Femme Savage by Billee Sharp
I am at my absolute worst when I’m ill, even a minor cold will deconstruct the reasonable persona I possess in the full flush of health. My husband knows this well, he tries not to take it personally when I weep uncontrollably because the honey and lemon drink he has brought to my sick bed is either NOT HOT ENOUGH or TOO SWEET or sob, ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL ME WITH THESE CHUNKS OF GINGER?? He quickly deposits my supplies: that imperfectly concocted beverage, the nose-blowing toilet roll etc and escapes my under-the-weather-breakdown. Usually I’m a stalwart and I’ll keep pretty upbeat even if things are really grim: I can be cheerful even when I’ve spent the piano lesson money on Frontline and the dog still has fleas, or I get a final warning from management for talking too much, but even a slight snivel and I’m wrecked. I know this irrefutable truth about myself and so I do try and isolate my loved ones from the onslaught of my immune deficient humors: I take to bed and let them fend for themselves. This can be a good time for a teenager, last weekend the sophomore in the house ate Chinese take-away three times in two days and managed to silently turn his bedroom into a garment-strewn flophouse for three other teen boys (boys also have fashion attacks and try on all of each others clothes) without so much as a single bollocking from nasty bedridden mom.
So I stay in bed, drinking cold honey and lemon, blowing my nose and reading. I read a lot and sleep in between, when I’m not doing one or the other I’m weeping and berating anybody who comes close. The reading really helps, it distracts me from my neurosis that I am probably dying (the recent news story about the deaths from mouse-transmitted hantavirus didn’t help, the first symptoms being akin to low-grade flu) In seventy-two odd hours, propped up on every pillow in the house I read: (predictably) Northanger Abbey, (proudly) six chapters of The Secret Life of Trees, (guiltily) the long-unfinished tomes A Year in Provence, Bel Canto and a Nero Wolf mystery. Also many articles by Cat Marnell, Caitlin Moran and weirdly all five hundred and eight pages of Shirley Conran’s “Savages”.
I missed Conran’s furious output of fiction in the eighties, I was too busy trying to read Derrida and Lacan for christsakes. My friend Adam told me that Lace was the Conran of choice but demurred from lending it to me. No matter, “Savages” kept me busy and amused for at least five hours. Basically the story is about a group of pampered executive wives who witness their husbands’ execution by dastardly insurgents at a luxurious resort on a remote Polynesian island. The wives secretly hate their bossy husbands anyway and openly despise each other, they are all miserable spoiled cows even though they don’t have to work or worry about money. After their husbands’ demise they are left with the captain of the day-tripping boat they’ve spent a boring afternoon with, they have no supplies to speak of and have to survive in a terrain inhabited by cannibals. I don’t think that Conran is a great writer, but she certainly did her homework on how to eat weird shit in the jungle and make huts out of leaves and other bits of nature. Less than half way through I started laughing phlegmatically and underlying lines like , How fast could insects travel up your vagina? And making perhaps delirious notes, “Carey is still wearing a pale-blue bra!”
Why was I doing this? Perhaps to assuage my guilt about reading a trash novel instead of being diligent and dipping into Henry Miller’s glistening text “On Writing” where he goes on about writer’s block and all the French philosophy he read in the original. My notes, naughtily made in ink, were to convince myself that I could make some smart contemporary remarks about feminism by gorging myself on her lengthy adventure story: after all, Conran was sort of writing feminist tracts she just wasn’t using long words, except “inexorably” which is longish and she uses it a lot. The feminism of “Savages” is about how the patriarchy makes women merciless rotten bitches to each other and this is illustrated by how relentlessly they harsh on the pretty one, the lazy one, the downtrodden one and the athletic capable one. This is no rosy tale of sisterhood, the ladies do survive and develop a modicum more empathy and self-esteem but they definitely do not become significantly nicer. I started to do some meandering internet research on Conran but I could not find synopses of her other blockbuster publications (Lace I & II, Superwoman, the Superwoman Yearbook, Futurewoman etc) but I did find a clinically brief Wikipedia entry and discovered she has a website and she twitters! The website was not enticing, she uses “Life is too short to stuff a mushroom” as her by-line which was a turnoff for me even though she meant no insult to psilocybin. Basically her twenty-first century output is like reading a temperance granny’s diary compared to Cat Marnell or Caitlin Moran.
I just recently started reading Cat Marnell and now I think I’m done. The beautiful and verbose Marnell, who writes mostly about her drug intake came to my attention because of an article Sarah Hepola wrote in the NYT mag, ostensibly about confessional tendencies in journo-land, blah blah, but really its an excuse for her to harp on about how she too has always wanted to be confessional about her own boozing-writing experiences. I missed chortling at Marnell’s output as Beauty Editor for xojane because I waste my online time elsewhere but now I’m up to speed ( no pun!) and I see her stuff is a great read. Perhaps she is a better writer than hard drugette, she obviously has so many brain cells left one has to wonders if her dealers sell her real angel dust or if its just reconstituted Johnsons Baby Powder. She asserts her right (and all womens rights!) to do hard drugs and never rinse out hair conditioner but it’s a bummer for me that she doesn’t elucidate what its actually like to be on angel dust or snort-cocktails of xanax and whatever. I would like to know because I’m sure as hell not going to do it myself. She now makes a living working for the uber-cool Vice writing exclusively about “pills and narcissism” instead of getting sent to rehab by xojane but unless she starts getting more descriptive re. the exotic highs I’m out.
Moran is hilariously palatable, like Tina Fey but English, and I like that she is so brazen about wanking and thinks feminism should be funny. I’ve ordered her bound to be brilliant “How to be a Woman” and I’m glad that she is unabashed about how the incoming troves of royalties are paying to make her house nicer. I tried to read some of her columns for The Times but it’s a pay site and there is no way I’m paying Murdoch for so much as a paragraph. I loved Moran’s piece about hanging out with Gaga, and now I get why dress-up girl is the pin-up for pubescent feministas. Moran is super clever too but hello no sympathy from me for having been home-schooled by “insane hippie parents” in a council house in Wolverhampton, no wonder she is so jolly, I save my tears for Jeanette Winterson’s miserable homelife growing up with uptight Baptists or whatever they were.
Feminism has struggled so hard for a workable public image, Moran, Marnell and Fey are its just desserts, and Gaga should probably be in that list too. These women are smart, funny and honest about the female condition without any lip-service to the evil empire of patriarchy.
Mrs. Fifty Shades of Grey, on the other hand, is the empire’s creature, she doesn’t do a lot of publicity because she was in TV for years and finds it all boring (at least that’s what her husb wrote in the Gruniad while hyping his own recently published novel.) Mrs Fifty is the antithesis of these formidable aforementioned femmes, her writing is awful and her sex message is droopy. The good news is that erotica has surged in hipness and sales since she wrote her S & M saga and I’m a wannabe Buddhist so I’m trying to be happy that she too probably has a new kitchen with a bondage Jacuzzi next to her top-o-the-line dishwasher. It’s the least she deserves considering she did confess that her book didn’t spice up her own sex life.
Women are mostly savvy as well as savage and contrary to Shirley’s advice will probably get more satisfaction out of stuffing a mushroom than imagining that their spouses are cruel and handsome like Christian Grey.
Image: Wild Woman of the Woods” Wayne Alfred, ( alder, horse hair)
Billee Sharp’s book “Lemons & Lavender: the eco guide to better homekeeping” Viva Editions, 2012 is available at bookstores and on amazon.com.