Fourth Estate, an imprint of Harper Collins, Australia, 2022
Cover design by Alissa Dinallo
Cover images floral collage ANA & YVY; face and neck by shutterstock
You could read this book as an invitation to young women and girls to find and pursue their joy, free of societal judgment and condemnation and wherever it may lie. Or you could read it as a well-researched, serious thesis on gender and society – citing both empirical and anecdotal evidence. Or, thankfully, you could do both.
Tabitha Carvan has set out to make this an accessible, enjoyable read whilst also cogently making her points about women and society. It’s win for readers of both proclivities.
The joy message is certainly strongly argued. The, for me, bigger issue of how women and their interests are denigrated and patronised is well put.
The author asks us to consider why a man playing with slot car racing is any more or less entitled to his interest than a girl or woman and her enthusing over a pop or movie star. Is the notion of women and sexuality and eroticism such anathema that the latter must be relegated to the trivial? Yes, it seems so.
There is a huge fan fiction industry bubbling away under the radar. There is also a huge visible Holmesian fan-fiction industry, previously the domain of male writers and now in the hands of women writers, often delving into eroticism.
Ye gods, who (other than Freud) would have thought sex might be of interest to women? The difference is more than financial; it’s attitudinal. One is worthy of the title of pastiche, the other is somehow obscene and unsuitable, bury-worthy.
And thus it has been for decades, if not centuries.
Tabitha Carvan leads us through her obsession with Benedict Cumberbatch, which first surfaced whilst she was struggling with post-natal depression and the deadening demands of young motherhood. It seems this much publicised actor was both an object of titillating desire and the means to an end ie a room of her own, a place and space where she could be alone and do her own thing. How many young mothers will completely understand this?
Conversations with many fan fic writers and readers included in this book show that highly educated academics are as well represented as general others. The escape into other worlds is restorative, fun and stimulating in a number of ways (!).
Coming out as a fan fic aficionado seems as difficult as other forms of emergence from the hidden and repressed. Marginalised people of all sorts might identify closely with this.
Mission accomplished, it seems that Benedict has served his purpose for the author, giving her the seclusion and pure pleasure to move on from her fug-like state and into the joyousness she so needed. The very writing of the book may well have been impossible without him and his various attractive attributes.
And thus an important function is served, the highlighting of how our society treats boys and girls differently for no reason other than their gender. Is it awful to scream and exult at a football match? Society deems not. Is it awful to scream and exult at a rock concert?
Well, there’s plenty of judgment made about the apparent offensiveness of teenage girls and their blatant, overt, physical adoration of rock stars who have been promoted specifically to induce just that reaction. Marketing, marketing, marketing. Hmmm.
What an enjoyable work this is! It’s full of ideas to thrash around, stories to share and laugh about, memories to dredge up from our own youth (those of us who are longer in the tooth).
Tabitha Carvan is a talented and intelligent writer who can equally as well capture the fan of popular fiction or self-help manuals and the academically minded scholar of social philosophy. And why can’t we be both? Of course, we can, and this author proves it.
Thank you to Fourth Estate/Harper Collins for my review copy and to Tabitha for an entertaining and thoughtful conversation about this work.