As an author, I’ve prepared myself for the potential backlash of publishing a book that has received … mixed reviews. Some readers say it inspired them to make better choices for their lives. Some say it was tragic, but all too familiar to a situation they (or a loved one) experienced. Others expressed frustration, wondering how the narrator could be so magnetized by the charming, self-absorbed antagonist. Another group of readers are angry, as it turns out. They want to know why I’m so bitter.
I’ve got to say, I am so tired of that word. Bitter. I’m tired of insisting that I’m not bitter. I know it’s not effective to stomp my feet and scream, demanding strangers stop applying inaccurate epithets to my personality and motivation. I know it’s useless, though. People are going to believe what they want. They’re going to perceive what they want and in some cases, it’s got to be the simplest, easiest, most two-dimensional explanation. Also, becoming a published author, I made myself the willing target of all manners of public opinion.
So what’s a girl to do? Do I directly address ignorance? Do I flood social media outlets, reminding the world that my book was a work of fiction? Or do I shrug and remind myself that everyone is entitled to an opinion, even if sometimes, opinions are ill-informed, archaic and misogynistic?
I started thinking about second-wave feminists today, and I remembered something I read in Betty Friedan’s work, The Feminine Mystique. In a study, she discovered that 1950s media depicted women in one of two ways: A) content, perfect housewife, submissive to her husband, or B) stressed out, nutty professional with an empty personal life and nothing to keep her warm at night.
This antiquated assumption about women is considered polarizing today, and by most, completely incorrect. No one woman is all one thing or another, and expecting women to conform to one of two roles is not only unrealistic, it’s just plain stupid. All human beings are multi-faceted and infinitely dynamic.
Here’s my point: just because someone (man or woman) experiences a bad relationship or a divorce and chooses not to stand back and be shat upon, are they then doomed to wear the mask of bitterness forever? Is it a societal, forgone conclusion that if your marriage ends, you are nothing more than angry simply because you opt to discuss and analyze? If so, then that means you can’t be anything else, ever, unless you shut up, don’t mention it, smile and move on?
If telling a story about a girl who made stupid mistakes because she was in love makes me bitter then I guess it’s time to just accept the brand that small-minded people have decided upon. So, I’m sorry to report to neo-Feminists and traditionalists alike: though the 1950s are long behind us, it turns out that, if you don’t fall into step with the Stepfords, you still only get one other option. In this case, it’s “bitter.”