What it felt like when Cat Person went viral
January 11, 2019 7:27 AM   Subscribe

if we could eavesdrop on all the quick, dismissive thoughts that other people were having about us, we would go insane. We are simply not meant to see ourselves as others see us. the assumption was that my own position and history would be identical to Margot’s. I was thirty-six years old and a few months into my first serious relationship with a woman, and now everyone wanted me to explain why twenty-year-old girls were having bad sex with men.
posted by mecran01 (30 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
 
Ooooh! A follow-up! Thanks!
posted by Dressed to Kill at 7:35 AM on January 11


Original Mefi discussion of Kristen Roupenian's Cat Person
posted by mecran01 at 7:43 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


I received many in-depth descriptions, from men, of sexual encounters they’d had, because they thought I’d “just like to know.”
Why do people do this? Ugh.
posted by pharm at 7:51 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


This is beautifully written, which is entirely unsurprising. I had (and continue to have) a lot of thoughts about her wonderful story, and really appreciate this opportunity to let Roupenian crawl back into my mind (hi!) and hear her take.

"Cat Person" definitely showed me new lines in my friendships, in some cases--discussions had over this story were sharp, and direct, and very revealing. I'll have to read it again.

I'm very much looking forward to her book.
posted by sockermom at 7:53 AM on January 11 [13 favorites]


Why do people do this? Ugh.

Misogyny and privilege, for the most part.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:20 AM on January 11 [6 favorites]


I've already seem a negative review of her new collection, that seemed to boil down to it not being more "Cat Person".
posted by thelonius at 8:21 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Why do people do this? Ugh.

If there isn’t already a portmanteau combining the key elements of mansplaining, manspreading, and aggressive oversharing, there should be.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:22 AM on January 11 [13 favorites]


I definitely feel like women authors are more often subject to the assumption that their writing is Mary Sueing or thinly veiled autobiography rather than pure fiction. I don't know if that is objectively true, but it feels true.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:23 AM on January 11 [15 favorites]


Thanks for posting this--I'm always interested in a followup, as well as a look at what viral storms are like from the inside. It sounds unnerving.

I'm not entirely on board with this part of the article, though:

For people with low-level social anxiety, a common piece of conventional wisdom is that you should stop worrying so much about what other people think, because no one is actually thinking about you. In fact, this isn’t true, even if you haven’t had a story go viral. Almost everyone we encounter thinks about us. Bad hair, they think, as they pass us on the street.

While I do appreciate what she goes on to say, that The problem is not that other people think about us but that their thoughts are so flattening, so reductive in comparison to our own complicated view of ourselves, I don't quite agree with her quick dismissal of that script for countering low-level social anxiety, which I find rational and helpful.

Like, yes, many people we encounter may "think about us", in the sense of noticing. Some then may go on to judge, as in her litany of Annoying voice. Nice legs. Gummy smile. Stained shirt. She looks like my third-grade teacher. Why is she taking so long to order her coffee? I hate her stupid face. But I think in re: social anxiety, the reason for the "people don't think that much about you" script is precisely because it's so easy for us to believe that people keep thinking about and judging us, that this state of noticing lasts and lasts, so we feel like we're in that stadium with all the eyeballs pointing at us, forever.

But the script strives to point out that by and large people don't actually keep noticing; they also have Roupenian's irreducible and mysterious set of human experiences going on inside them, and their energy is devoted so much more to the unfolding story of which they are the center. So the woman this morning on a crowded train, who was sitting in the aisle seat, with her lil purse sitting by itself in the window seat, as she assiduously pretended she couldn't see how many other people didn't have seats? Oh yes I definitely had judgements about her (hint: bad)(further hint: yes other people could have asked her to move, but she was counting on the general disinclination to go to that effort in ways they may fear are 'rude'). But how long will my specific memory of her as an individual last? Not long at all. The only thing left of her in my mind by now is the way I was irritated at the selfishness of her behavior (aisle seat, little purse, avoidance of eye contact); I don't remember anything else about her, and before long, it'll all have faded as my set of human experiences continues to move on and have more and different encounters.

Having said that, I appreciate that most of the article is not about these daily encounters-in-passing in a crowded world as in her example, but instead about the one person at the center of actual sustained attention (and worse, attention which is often not even directed correctly at what she wrote or even at her, but at mistaken impressions and guesses, as the figurative xerox copy is passed around and gets blurrier and blurrier).
posted by theatro at 8:37 AM on January 11 [11 favorites]


Why do people do this? Ugh.

