Amber Tamblyn’s Debut Novel Is About A Female Rapist — But Why?

Photo: Chance Yeh/FilmMagic.
We're entering a post-Weinstein era. The reckoning has slowed, and now it's time to decide what we do with the knowledge that so many women have been mistreated and abused in industries across the board for way longer than people previously wanted to believe. Some celebrities, like Reese Witherspoon, have supported organisations like Time's Up to provide victims in all industries with the resources to fight sexual harassment and abuse. Amber Tamblyn has taken to the page. While the actress has been working on her debut book, Any Man, for some time, it hits shelves this June and tells a particularly relevant story — but the premise has a rather shocking twist.
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"A violent serial rapist is on the loose, who goes by the name Maude," the description reads. "She hunts for men at bars, online, at home — the place doesn’t matter, neither does the man."
Making the rapist a women was purposeful. Tamblyn tells BuzzFeed that she hopes "to elicit some fresh, challenging conversations and examinations of who we are as a society" by flipping the gender norms, and says the book is about "survivors of rape and the commodification, denigration, and manipulation of their stories by everyone from the American media to the judicial system," as well as also being "a story about how we dangerously demonise and mythologize women."
Without all the facts — AKA, the full book — it's hard to know just how successful her mission will be. I agree that women are unjustly demonised and mythologized, but I don't see how making one a serial rapist is going to prove that. I also don't see how it's going to...help. At face value, Any Man seems like a knee-jerk reaction to #MeToo, because even though Tamblyn has been working on this book for a while, she initially told Refinery29 in October that the character was an "amorphous serial rapist." If she spoke correctly, then it's reasonable to believe this switch to a woman protagonist happened in the past few months, during the heat of Hollywood's reckoning.
Because of this gender change, Tamblyn says readers can "relish" in this "vile, heartless, and haunting" character. This comes across as a misunderstanding of what we've been working towards these past few months. I don't want rape transferred to another gender — I want it to stop. I'm not going to "relish" a world where abuse continues to be a problem and not taken seriously just because it's happening to men, and implying something like that is totally counterproductive. Positing a world where women are rapists just muddies the conversation, because that's not the world we live in. Women are disproportionately the victims, and rape has never been and never should be "an eye for an eye" situation.
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But I like Tamblyn, and think she's a thoughtful and passionate member of the movement. I certainly won't write off the book because I'm wary of its premise, but now that we're ready to create change following #MeToo, let's just make sure it's the right kind.
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