former editor of gossip blog Gawker.com will publish her first book, a collection of personal essays called And The Heart Says Whatever. And when I think about what’s going to happen to her, I just want to shield my eyes.
You see, almost two years ago exactly, Emily Gould landed on the cover of The New York Times Magazine for an article published in it, “Exposed: Blog Post Confidential.” If people hated her article (several thousand words about how her sometimes nasty blogging for Gawker complicated or ruined her personal relationships), they hated her cover photo even more: Gould lying on her bed in a tank top, staring up at the camera. The types of internet comments her piece provoked included cyberbullying-ish put-downs like “narcissists,” “narcissistic pipsqueak,” “immature,” “intellectual midget,” “navel-gazing,” “idiots with big mouths,” “undiagnosed psych disorder,” and “Now I understand the timeless appeal of public stoning.” Yeesh.
As another young female writer, watching this scared the crap out of me. I should probably be old enough to know better than to get rattled by all that haterade, but I worry about the young female writers in high schools across the country who see that and then learn, “This is what will happen if I write about myself.”This week, author Curtis Sittenfeld interviewed Gould and another author, Meghan Daum, for New York magazine, and Gould spoke to her experience as a female writer. Sittenfeld confessed she gets “frustrated” by “the preoccupation with female likability,” and then asked, “Do you see a difference in the way people read nonfiction written by a woman?” Gould responded:
If a woman writes about herself, she’s a narcissist. If a man does the same, he’s describing the human condition. But people seem to evaluate your work based on how much they relate to it, so it’s like, well, who’s the narcissist?”
Ah, yes, the double standard: when a man does something, it’s positive, but when a woman does the exact same thing, she’s shamed, ridiculed and stopped.
Gould expounded more on the sexism that women who write about themselves experience, calling it “destabilizing” to others:
“When women are honest about their experiences, it’s destabilizing. It’s not socially acceptable for us to think our thoughts are interesting or valuable. Or if you write about personal experiences, it’s like people think you want advice about how to live, like you’re holding a public referendum. Recently I read reactions to Sandra Tsing Loh’s Atlantic essay, “On Being a Bad Mother,” and some of the comments were cowardly, bullying, and also weirdly normative and conservative. What on Earth gives people commenting on a blog under aliases the right to judge Sandra Tsing Loh’s parenting skills? I do think that people who write honestly about their lives are doing people who won’t or can’t a favor, to put it bluntly.
The other author in the interview, Meghan Daum (author of the forthcoming book Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived In That House, about real estate obsession), answered the same question with a similar comment, in her own writing: “I tend to be very honest, and my goal is to identify something people think but are afraid to say. That’s not the general cultural expectation of women.”
Daum also brought up The Queen Of The Navel-Gazing Narcissistic Female Writers (kidding!), Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert. Daum pointed out how Elizabeth Gilbert reported and wrote a nonfiction book, The Last American Man, which was nominated for a National Book Award. “[That book] didn’t go anywhere [in sales], though no fault of Liz’s own,” Daum said. Her implication, of course, is that the sales of the memoir, inward-focused Eat, Pray, Love were through the roof — maybe making it the focus of lots of hatred. And, now, that’s all Gilbert is known for!
I read Emily Gould’s book earlier this week (still waiting to get Daum’s in the mail). I liked the first essay in And The Heart Says Whatever a lot and thought the rest were OK-ish to good. I’m cynical, though, that any talk about And The Heart Says Whatever will deal fairly with the quality — or lack thereof — of its writing, considering it’s so easy, and entertaining, to just bash Emily Gould the same way she’s been bashed for years.
For the record, I don’t know Emily Gould (although I briefly interviewed her once while “partying reporting” for a publication). I can’t speak to her personality or the way she conducts herself in personal relationships or on the blogosphere. I do think there’ll be plenty of bitterness and jealousy from other writers who were burned by her on Gawker, or who think they may have been more deserving of a book deal, and that’ll help skew her book’s reception towards negativity.
While it may look on the outside like Emily Gould has achieved an enviable success — a former editorship at Gawker, a New York Times Magazine cover story, a book deal — her success is far, far less appealing when shrouded in so much disrespect. [New York]