Roxane Gay dissects the terrible business of being a difficult woman

Sex was all around us in school. We knew everything and we knew nothing. We looked up the meaning of fuck in the dictionary and giggled all day. A boy passed around a condom in class and said it wasn’t too different from a balloon. We read Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul and wondered if we would ever have sex the way American teenagers were having in the backs of their cars – some of us are still wondering. We read Sidney Sheldon’s Rage of Angels and imagined being possessed by someone like Michael Moretti. I have always wanted to write about sex, but I can never find the right words or the right information. I know I will end up sounding trite or foolish.

If I had read Roxane Gay’s Difficult Women in school, I might have grown up thinking sex was mostly nasty, always dirty. It resembles violence, it leaves the woman hurt if she was lucky and bruised if she wasn’t. This is a recurring theme in Roxane Gay’s collection of short stories – the women may be different from each other but they appear to derive pleasure when they are not treated well. One woman actively seeks a man who hits her, another woman instructs her man to not be soft with her. They seem to enjoy the loss of dignity.

By contrast, these women find some warmth and safety in the relationships they share with other women. There are more recurring themes – women who are sisters to each other (by blood or otherwise), the desolate and wintry north as a setting or a character by itself, twins and the peculiar connection they share, women of colour, men who leer and lust, babies that die. But at the center of all these stories are the difficult women – difficult because they cannot be easily categorized. They make us uncomfortable, they are troubled, they look at the world with weary and knowing eyes, they are never too tired for sex.

Sometimes the stories are realistic, and horrifyingly so. Other times, they are set on the edge between the real and the fantastical, falling on to either side whenever they please. There is a woman who is followed by dampness wherever she goes, a woman made of glass, a woman who is a knife.

Roxane Gay is a public figure – a thinker, writer and feminist, openly so. Knowing this makes Difficult Women difficult reading. Maybe it is a commentary on the position women increasingly find themselves in, or a way of letting us know women can find agency in the most peculiar ways. A bit like the cover design – which could be a heart, or a vagina.

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6 thoughts on “Roxane Gay dissects the terrible business of being a difficult woman

  1. Anusha – Very interesting write-up. I find some of these write-ups of yours very gutsy – kudos to you for that. The truth is that very few writers discuss uncomfortable topics – or even uncomfortable truths – in the blogsphere. You have a way of making these difficult topics easy to read and more importantly, make us readers think. Your frankness shines through, so do your convictions.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “truth is that very few writers discuss uncomfortable topics – or even uncomfortable truths – in the blogsphere.”
    I must clarify that I was referring to the part of the blogsphere that I find time for.

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    1. Thanks for the comment Ram. I’m glad you are reading what I write, because it is very different from what you write, and the way you write. I don’t know about gutsy – I am gutsy to a point you could say. I still don’t want my family reading my blog, haha.
      P.S. Clarification not necessary. 🙂

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  3. Great piece. I came across this book at my local library a few days back and I was considering getting it, but ended up borrowing Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (About halfway through, great so far!) which had been on my to-read list for a long time. Maybe I’ll get Difficult Women next time.
    Your write-up reminded me of a movie that I enjoyed quite a bit called ‘Certain Women’ which came out last year. It’s about the lives of four women living in Montana, quietly doing everything they can to get what what they want. Do watch it if you can find it online.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “I’m glad you are reading what I write, because it is very different from what you write, and the way you write.”

    –> I read what you write for precisely that reason – it is very different from what I write and how I write 🙂

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