Opinion Post: Beware

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.


  1. I guess she doesn't know she can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

  2. And the answer to her question is No, I would not want to be friends with Humbert Humbert. I won't even watch the movie, and have always hated James Mason as a result of that movie. But I digress, because that is clearly not her point. And the joke about Stage Coach drivers: don't they sit behind AND in front of assholes? I would think, unless of course the coach is empty.... But that's not YOUR point either. So the point of this comment is that one probably needs a joke about commenters who make pointless comments that are not to the point.... And also: you go girl! Or that is, you go GIRL!

  3. re: the joke. Yeah, they do, but honestly we don't really have any passenger jokes. But lot's of flight attendant jokes abound. How do you get a flight attendant in the cockpit? Grease up the cockpit door and put a Twinkie on the console. But since Twinkies don't exist anymore, I suppose that is irrelevant now.....bah.

  4. It is this humble reader's opinion that if what Ms. Massud does best is writing that she needs to start practicing another skill. My God The Emperor's Children bored the hell out of me - pointlessly! I've said in my review that it made 9/11 seem anti-climatic. I have no desire to read anything else she has to write. Just seeing her picture makes my skin crawl thinking about that experience. I should probably seek out a good therapist because after 5 and a half years I should be letting this go. While an author's reproductive organs play no role in any of this, I would like to say for the record that if she were a man, I would be saying the exact same thing right now.

  5. I totally agree, Michele! I continue to be impressed that you are a pilot and even more so because you do it in a man's world.

  6. I feel the same way about Lolita. I have the book, but not sure I'll ever read it. I just can't get past the creepiness of Humbert Humbert.


Fire away!