**Shouldn’t contain spoilers and if there are, they are small**
For the last four days, I rushed through Sharp Objects and Dark Places unable to put either book down. Sharp Objects captured me with the twisted mother-daughter relationship and the ending that made this a psychological thriller. Dark Places did not capture my attention as well, but I still turned the pages in a rush to see how it was going to end. I read Gone Girl in June of 2013 (thanks Goodreads!) and gave it a four star, but it probably deserved five. After finishing Sharp Objects and before I read Dark Places, I started to wonder, is Gillian Flynn a feminist?
There are a few things that led me to ask this question. I wasn’t passionate about feminism when I read Gone Girl so the review I wrote on Goodreads had not a comment about it. Now, I am. While reading Sharp Objects, the question of Flynn’s feminist stand started to nag at me. There’s this section where Camille has a conversation with Detective Richard. She asks if an eighth grade girl had sex with four high school guys, would that count as rape. He said hell, yes. The girl is underage, the boys are around fifteen (?) and she was obviously vulnerable. Most feminists would say that this is rape and would say the guys were only out for themselves and they probably were. Camille’s response makes readers take a double take. “And sometimes drunk women aren’t raped; they just make stupid choices– and to say we deserve special treatment when we’re drunk because we’re women, to say we need to be looked after, I find offensive.”
Now that’s a statement.
Time to unravel!
When I went to India, there was a conversation of the backlash of all of the protective measurements for women to stop rape. The backlash was reinforcing the idea that women need to be protected. This is like saying women can’t go out to parties by themselves or they might get raped. Unfortunately as much as I want to say that it isn’t true, it still is. I’ve heard multiple stories. We shouldn’t say ‘why didn’t she bring a friend?’ or ‘she shouldn’t have dressed up like a slut,’ but the problem remains. It sucks and puts women in a difficult situation. It also puts men in a difficult situation. We assume that men only want sex and unfortunately, most men reinforce this idea. I’m not saying that they’re all rapists or even capable of rape, it’s just that we see comments from guys talking about how their girlfriend doesn’t give them sex or they want sex. Okay. I’m going to keep that as a mostly truth though I know it’s not always true because it could be a social construction; either way it exists.
Now to look back at that quote. The boys she was with might not have been capable of rape, but could still be fine with being a guy she had sex with. This is where an argument comes up. If she was drunk and inhibitions gone and they were drunk and she was obviously able to be taken advantage of (considering her home life), does it count as rape? When can somebody make a decision? Of course, she was thirteen and legally, it was rape. What about socially? I agree with her quote. To a point. I’m not sure, but I believe I at least planned a post where I talked about some of the ways men debase women. One of the unintentional ways is “I would never hurt a woman, she needs to be protected.” Ouch. This is a problem and it should be addressed. Women do not need to be protected. We can see this in the characters Flynn creates. You can’t argue that they need protection; if anything the men need protection. Detective Richard is more horrified by everything Camille does than any of the women. Her step-father has no clue what’s going on and is being manipulated without even knowing. Her writing begins to prove that women do not need protection.
Unfortunately, Gillian Flynn’s ideas are progressive. This is good, but it also assumes a world exists that’s out of our reach currently. Right now, we’re trying to rework the relationship between men and women. We’re trying to see people as individuals without grouping them together with similar characteristics just because of their gender. We want women who can be seen as people and not objects and men who can be seen as more than just sex seeking. Gillian Flynn is moving past this teaching men that rape is never okay and women should be able to have sex for fun to the understanding that women do not need protection and can make decisions even when drunk; that protection is not needed. This is a theory that’s difficult to wrap our heads around in a society where we’re trying to reform the idea that when drunk, it counts as rape and victim blaming is not okay. Flynn presents a new argument that is both hopeful (women not needing protection) and harmful (potential victim blaming). It’s progressive but may be too progressive in our current situation.
Gone Girl presents a female character that is more obvious than the others (save for Camille’s mom). I can’t talk much about this book without spoiling it, but the characters are both hated in the book. I asked one of my friends if he liked the movie (still haven’t seen it) and he said yes, but that the woman was a bitch and he hated her. He never said anything about hating the husband who is equally as horrible just in a different way. The husband’s behavior is acceptable in current circles. While it’s bad, we can understand it. Her behavior on the other hand isn’t. She’s called a bitch because she’s manipulative. We don’t see that often and when we do, it’s her fault. He was the one affected and his behavior was a reaction. Her’s is never accepted. She’s seen as the instigator.
Of course, Flynn does not seem to be in agreement. She creates a woman who gets back at her husband with manipulation. A woman will lose in a fist fight (in most cases) but manipulation? That’s harder to fight. People hate her, but when we examine her behavior, it makes sense. What else was she to do? Of course, she is insane. That can’t be ignored. She never tried having a conversation with him, but instead took it to the next, next, next x10 level. She’s a psychopath, but an intelligent one who examines the social contract and uses it for her own purposes. It’s twisted, yes, but it’s difficult to call Flynn a misogynist when she portrays strong women in a progressive, not backwards, way.
Gillian Flynn has said that she is a feminist. She takes assumptions about women and flips them. In Sharp Objects, the detective says the killer has to be a man because women do not kill unless it’s for revenge or from jealousy. All of the perceived notions are switched on the readers, making the writing twist our familiarity to something that we can barely recognize. I do think Flynn is asking for a world that is more progressive and radical than we are at. I’ve heard women and men say that woman shouldn’t be protected when they’re drunk, but it’s with accusatory tones and filled with excuses for behavior that they know was wrong. This type of understanding she is asking for is with respect for the doer, knowing that it was a decision that one person made and it shouldn’t be forgiven when it was her choice.
Flynn is definitely an author that feminists should keep their eyes on and people who blame the woman or say ‘she was drunk; she wanted it’ have to watch or read with more knowledge than what they currently hold. I hope to read more from her in the upcoming years.