All names have been changed to protect interviewees’ anonymity but the sex market remains the same.
Good Girl, Gone Girl, and Women in Psychological Thrillers.
I enjoyed Gone Girl when it came out, so when the book became part of the zeitgeist I was thrilled. I was more than a little baffled, though, when people started saying that the book/movie was anti-feminist or even misogynist.
I get where some people were angry that Amy lied (twice) about being raped because false rape claims make people cynical about sexual assault. But, I think the fact that Amy also faked her own death and left a really compelling trail of evidence for a fake murder leading toward her husband because she decided she hated him (mostly for being a lazy, boring douche) kind underscores the point that she was crazy as fuck.
For all her crazy, Amy was also weirdly likeable, and almost every woman who I’ve talked who has read the book or seen the movie has commented that while Amy is clearly an awful person, she’s also sometimes on point, as in this oft-cited paragraph:
Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.
Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl. For a long time Cool Girl offended me. I used to see men – friends, coworkers, strangers – giddy over these awful pretender women, and I’d want to sit these men down and calmly say: You are not dating a woman, you are dating a woman who has watched too many movies written by socially awkward men who’d like to believe that this kind of woman exists and might kiss them. I’d want to grab the poor guy by his lapels or messenger bag and say: The bitch doesn’t really love chili dogs that much – no one loves chili dogs that much!
And the Cool Girls are even more pathetic: They’re not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be. Oh, and if you’re not a Cool Girl, I beg you not to believe that your man doesn’t want the Cool Girl. It may be a slightly different version – maybe he’s a vegetarian, so Cool Girl loves seitan and is great with dogs; or maybe he’s a hipster artist, so Cool Girl is a tattooed, bespectacled nerd who loves comics. There are variations to the window dressing, but believe me, he wants Cool Girl, who is basically the girl who likes every fucking thing he likes and doesn’t ever complain. (How do you know you’re not Cool Girl? Because he says things like: “I like strong women.” If he says that to you, he will at some point fuck someone else. Because “I like strong women” is code for “I hate strong women.”)
The thing is, I didn’t find Gone Girl to be anti-feminist at all. In fact I think that by becoming a book read by people who don’t normally read , it changed the nature of how psychological thrillers feature women, and I’m delighted by that. Because the thing is, Amy is not a victim .
I read a lot of thrillers and mysteries, and while women’s roles in them are evolving, they are still frequently the victims. Even when a thriller features a strong female protagonist, a cop or a lawyer let’s say, she is almost always solving the murder of another woman. Mysteries and thrillers are built upon the bodies of fictional dead women, and if that women is white, petite, and young all the better. Just like when these crimes happen in real life, this particularly blend of victim (the blonde with the toothy smile) gets the most air time, lures in the most consumers.
You can justify this as saying that it’s reflective of reality: women are often the chosen victims of serial killers and other monsters who feature heavily in mystery fiction, and women are more often the victims of sexual violence, which is also a staple of the genre. Thrillers also frequently feature the death or disappearance of children to win readers with the same chill factor.
The reason that children make such compelling victims in fiction is that we assume they are inherently innocent. That’s why it’s hard to read about or watch a child get injured or die (fuck you, Game of Thrones , fuck you). The female murder victims of mystery fiction are often pushed under that same innocence umbrella. They are often young, attractive, and if they are not of middle or higher class, it’s made clear that something made them special , that they did not belong where they were. The reader empathizes with them.
The reality is, the poor, the itinerant, people of color, the mentally ill, and members of the LGBTQIA community are far more likely to be victims of violence, murder and sexual assault than affluent white woman, but these people rarely make it into mainstream thrillers. So it’s hard to justify all the dead bodies of women as representative when they aren’t .