Misogyny and privilege, for the most part.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:20 AM on January 11


and for the other part, a genuine attempt at emotionally processing issues at hand.
posted by eustatic at 8:48 AM on January 11 [4 favorites]


Why do people do this? Ugh.

Misogyny and privilege, for the most part.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:20 AM on January 11


and for the other part, a genuine attempt at emotionally processing issues at hand.
Emotionally process issues all you want, by yourself, with your friends or your therapist. Where the misogyny and privilege comes in is dragging the author into this and expecting her to help you emotionally process your issues.
posted by peacheater at 8:57 AM on January 11 [60 favorites]


But I think in re: social anxiety, the reason for the "people don't think that much about you" script is precisely because it's so easy for us to believe that people keep thinking about and judging us, that this state of noticing lasts and lasts, so we feel like we're in that stadium with all the eyeballs pointing at us, forever.

I've found it helpful to remember how little you yourself care about the details of the people you encounter in day to day life. Even if I witness someone doing something embarrassing in public I've likely forgotten everything about the incident, except maybe that it happened, in a little while. I saw a man spill the contents of his bag all over the floor of the subway car I was in last week; today I certainly couldn't recognize him or tell you anything about him beyond that.

That's generally how other people think about you, too.
posted by Sangermaine at 9:18 AM on January 11 [9 favorites]


This essay further cements my opinion that Kristen Roupenian is a fucking genius.
posted by medusa at 9:33 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]


Iain Banks apparently used to get asked “Is The Wasp Factory autobiographical?” all the time in interviews until he started saying “if it was, I’d be helping the police with their inquiries, not answering your questions.” So, while he avoided the misogyny, he couldn’t escape readers conflating author and narrator, which authors seem to hate....
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:36 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


Why do people do this? Ugh.

Misogyny and privilege, for the most part.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:20 AM on January 11

and for the other part, a genuine attempt at emotionally processing issues at hand.


Yes, I wonder if David Bezmozgis, who hit the literary triple crown a few years ago and whose "Natasha" is a story with elements that were both problematic including a sexual encounter, and deeply human, received a whole whack of mail from women or men detailing their sexual forays because they thought he'd like to know.

I really am glad to have read this, thank you.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:51 AM on January 11 [9 favorites]


I can't find the link, but Tove Lo has spoken about how (male) journalists ask her if she's still going to sex clubs and picking up daddies at the playground.
posted by signal at 9:53 AM on January 11


If there isn’t already a portmanteau combining the key elements of mansplaining, manspreading, and aggressive oversharing, there should be.

"himposition"
posted by EmGeeJay at 10:36 AM on January 11 [63 favorites]


Why do people do this? Ugh.

Misogyny and privilege, for the most part.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:20 AM on January 11

and for the other part, a genuine attempt at emotionally processing issues at hand.


I'm genuinely baffled by this. Can you describe further the non-misogynistic, non-privileged emotional processing that leads someone to send a complete and utter stranger an uninvited and unwanted detailed account of their sexual exploits? How are they expecting her to react? All of the possible explanations I can think of involve a large degree of misogyny and privilege...
posted by *becca* at 10:52 AM on January 11 [16 favorites]


I definitely feel like women authors are more often subject to the assumption that their writing is Mary Sueing or thinly veiled autobiography rather than pure fiction. I don't know if that is objectively true, but it feels true.

As a writer, I'm having a lot of trouble doing some work that I am driven to do right now for this reason. All my life, I have not only heard but internalized that women who write about certain topics are either dotty imbeciles or cynics catering to an audience thereof, and if I'm not the latter I must be the former. Writing violent and disturbing fiction can be less disturbing on a personal level than writing about intimacy. At least you can cultivate an air of facing dark truths and possessing hidden depths. If you write about intimacy, everyone supposes that you're just chattering nonsense for other females.
posted by Countess Elena at 10:59 AM on January 11 [15 favorites]


(Claire Vaye Watkins knew about this.)
posted by Countess Elena at 11:00 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


I'm genuinely baffled by this. Can you describe further the non-misogynistic, non-privileged emotional processing that leads someone to send a complete and utter stranger an uninvited and unwanted detailed account of their sexual exploits? How are they expecting her to react? All of the possible explanations I can think of involve a large degree of misogyny and privilege...

