At the heart of these queasy, pedantic male polemics on Gaitskill, there is something defensive and tormented, something that feels an awful lot like fear. There’s plenty of gynophobia, yes; but it’s not just fear of vaginas per se. It’s fear of what vaginas can see. Pico Iyer, in a Time essay whose title—“Are Men Really so Bad?”—is as idiotic as its content, says that Gaitskill’s characterization of men in Two Girls, Fat and Thin is just as objectionable as Brett Easton Ellis’s much-maligned descriptions of women being butchered by a serial killer in American Psycho. He charges the public with hypocrisy and “reverse sexism” for failing to condemn Gaitskill’s defamation of the male character. “It is to be hoped,” he says, “that the outrage would be no less if Ellis’s monster had been a woman, or more of its victims men.”
Opinions about my work vary wildly, but I haven’t observed that it’s predictable along gender lines, and in truth some of my best support has come from men. George Garrett in the New York Times was the first man to speak on Bad Behavior, and he was more than generous. When Two Girls came out, it was Greil Marcus who gave it a great review in the L.A. Weekly, contrasted with a very nasty piece of work by Elizabeth Benedict in the L.A. Times and an ambivalent one in the New York Times by Ginger Danto.
Do I think that male reviewers occasionally make mistakes when writing about female authors? Absolutely. I'm sure I'm guilty of that. I think about it a lot, I try not to be a douche about it, but I'm sure I've made a gendered assumption or used an inappropriate word when reviewing a book written by a woman. Do I think that reviewers should hew along their own gender lines when they're reviewing books? Absolutely not. How are we going to learn how to talk to each other, unless we talk to each other? I do think that because she writes so frankly about sex, male critics are more likely to make a sexist mistake while reviewing Gaitskill's fiction. When that happens, those critics should absolutely be called out for their errors, as Rivecca did. But I'd hate to think that I couldn't share my enthusiasm for Gaitskill's work because of my gender.