Literary Enemies: Meg Wolitzer and Junot Díaz
Disclaimer: I refuse to believe that Meg Wolitzer and Junot Díaz aren’t friends.
I’m going to try my best to keep this from getting all Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, and I promise I’m not going to make When Harry Met Sally references, but I do want to talk about gender. I want to talk about writing women.
I have often heard Junot Díaz called out for objectifying his female characters, and I want to start by saying I disagree. When I was sixteen and read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao for the first time, I found Oscar’s older sister Lola profoundly reassuring. Here was a girl my age, then a woman not much older, who found power where she could and used it, who saved herself from what she could, who turned herself into the book’s strongest character by sheer force of will but remained vulnerable enough to fall in love.
Yes, some of Lola’s power comes from her sexuality, even when she’s young. The same is true of her mother Belicia. I do not find this problematic. In fact, I find it the opposite. To me, it is just as bad for a male author to deprive his female characters of sexual agency as it is to reduce them to sex objects. Well, not just as bad. It’s two versions of the same crime, and it’s a crime Díaz never commits.
And yet I can see why a reader might question Díaz on gender. Yunior, his recurring protagonist (call him Díaz’s Frank Bascombe, his Nathan Zuckerman, his Rabbit Angstrom) is a serial cheater. In Oscar Wao, when he’s on-and-off dating Lola, he’s prone to locutions like, “Me, who was fucking with not one, not two, but three fine-ass bitches at the same time and that wasn’t even counting the side-sluts I scooped at the parties and the clubs.” When his girlfriend in the short story “Alma” reads his diary and calls him out for cheating, Yunior says, “Baby, this is part of my novel.” So what’s a girl to think?