Sunday, October 07, 2012

Rubyfruit Jungle: Passing The Bechdel Test on a Technicality

Excellent as a coaster.
I resolved to read trash for the rest of the year and decided to start with Rubyfruit Jungle.

I had meant to read it ever since I saw Educating Rita (the movie, obvs). At one point Rita tells Michael Caine that she's been reading Rubyfruit Jungle, and Michael Caine rolls his eyes in response. Who could not want to know why Michael Caine was so dismissive of this book?

Wikipedia told me Rubyfruit Jungle was a bildungsroman (seriously, the next person to use "bildungsroman" without being ironic is gonna get a smack upside the head) and a Lesbian coming-of-age book. Molly, the protagonist, is supposedly funny and strong and blahblahblah...



This book reeked.

It's true: this book is a stinky mess of crap. It's just bad.

It started off OK. Molly's young and obviously gay. She has a thing with another girl. She's not sure what the hell's up with her. It's all good: Molly's growing as a character; the narrative is funny; the conflicts are set up; it looks like it's going to be a fun ride.

But then her family moves to Florida and the narrative becomes stupid. The rest of the book might as well be called "Molly: The World's Most Out Lesbian Evah!"

I've known feminist lesbian activists in 1999 (arguably the last time it was still scandalous to be gay) who were less out that Molly is supposed to be in 1960-whatever.

Molly announces her gayness to the world in flashing neon lights. She flaunts it to the point where it's almost like her gayness defines her more than anything else. Everything is about her being gay.

"Hey Molly, what time is it?"

"It's Gay-O'Clock, buddy!"

But that isn't a problem in and of itself. No, the problem is that the story is thin and poorly-written. The entire book is about how Molly fucks her way through life with a zillion attractive women who're all cool with being out from the get-go. In 1960-something.

I have met a lot of strange, horny people in my life -- both LBGT and het -- and I have not known a single one to have the pick-up success as our intrepid little Molly. Molly basically fucks everyone she wants to fuck. Not once does she get "no" as an answer. She bats 1000 without even trying. Even all the het girls she wants to bang say yes because...because they're secretly gay? Because they're bi-curious? Because Molly is just so gosh-darned alluring? I don't know.

In fact, I have no idea why anyone would agree to have sex with Molly. Molly is a really unpleasant individual. She's mean-spirited, vindictive and cruel. She torments coworkers, antagonizes employers and blackmails educators. She thinks she's funny, but she's really a bit of a bully. Why everyone wants to get naked with her is beyond me.

But our little Molly does face adversity. She faces sexism all the time -- apparently. You hear all about it when she tells people about it. Yes, she'll tell people -- people she's trying to fuck -- all about how men hate her and whatnot. It's like listening to Stacy in accounting bitch about how Stan in procurement has been giving her a hard time.

In the end, I got so sick of the book that I didn't even read the last few chapters. I read the ending, though. The dénouement is that she finally becomes a movie director. I had forgotten that Molly was working toward becoming a director. It wasn't like you ever read about her actually doing any directing or going to film classes. I thought her life's ambition was winning the award for Most Sex By A Female in a Gay Lead.

I was so surprised by the ending that I read backward to see if at any point she discussed the movies she was working on or anything. I found nothing. Working toward being a director was almost like an afterthought by the author: "I need my protagonist to do something that is impressive but doesn't involve spending hours in a library. Hmmmmm.... Oh! I know! She'll be in film school!"

It reminded me of people's professions in soap operas: "Ridge is a fashion designer, but he spends most of his time seducing women and impregnating them with babies that aren't their husbands'."

Rubyfruit Jungle is a remarkably shallow book that isn't much better than most daytime soaps in terms of feminist message. Unlike daytime soaps, though, Rubyfruit Jungle does pass the Bechdel Test -- but only because Molly doesn't date men. Had Molly been heterosexual, this book would have failed the Bechdel Test in a very, very spectacular way.

No comments:

Post a Comment