The offbeat female
Perhaps one of the most complicated depictions of sexuality and identity can be found within the pages of Miranda July’s novel, The First Bad Man. Her presentation of anxiety, self-doubt and paranoia are both crippling and empowering for the reader. Crippling because the protagonist’s pure desperation will have you paralysed with empathy and empowering because a woman is rendered in such peculiar colours that it is as if a whole new mode of representation for women is accepted.
The protagonist of the book, Cheryl Glickman, works at a self-defense studio for women, she lusts after a board member multiple decades older than her and has visions of a child that is meant to be her own within the faces of other women’s children. Her life is obsessively ordered until a teenage girl is dumped on her couch and a very strange, abusive and unhygienic relationship blossoms.
From imagined sexual encounters to physically abusive relationships, July creates a space unlike any I’ve encountered before. For me, no episode of Sex and The City or empowering Oprah mantra has better represented the plight of a female on the edge like July. If you ever feel as though you’ve passed the crazy threshold and have been barred permanently from normaldom, engage with this Miranda and learn that there are degrees of unhinged you never knew existed.
The edges of the world will blur once you lift your head from devouring this book, it is as if vaseline has been smeared over your eyeballs. Much of the book deals with how we interpret the world, and how even a high functioning adult has a particular lens that skews their vision; You won’t quite trust the world in the same way you once could.
Miranda July is not a flavour that everyone would pick. In the Guardian, Laura Miller calls her work ‘strenuously quirky’, and often you’ll find the word whimsical not far away. She has her fingers in many pies – her talents and interests are multifaceted to the point where it’s difficult to name her occupation. According to her website, she’s a performance artist who makes movies, performances, recordings, and combinations of these things. Whilst this must be enriching for an artist, it also leaves her vulnerable to suggestions that she is a master of no craft. Only she’s received praise for the majourity of her endeavours: her films Me, You and Everyone We Know, and The Future have won accolades; her web project Learning to Love You More involved July and other artists creating writing assignments for the general public, 8000 people took part. Lauren Groff, in her article on The First Bad Man for the New York Times says:
‘Miranda July is not after perfection:She loves the raw edges of emotion, she likes people and things to be a little worn. Life isn’t silky, July is saying. The snags and the snafus bring the joy.’
On women, Caitlin Moran has said that it’s not that current modes of being a female are wrong, we should just open up the passage for different kinds of women to be represented. I’ve never encountered a woman quite like Cheryl Glickman, nor the woman who created her.