I'm guessing they want reassurance that they're "one of the good ones". I think they're expecting her to say "Yup everything seems to be on the up-and-up, you pass."
posted by graventy at 12:20 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


Or else they’re seeking some kind of absolution? Either way, dumping a pile of angst over past sexual encounters on some random author who happens to have written about a particular fictional one is just a catastrophic misreading of what’s appropriate. Go write to an advice columnist & dump your angst on someone who’s job it is to read this stuff if you really have to. Or post to r/amitheasshole, which would probably be more appropriate.
posted by pharm at 3:12 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Yes, I realised seeking reassurance and/or absolution were possible reasons for the behaviour, however I'm classing them squarely in the privileged and misogynistic camp. The author has never met or had any contact with them. Why would they expect her to provide them with reassurance or absolution for their previous sexual history that didn't even involve her? It's highly unlikely they would have written in the same way to a male author of a short story about bad sex and it's expecting emotional labour at peak entitlement.
posted by *becca* at 3:38 PM on January 11 [5 favorites]


I'm genuinely baffled by this. Can you describe further the non-misogynistic, non-privileged emotional processing that leads someone to send a complete and utter stranger an uninvited and unwanted detailed account of their sexual exploits? How are they expecting her to react? All of the possible explanations I can think of involve a large degree of misogyny and privilege.

I’ve never had anything I created go viral but I image it’s the same reason a woman saw my art in a tiny show and then proceeded to send me a lengthy, detailed essay about being sexually assaulted for reasons unknown to me. Since none of us have read these messages, maybe they just wanted to talk about their experiences because they felt they aligned with the story? Just wanted someone they perceived to be empathetic to listen? Do we know whether or not these messages were supposed to be “not all men” rebuttals or just sexually aggressive in some way?
posted by Young Kullervo at 4:53 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


In my experience, people believe that women are more naturally empathetic and inclined to listen, especially if the women write or talk about emotions for a living. If you look approachable—which sometimes just means being the most feminine-presenting person around—people who need to talk will talk to you. Personally, I usually enjoy it because that’s my nature, but it isn’t everybody’s. And it surely makes me nervous to be handed a clump of male feelings on a sensitive subject, absent any previous basis for it.

Authors in general often field very emotional correspondence from strangers, and I’m sure it’s even more so for authors in our society’s designated feelings gender.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:09 PM on January 11 [15 favorites]


Those sexual encounter descriptions the author was sent are, in my mind at least, the literary equivalent of an unsolicited dick pic.

I can recognize that many men have not developed both internal and external resources and processes to help them cope with their reactions to this story, and still condemn their actions as inappropriate. And yeah, I explicitly condemn sending strangers unsolicited sexual material of any kind.

On the one hand, I hope that people can recognize that developing understanding of why guys do harmful stupid crap is not the same as condoning them.

OTOH, I also hope people can recognize how giving explanations for bad behavior can undermine the narrative of the underlying harm of such actions, by at least appearing to empathize more with the people causing harm then the harmed individual.

On the gripping hand, I'm really happy that the author is publishing a book and finding success.
posted by gryftir at 5:04 PM on January 12 [3 favorites]


you describe further the non-misogynistic, non-privileged

I said it is misogynist, and it is privileged, and it is also probably genuine attempts at emotionally processing something that has no other venue.
posted by eustatic at 11:11 PM on January 12


On a slight tangent: has misogyny become a synonym for sexism in general these days? I see the former used a lot here when the author is describing something that is clearly sexist, but doesn’t seem to embody the knowing contempt for the female gender that the former term implies (to me at least).

Or is the consensus that sexism of any sort is ipso facto evidence of misogyny?
posted by pharm at 2:16 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


A preview of her book has also been published on Medium: The Good Guy
posted by Gordafarin at 3:55 AM on January 15


I definitely feel like women authors are more often subject to the assumption that their writing is Mary Sueing or thinly veiled autobiography rather than pure fiction. I don't know if that is objectively true, but it feels true.

Nicola Griffith had things to say about that and related biases about disabled writers after the publication of her book So Lucky: How ableism affects a book review.
posted by Lexica at 11:12 AM on January 15 [2 favorites]


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