Carmen Maria Machado’s debut book, a short story collection called Her Body and Other Parties, is currently a finalist for the National Book Award. Machado thinks that the strong response to the stories—which delve deeply into the psyches of women, particularly queer women—is partly thanks to a backlash over the last election.
“That whole election cycle was everything women experience on a huge, massive, public stage, and it was really traumatic,” Machado says in Episode 280 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast.
Several stories in the book deal with the idea of women fading away, either literally or metaphorically. It’s an idea that Machado feels resonates powerfully with contemporary politics. “We hate women so much that we couldn’t even have a national imagination that could imagine Hillary Clinton being president,” she says. “We want women to disappear, we want women to not be taking up any kind of space—either literal space or emotional space or mental space.”
She feels that the frenzy among pundits to explain Donald Trump’s victory has obscured another, equally important question—why Clinton lost, and the role that being a woman played in that loss.
“We never had a very public conversation where even progressive dudes were like, ‘I didn’t like the idea of Hillary Clinton being president because I have mom issues,’ or ‘I don’t like the idea of a woman telling me what to do,’” Machado says. “We have not had that conversation, and until we do I don’t think it’s possible for us to elect a woman, I really don’t.”
Machado also doesn’t feel that our culture’s deep-seated hostility toward women is likely to be resolved any time soon. “I don’t feel optimistic about it, so I don’t really have any advice,” she says. “I don’t know. I wish it were different.”
Listen to our complete interview with Carmen Maria Machado in Episode 280 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Carmen Maria Machado on millennials:
“There are situations like house ownership that I find just totally baflling. I remember one time my aunt, who has a government job, was like, ‘What are you doing for retirement?’ and I was like, ‘Retirement?’ And she was like, ‘Well, you have a retirement account?’ And I was like, ‘Nope.’ And she’s like, ‘Well, where do you put your extra money?’ And I was like, ‘What extra money?’ Like my savings? What? I don’t have savings. I’m barely scraping by. I still have student loans I’m paying off. That just is not the world that I’ve grown up in. Our lives are just so different. So I think we’re just trying to figure it out. I think it would be easier to figure out if everyone wasn’t telling us we were pieces of garbage all the time.”
Carmen Maria Machado on weight loss:
“The premise of ‘Eight Bites’ is that there’s a woman who lives up in Cape Cod, and she’s pretty estranged from her daughter—her adult daughter—and all of her sisters and her are somewhat overweight, and then her sisters all get weight loss surgery, and she decides to also get weight loss surgery, and as she loses the weight she begins to hear things in her house, and at some point she realizes that the fat she’s losing—the body of hers that is leaving—is acclimating somewhere else, and has become sort of its own creature. And so the latter half of the story is her very fraught relationship with this thing that used to be her but is not really any more. … I wanted it to be not scary exactly, but sort of tender and strange.”
Carmen Maria Machado on women writers:
“I was just talking to somebody about autofiction, and thinking about the guy who wrote My Struggle—Karl Ove Knausgård. It’s this multi-book series, just this very meticulous recounting of his life. And I can’t even imagine a woman writing a book like that, not because I don’t think a woman could write a book like that, but because we would never permit a woman to engage in that sort of self-love and self-obsession. Women are punished for doing that. We call them ‘divas,’ we’re like, ‘Ugh, she’s so self-centered.’ We don’t allow women the range of artistic expression that we permit men. … And I think if art was reflecting more of that space-taking, then yes, I think there would be kind of a trickle-down effect.”
Carmen Maria Machado on inventing a religion:
“I’ve always imagined having my own liturgical calendar but with my own saints, so it would be figures in history, characters from books, and they would have their own affiliations and there would be ways to celebrate them if you so chose. This is an idea I’ve always had where I want to make my own saint book, so then I just got to make a fictional version of it where [the characters] are like, ‘There’s this day for Lorena Hickok and Eleanor Roosevelt, and there’s this day for Frida Kahlo, and there’s this day for Shirley Jackson. … So it was just an example of an idea I had where I was like, ‘Well, I’m not going to be able to do that at some point for myself, so I’ll just write about it in this story.”