Here is the transcript of an actual conversation that took place between me and an old friend at the Harvard Bookstore, sometime earlier this century:
HER: Ugh, Eat Pray Love!
ME: Have you read it?
HER: No but my friend from work said it was awful.
ME: I really liked it.
HER: She said it was totally classist. Like, nobody is so privileged they can just go do stuff like that.
ME: Which friend from work?
HER: The one I'm subbing for.
ME: The one you're subbing for because she took five months off to go to Australia?
Too often, women's criticisms of female artists raise the stakes from a question of taste to one of moral judgment. This isn't simply not for me; this is bad for everyone.
Stating that somebody's personal memoir is harmful to our collective cultural consciousness when her life is so similar to your own has but one implication: self-hate.
I knew it wouldn't be long before OITNB became "problematic." Girls had no chance. RuPaul is up to her neck in criticism. Meanwhile, tired sit-com rom-com stereotypes continue to dominate culture.
There's a particular sting that comes when you're trying your best to tell stories that haven't been told. You're a new generation, or an unheard voice, and you want to tell your story, or the stories of multiple fascinating characters, in a whole new way. You're up against, frankly, The Man. Dominant cultural hegemony is your main obstacle. Somehow, you push beyond that. It's thrilling, it's exciting, it's happening. Then, somebody you think might be on your team turns to you and says: "You do not speak for us. You do not represent us. People like us would be better off if you did not speak at all."
The world is unfair. No cultural revolution will ever go far enough to fix that, or even to fix what society's got wrong. We can push. We can make little dents. But we can't be the everything. We can't write the book or make the television show that is the antidote to injustice. Moreover, any story we create that realistically reflects this broken society will likely include portrayals of injustice. Those are not endorsements. Our personal experiences are still real even if they do align with the dominant narrative. Most good stories, like most lives, contain the expected and the surprising, the typical and the unique.
blaming you for shit that happens long after you're dead. (Seriously, read this. It'll make your head spin around at least a dozen times. It's such an exemplar of the moral judgment of women artists by women critics that it's almost a primer. It's about Frida Kahlo, and it should be called "How to Find Fault in Popular Ladies.")
Don't fear judgment. Make art. Criticism is important, but we as women need to make more art and write fewer words that break down art by women.
As RuPaul says, humans are God in drag. See that in other women, and know it in yourself. Art by women can't be "just women's art" anymore when it finally hits critical mass.
We don't need to correct other women or judge them or write them off or digitally rage, at least not as much as we need to make more art. You hear it again and again: women don't submit as much.
We need to turn up the volume.
And if you need a pep talk, just let me know.