Recently on Facebook I was surprised to see a female acquaintance deriding author Joyce Maynard as an “opportunist” for writing a memoir and assorted essays about her time with J.D. Salinger when she was 18 and he was 53. I’d assumed that in the #metoo era, we’d now abandoned such sexist notions, and supported the idea of women speaking out — and writing about — their experiences with men who were in positions of much greater power than they were.
But as Maynard reported recently in the New York Times, at least as far as her public image is concerned, unfortunately not much has changed.
Last fall, when word of Harvey Weinstein’s abuses of women in the entertainment industry overtook the press, followed by near daily revelations about other prominent and respected men accused of similar violations, I supposed this was the moment when my own experience might be seen in a new light. I thought my phone would ring.
The call never came. And though I believe that if the book I wrote 20 years ago were published today it would be received differently, it does not appear that enlightenment concerning the abuses of men in power extends retroactively to women who chose to speak long ago, and were shamed and humiliated for doing so. As recently as last fall — on the occasion of my having published a memoir about the death of my second husband, a book in which Salinger never appears — I was referred to as “the queen of oversharing.”
Oversharing. What does it say about us that a woman who speaks the truth of her experience should be dismissed for telling more than the world feels comfortable hearing? (And it is always a woman who will be accused of this; when a male writer confesses intimate details of his life, he’s brave, fearless, even brilliant. Consider, just for starters, Norman Mailer. Or, more recently, Karl Ove Knausgaard.)
For me, Maynard is a hero in more ways that one: a woman writer unafraid to tell the uncomfortable truth about a beloved icon, even in the face of derision — and as of this fall semester when she returns to Yale as a 64-year-old sophomore, an older woman unconcerned with dictums about age-appropriateness, committed to reclaiming what she lost out on when Salinger interrupted her life all those years ago.