Monday, February 16, 2015

Follow Up: Is Nate P. a Misogynist?

I recently read an interview with Adelle Waldman, author of of The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. entitled "A Certain Type of Male Thinking". It was quite interesting to hear her comment on her own book and her writing since then.

Perhaps most central to the public reaction to the book was the general disgust among women with Nathaniel P. as a character and their question, "Is this how men really think?" Waldman admitted she had done almost zero research for the novel because the questions she needed to answer were those that almost any man would not answer honestly, probably even to a therapist, much less a woman. So she took five years to decipher the inner life and feelings of men who found themselves lukewarm about a woman, then interested, then deeply in love, and who eventually became distant and lost interest in her. Most notably, she insists that the reason for this frequent trend in male behavior is not "commitment phobia" as many women are apt to believe (and often place blame on men for their failed relationships). I think Waldman recognized that something far more complex was happening in the inner life of a man for him to fall in and out of love with a woman. Not only that, but she does a terrific job of uncovering the gradual psychological process that drives this shift.

Even though it has been some time since the original hardback publication of the book, Waldman says she still enjoys debating such questions as "Is Nate culpable?" and whether or not he ends up with the right woman (not Hannah, his gentle girlfriend whom he becomes cold to, but a sort of airhead he can feel free to act out his pornographic fantasies with as well as express anger openly with). However, the girl he ends up with may be more suitable to his needs and temperament, as well as his--I would argue--debatable level of misogyny.

Is Nathaniel a misogynist, or is he simply a representative Millennial male? Perhaps many feminists would argue that he is both, or that both categories almost entirely overlap. But for better or worse, young women will be encountering these kind of men more frequently, so for them knowledge is power. It behooves women in their twenties and early thirties to read this book, albeit with a critical eye, while reserving judgment (keeping in mind their boyfriends and male friends as counterexamples). Men and women alike will benefit from this read and it will surely spark discussion between them about the way they relate to each other. I have an optimistic view: to me Nathaniel P. represents a subset of Millennial males in most ways, although his characteristic thought patterns may sometimes be almost universal in others. His character is by no means a one-size-fits-all archetype. 

Therefore, take heart, young women! Don't read all of Nathaniel's qualities into every guy you meet or date. And please try to empathize with him. You may discover a whole lot of humanity and some gutsy qualities , good intentions, and virtues. As Waldman said in her interview, Nathaniel P. is representative only of a "certain type of male thinking", yet it is better for women to "know what we're dealing with rather than to be deceived." 

~ Trevor Swett

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