Idea of You to Fan Fiction- Example Of Dismissing Women’s Art

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In the spring of 2014, when I embarked on writing the novel that would eventually become The Idea Of You, my intention wasn’t to create something revolutionary or controversial. I simply wanted to craft a story about Solène Marchand, a woman approaching 40, who undergoes a journey of self-discovery and reinvention through an unexpected relationship with a much younger, world-famous celebrity.

At the time, I was in a similar age bracket and should have been thriving professionally in my acting career. However, I was experiencing a sudden shift in available roles—parts were becoming more limited and opportunities were growing scarce. I was discovering firsthand the harsh reality of Hollywood’s ageist mindset, where women over 40 are often considered less desirable and deemed to have diminished value as sexual beings. I was determined to challenge this industry perception and societal stereotype in my own small way through my writing.

Idea of You to Fan Fiction
Idea of You to Fan Fiction

Following the book’s release in 2017, I encountered another challenge. Some readers dismissed the novel’s exploration of ageism, sexism, the double standard, motherhood, female friendship, agency, and the dark side of celebrity, reducing it to mere “fluff.” They focused solely on the love story and the romantic aspects, overlooking the deeper themes embedded in the narrative. Despite the book not adhering to the traditional rules of romance novels, it was categorized as such, which led to misunderstandings about its true nature and purpose.

I aimed to address significant societal issues through my storytelling, aiming to provoke thought and challenge perceptions, rather than simply crafting a conventional romance novel.

 

Why did some readers dismiss or underestimate the depth of my novel, “The Idea Of You”? Was it because the story revolved around a woman’s love journey? Or perhaps because Solène and Hayes, two consenting adults, embraced their healthy sexual connection? Maybe it was the book’s cover or the way the publisher marketed it. I’ll never truly know for sure.

But what I did notice was a trend of messages from women that started with self-conscious disclaimers like, “This isn’t my usual genre, but…” or “I didn’t expect to enjoy this, however…” These messages often went on to delve into the very themes I had intentionally woven into the fabric of the novel. It was apparent that these readers had preconceived notions. They couldn’t fathom that a story about a woman’s awakening in midlife could also be profound and complex, in addition to being intriguing.

Personally, I have a deep appreciation for literary fiction. I cherish stories that introduce me to characters and worlds unlike my own, delivered through eloquent prose. I crave narratives that are rich with layers and offer profound insights. Yet, I also value stories that entertain and provide moments of escape and lightness. In my writing, I strive to occupy a space that encompasses both dimensions.

In “The Idea Of You,” there’s a pivotal scene where Hayes, a member of the British boy band August Moon, diminishes his music as mere pop, while Solène, a sophisticated art dealer, defends it passionately. She highlights the importance of art that brings joy and happiness to people’s lives, challenging the cultural bias that tends to devalue art appreciated primarily by women. Solène argues that just because art appeals to women and isn’t dark or tortured, it shouldn’t be dismissed as less significant or profound. This critique extends beyond art to the creators themselves—often women—who are unfairly undervalued due to societal biases.

Through my novel, I hoped to shine a light on these cultural perceptions and invite readers to reconsider the significance and complexity inherent in stories that might initially seem lighthearted or romantic.

 

The sentiment expressed in that line of dialogue has struck a deeper chord with me over the years since I wrote it. I reflected on it when “Barbie” became a blockbuster in 2023, directed by Greta Gerwig and starring Margot Robbie, yet neither Gerwig nor Robbie received Oscar nominations for Best Director or Best Actress. It was a stark reminder of the persistent biases in the film industry.

Similarly, I thought about it when critics initially dismissed Taylor Swift and her fan base as frivolous and juvenile throughout the first decade of her career. However, history proved them wrong. Swift’s immense success and recent inclusion in Forbes’ billionaire list based solely on her music and performances demonstrate her significant impact and lasting influence. It’s a clear example of how premature judgments can be misleading.

Solène’s sentiment about the undervaluation of art that appeals primarily to women resonates deeply, especially concerning responses to her story. Labeling her work as “fluff” or “fanfiction” without actually engaging with it is both diminishing and dismissive. This kind of reductionist labeling rarely happens to male authors. It’s frustrating that novels featuring female protagonists often get categorized as “women’s fiction,” while those with male protagonists are simply labeled as “fiction,” despite the majority of fiction readers being women.

Furthermore, assuming that a novel featuring a fictional celebrity romance must be based on a real-life celebrity, such as the internet’s speculation about Harry Styles in this case, is unimaginative and can be rooted in sexist assumptions. It undermines the creativity and originality of the author’s work. These instances highlight the ongoing challenges of gender bias and stereotypes within the literary and entertainment industries.

 

I don’t typically write fanfiction, although I greatly admire the talented writers who do. The characters in my book, including Hayes Campbell and Solène Marchand, draw inspiration from people I’ve encountered and various forms of art I’ve engaged with, brought to life through my imagination. This creative process is common among writers I know, regardless of their gender.

My experience is just one example of a larger issue within the literary world, where works by women and men are often treated unequally. As author and academic Kate Zambreno pointed out in a recent New York Times interview, first-person narratives by men tend to be taken more seriously, receiving more attention and financial support. Meanwhile, even if a woman’s writing covers similar themes and styles, it’s often marketed narrowly as reflecting “women’s experiences” or, worse, dismissed as a “mom memoir” if she happens to be a mother.

What is it about art created by women and aimed at women that leads us to undervalue its complexity and importance? We don’t package books by male authors in pink and suggest they’re only suitable for beach reading. We don’t belittle consumers of male fiction as immature. We don’t reduce their work to mere fanfiction or exploit celebrity names for clickbait. Ultimately, we don’t diminish the worth of male authors and their contributions.

I never intended for my novel to ignite this kind of discussion. Yet, Hayes and Solène’s story has prompted readers to ponder issues of agency, ambition, love, aging, and the essence of human connection. It has elicited laughter, tears, introspection, and sighs of emotion along the way. Perhaps, in the end, it is indeed a form of art deserving of recognition and appreciation.

 

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