Open Letter from Mary Gaitskill


Dear Rumpus People:

I hesitated to write this letter in response to Suzanne Rivecca’s essay “What Men Talk About When They Talk About Mary Gaitskill,” because I hate to appear ungrateful for Rivecca’s passionate wish to have my back when actually I’m both grateful and moved. But I’ve learned that people tend to assume that your fans speak for you unless you say otherwise, and in this case its not true: believe me, I understand Rivecca’s indignation at the three male super-bitches she harshes on but—the Wolcott review was written in 88 or 89, the others somewhere in between then and now; three high-profile bitch-fests in 25 years doesn’t add up to a trend, definitely not a trend about an entire gender.

Opinions about my work vary wildly, but I haven’t observed that it’s predictable along gender lines, and in truth some of my best support has come from men. George Garrett in the New York Times was the first man to speak on Bad Behavior, and he was more than generous. When Two Girls came out, it was Greil Marcus who gave it a great review in the L.A. Weekly, contrasted with a very nasty piece of work by Elizabeth Benedict in the L.A. Times and an ambivalent one in the New York Times by Ginger Danto. When Because They Wanted To came out I actually, for the first and last time, sat down and looked at the reviews in terms of gender and saw that most of the positive ones came from men (the most high-profile being David Gates in Newsweek); more of the negative or ambivalent pieces were written by women. I didn’t look so closely at Veronica or Don’t Cry but I know of two positive ones by men: Lorin Stein in the New York Review of Books and Wyatt Mason in Harper’s.

I don’t know why the three guys quoted by Rivecca got so bitched up about my writing, except that they’re critics and that means that sometimes they gotta bitch. But that’s got nothing to do with their being men, and regardless of my appreciation for Rivecca, I’d never hope that there be a “moratorium” on men speaking of my work or anything else.


Mary Gaitskill

Mary Gaitskill is the author of the novels Two Girls, Fat and Thin and Veronica, and the story collections Bad Behavior, Because They Wanted To, and Don't Cry. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, Granta, the Best American Short Stories series, and the O. Henry Prize Stories collection. She is currently teaching at NYU. More from this author →