So recently best-selling author Claire Messud, who recently released her new novel The Woman Upstairs, sat down with Publisher's Weekly for an interview. If you haven't heard about it yet, what unfolded was a rather long rant by Ms. Messud regarding, presumably, the sexism she feels is inherent to her profession.
Publisher's Weekly: I wouldn’t want to be friends with Nora, would you? Her outlook is almost unbearably grim.
Messud: For heaven’s sake, what kind of question is that? Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert? Would you want to be friends with Mickey Sabbath? Saleem Sinai? Hamlet? Krapp? Oedipus? Oscar Wao? Antigone? Raskolnikov? Any of the characters in The Corrections? Any of the characters in Infinite Jest? Any of the characters in anything Pynchon has ever written? Or Martin Amis? Or Orhan Pamuk? Or Alice Munro, for that matter? If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep trouble.
While A Reader's Respite firmly believes that Ms. Messud has the right to rant about whatever she likes, we also found ourselves more than a little bit irritated by the entire concept that female authors are so downtrodden. If Ms. Messud would like a glimpse of a truly male-dominated field, we formally extend an invitation to come to our place of employment. At last official count (taken in 2011), there were 428 female airline captains in the world. That's right: THE WORLD. The world is a big place with lots and lots of commercial airliners in the air at any given time. Let's take a looksy at U.S. airspace alone right now:
Of all those flights being operated right now, only five - at the most - are being piloted by a female captain. So what is it like being a female in a male dominated workplace? Well, Ms. Massud, we've had passengers turn around while boarding after seeing a female in the captain's seat. We've listened to countless co-pilots tell us their favorite female pilot jokes for hours and hours on end (What do penguins and female pilots have in common? They're both pretty to look at but can't fly for shit.). We've gotten into our fancy piloting seat to find the entire flight deck plastered in the nastiest pornography you can imagine.
But here's the secret, Ms. Massud: we ignore it all, real and perceived. We smile. We tell the passengers hurriedly disembarking not to worry, there's another flight - sure to be piloted by a competent man - that leaves in a couple of hours. We return the co-pilot's joke with a better one of our own (What do flight attendants and stage coach drivers have in common? They both sit behind assholes.). We replace that Hustler porn with Playgirl images. And most important? We shut up and do our job because there are plenty of people in this world who have it a lot tougher than we do.
What this all means: there are plenty of people who have it a lot tougher than you do, Ms. Massud. So stop the whining, get back to work and do what you do best: write. Stop bitching because you're giving all of us gals a bad name.
In the meantime, your newest novel sits here beside me as yet unopened. It may remain that way.