“Hypocrisy is Us.” Chantal V. Johnson on Feminism and Misogynoir
In Conversation with Maris Kreizman on The Maris Review Podcast
This week on The Maris Review, Chantal V. Johnson joins Maris Kreizman to discuss her debut novel, Post-Traumatic, out now from Little Brown & Co.
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On the most interesting people in America:
One of the main points in my book, at least in my main character, Vivian, who works as a lawyer in a psychiatric hospital and is wrestling with the aftermath of violent events in her life, is that personality cannot be extinguished by violence. Her humor cannot be extinguished by violence. She experiences violence and she’s going to make jokes about it. She’s going to engage in criticism of misogyny in the culture and of misogynoir in the culture. She and her best friend Jane are Black stoner intellectuals who have survived violence, and who, as far as they’re concerned, are the most interesting people in America.
On the gap between women’s professed politics and their lived politics:
Vivian loves women, but she also feels deeply oppressed by other women. She engages in and perpetuates that oppression as well. And that is part of the thing about gender that I find really interesting, especially when you’re a feminist. For me, as a novelist, I’m interested in the gap between women’s politics and the execution of their politics. It’s easy to state your politics online and curate an image of yourself as a leftist, progressive, feminist, anti-racist, blah blah blah. But what is going on in your mind, in the neural circuits that have been activated since you were eight or nine years old? It’s very difficult to slough that off.
As you get older, feminists often find a disconnect between what they believe they should be feeling and experiencing and what they are actually feeling and experiencing. I think Vivian’s body issues and food issues are a way I play that out. On the one hand, she’s giving angry, strident, feminist rants. And she hates the Pauline character, who loses all this weight and is a simple white dumb bitch. And she hates men that are predatory and she confronts them, but then secretly she’s restricting her food intake and engaging in these body measuring rituals and really wants this hot guy to love her. That’s humanity, that’s who we are. Hypocrisy is us.
On the power of romantic fantasy:
There’s a generation of positive feeling that comes from fantasy, like a self-soothing feeling. Early on in the book, we see Vivian fantasizing. She feels unattractive and then immediately after that feeling of “I’m ugly,” she has this fantasy of seducing someone, and that makes her feel all the oxytocin, the oozing, warm calm that allows her to go to sleep. That’s a coping mechanism for a lot of people, romantic fantasy. It feels great. It’s amazing.
Chantal V. Johnson is a tenant lawyer and writer. A graduate of Stanford Law School and a 2018 Center for Fiction Emerging Writers Fellow, she lives in New York. Her debut novel is called Post-Traumatic.