Gillian Flynn’s Feminism

By Dani Pettas

Prior to learning otherwise, I would have guessed Gillian Flynn is an anti-feminist. I got that impression from an exchange between two characters in her first novel, Sharp Objects. It’s between the main character, Kathy, and a detective on a date (starting with Kathy).

“If I got a little too drunk tonight, and was out of my head and had sex with four guys, that would be rape?”

“Legally, I don’t know, it’d depend on a lot of things–like your attorney. But ethically, hell yes.”

“You’re sexist.”

“What?”

“You’re sexist. I’m so sick of liberal lefty men practicing sexual discrimination under the guise of protecting women against sexual discrimination.”

Flynn’s latest, Gone Girl has been on The New York Times Best Sellers list for 51 weeks. It’s number eleven this week. Movie rights were sold to 20th Century Fox last July.

Flynn came under fire from Eva Weisman and others because Gone Girl’s main character, Amy–who’s portrayed as a master of deception and murders someone–makes false rape accusations in the story. Weisman says, “when the world is not on the side of the victim, other women will play along with rape culture in order to feel safe.” And continues, “This is one of the effects of perpetuating the fiction that women lie about rape – we end up attacking ourselves.”

This may have prompted Flynn, who’s said to identify as a feminist, to defend her brand of feminism. She’s quoted in The Guardian, “Is it really only girl power, and you-go-girl, and empower yourself, and be the best you can be?” And, “the one thing that really frustrates me is this idea that women are innately good, innately nurturing.”

I’m sorry, but that might have passed for grandma’s feminism 1.0. Feminism 3 or 4.0 is about removing AVFM’s content for challenging a statistic, twitter blocking, and listing urls on splcenter.org as misogynistic.

Is “out of your head” consent? No. Is anything other than “girl power” (power to the dude-bros?) feminism? No.

Where’s the snarky debunking of her misconceptions on Jezebel? Does Flynn need to get in line and Lean In, or is feminism broad enough to include someone who espouses the views of Men’s Rights Activists?

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  • Ginkgo

    “or is feminism broad enough to include someone who espouses the views of Men’s Rights Activists?”

    Hmmmmm…. maybe. There was a spate a few months ago of feminists coming onto the MensRights subreddtti saying they agreed with a lot of MRM criticisms of society.

  • Hannah

    I know this is years old, but it’s still coming up on the top of Google. This is an incorrect, surface-level reading of Sharp Objects. The book explores neoliberal feminism and what it means when women use the “every choice we make is inherently feminist” as a coping mechanism to deny the narrow paths in life they’ve been forced down. This is made clear throughout the very layered novel, such as when Camille reunites with her high school friends who have all become housewives, and they claim that some women “just want to be mommys.” They treat their sheltered lives as free choices while simultaneously alienating Camille for being single, making it very clear that they don’t believe in/understand freedom at all. Camille is a social outsider because she didn’t follow Wind Gap’s formula for living a “perfect,” conformist life. Women in Wind Gap are routinely stigmatized for not having children by 30, and Gillian Flynn made the decision to repeatedly introduce women in the text by their full married names, writing their maiden names in parentheses to remind us of how many women have had central parts of their identities rewritten by men. “Miss” and “Ms.” are often put in italics when men address Camille, highlighting the different ways that women are identified based on their relationship statuses. It reminds me of when I go to work events and, in a more relaxed environment, everyone from my boss to my colleagues begin to ask me why I’m single. Flynn is depicting how women’s relationship statuses are always on everyone’s minds, even when it’s no one’s business.

    To return to the topic of what Flynn thinks of rape: authors are not their narrators. Camille refusing to call it rape doesn’t mean Flynn is refusing that. Quite the opposite. As the novel unfolds, we learn that Camille’s very first sexual encounter was a four-time gang rape when she was thirteen. The book continues to come back to it again and again, highlighting its importance. This was not a fun, crazy night that an independent woman chose to embark on. The attack is affecting every aspect of Camille’s life decades after it happened. She is not a fully functioning person. She has engaged in extreme self-harm, and the words she carves into her skin have to do with the struggles of sex and gender that have haunted her since the attack. She does not call it rape because, like many women in the real world, she is employing that same neoliberal excuse–it was my choice–as a coping mechanism. I am still haunted by a girl I knew in high school who casually whispered the details of her own date rape to me during a math class, and never used the word “rape.” Although she tried to pretend it was just a weird thing that happened at a party, she was coping with the symptoms of PTSD–nightmares, restlessness, flashbacks. This happens constantly in real life, this not-grey-zone “grey zone” that harms and traumatizes victims of assault. Camille is not emotionally ready to say “I was gang raped when I was thirteen.” She has PTSD. She is traumatized. She cut her entire body so that she would have an excuse to never let anyone touch her again, so that she has to wear long sleeves and pants every day of her life. Gillian Flynn is not defending the arguments of Men’s Rights Activists; she chose to put us deep in the head of a highly traumatized individual who has been hurt over and over again by the misogyny of the people around her, from the time she was a child.

    Flynn’s books are complex and highly psychological, and it’s a real shame to dilute them in this way. To conclude that her traumatized narrator denying the truth of her own sexual assault is somehow Flynn advocating for misogynists is a shallow, unfortunate reading.