The final chapter!
Today I’m going to be writing about everyone’s favourite compilation of angry emails — otherwise known as The Antagonist by Lynn Coady — from a feminist theory. I thought this would be interesting because there’s a total of two (2) women with roles central to the plot. But what can you expect from a book about jocks, masculinity, and lovable frat boys?
That being said, let’s jump right into it!
Now, The Antagonist is essentially a ‘bromance’ book. What I mean by this is that there are minimal amounts of women in it. And what I mean by that is that there’s a total of maybe four women with speaking roles. Two of them only show up once. Normally I’d be upset about this, but this is a book that literally centers around manhood and also happens to be set in the 1980s-90s. You take what you can get.
Rank (the protagonist) makes his attitude toward women indirectly clear throughout the book. He’s very civil and not nearly as sexist as some of his counterparts (*Cough*Kyle*Cough*). However, this doesn’t mean he’s exempt from his own broad generalizations.
Around halfway through the book, Rank gets in a fight with his friend Kyle, who tends to degrade the women he sleeps with despite calling himself a feminist. A notable example is the following: (Warning: Crude language)
“…’What else do we think is bullshit?… compact discs,’ says Kyle, turning it into a game. ‘Digital music — all your albums are obsolete overnight, and you have to rebuild your entire collection. Total marketing scam. What else?’
Rank is just looking at Kyle and Adam is looking at Rank.
‘Hot chicks who get fat,’ continues Kyle with a swig. Adam suddenly leans forward. ‘You fuck ’em when they’re thin, and then they still expect you to wanna fuck ’em after they’re fat.'” (Coady 201)
I love frat boys.
Good to know that sexism is alive and well. Lynn Coady is very accurate in her writing with the misogyny.
Rank essentially scares Kyle out of the room by yelling at him and threatening to fight him after that last quote starts an argument between them. He tries to defend himself because “It’s like… During the whole Take Back The Night thing last month. There was that poster around campus about virgins and whores. How guys think women can only be one or the other… except Kyle thinks they’re all whores. It’s not a virgin/whore complex it’s a… whore/whore complex.” Adam refutes this by stating “That’s not what he thinks, Rank… it’s what you think. [Except] you have the opposite.” (Coady 205-206)
Should it need further clarification, Rank believes that every woman is a virgin. The mental image we usually get when we picture a virgin woman is a girl who’s pure or good, motherly or innocent. While ‘virgin-praising’ is arguably better than ‘slut-shaming’, it’s still a detrimental image to carry around.
The thing is that Adam isn’t wrong. Rank does carry around a ‘virgin/virgin complex’ likely due to his kind, gentle, Catholic mother. Heck, the first time Rank talks about her he romanticizes her as a ‘glimmer of light’. Soft, gentle, yet pleasantly bright and pure.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with using clever metaphors or analogies to describe someone you love. The main issue is that it’s sometimes counteractive or maybe even bad to carry around the idea that someone is an angel or perfectly pure or a glimmer of light, because this is a symptom that you’re not in love with a person, you’re in love with an idea, a fantasy. It’s not good to reduce someone to that level. My favourite example is from Daydream Nation (2010) wherein the protagonist’s love interest writes her in his book as this beautiful dream girl who saves him, who pulls him from the depths with her boundless love and beauty. Her reply is:
Bravo, Kat Dennings!
Luckily, Coady makes sure to snap off this limb before it grows nerve endings, having Rank admit in one of his emails, “I can’t believe I tried to depect [my mother] to you as a glimmer of light. I’m embarrassed about that now. It’s so obvious. I am very nearly forty years old, have not been inside a Catholic church since 1986, and I’m still as conditioned as a Pavlonian dog. Holy Mary Mother of God. Why didn’t I just put her in virginal robes, describe her ascending into heaven, hands over heart, eyes in the clouds?” (Coady 212)
His former girlfriend, Kirsten, is further characterized later in the book by describing the mistakes she’s made in her marriage, battling self-loathing and her slow detachment from her religion. It’s only near the end of the book that the women are begun to be seen as people instead of archetypes. Aside from this, they usually show up as either offhand comments from a party or a one night stand. Here, to make things simple, I’ll just list off the names:
- Sylvie: Rank’s mother, mentioned frequently throughout the book. When mentioned, she’s either cooking/cleaning, crying, or consoling Rank. I believe this is intentional because this is what Rank remembers through his virgin/virgin complex. The only exceptions are when she describes in detail to him the time that she was duck hunting and had to kill one with her bare hands because they were stranded on an island, and near the end when she’s trying to explain to Rank that she’s going to leave Gord, her abusive husband.
- Kirsten: Mentioned maybe 4-5 times throughout the book. Rank first describes their brief relationship and then breakup before later connecting with her again via Facebook and learning more about her life.
- Tiny Tina: Mentioned 2-3 times, though never has a speaking role. She’s a girl who Kyle hooked up with before she gained a lot of weight.
- Emily: Wade’s girlfriend. Mentioned once and speaks/flirts for a couple pages with Rank.
- Rita: A cute barmaid at Goldfinger’s who says a couple words to Kyle. Never mentioned outside of that.
See, this book is kind of an analysis of masculinity, so I’m not bashing it for this. Not to
make generalizations, but a book about men usually doesn’t have many women in it who aren’t either mothers or objects of affection. We really need to work on that, don’t we?
Perhaps next time we should all dig a little deeper to see the extra character that we have deep inside of us instead of assigning meaningless roles and titles to the people we love. If we’re being honest, we all have a little bit of a virgin/whore complex nested deep inside of us.
This is Katie, signing off.