Last Wednesday marked one of the first truly hot days of the year. Not that I needed help sweating as I headed nervously toward Paragraph on West 14th Street. The writers’ space was hosting a party for the new issue of the literary magazine Granta, which is titled "The F Word" for its feminist theme.
I’ve always been bad with feminists.
Though I’ve never been able to play a sport or change a tire, boyishness tends to leak from my pores. Around them, I clumsily try to differentiate myself from the other men of the world by quoting Spitboy lyrics or talking about The L Word. It’s usually a disaster.
The steep three-flight walk up to Paragraph established a light glaze over my back and belly, dampening my blue dress shirt. The dark room was divided into cubicles with a small communal couch space at the center for socializing. A largely female group stood in circles sipping wine from plastic cups, trying to be heard over a soundtrack of adult contemporary.
Damp and isolated, I questioned the space’s potential as a party venue, but was relieved to spot a friend at the top of a set of windy stairs. After a number of narrowly missed collisions with plastic wine glasses, I greeted him. I mentioned that I was having trouble approaching people and he gave me some typically male advice: "Just talk to the most attractive people in the room, they tend to be the most interesting."
Done and done. Sitting with a friend in a cubicle was a Winona Ryderlooking writer named Theresa Coulter.
She told me she wasn’t a Granta reader but had come to the party merely to check out the space. I asked her my fallback question of the night—Who’s your favorite feminist writer?
"I recently got into Margaret Sanger," said Coulter. "She’s pretty amazing. I mean she’s talking about family planning and birth control in a time where…"
I cut her off to mention that one of Sanger’s books had been featured in a recent episode of Mad Men. She smiled and nodded, signaling that our conversation had reached its stopping point.
Back across the room, partygoer and Boston University professor Ashley Mears told me, "For me, feminism brings to mind misunderstood students who really do believe in gender equality, but think that the F-word is some kind of sullied bad word that means angry French women and bra burning."
With her was Picador editor Alex Gilvarry, whose novel From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant is due out in early 2012. He praised Granta and its girlpower guest list for cobbling together an enjoyable event. "A lot of book events can be really boring with long readings," he said with a cool grin. "You might notice that tonight there’s no reading, just a lot of hanging out and drinking wine."
Remembering my friend’s advice, I honed in on a girl with closely cropped dark hair and strong features. Her name was M.J. Corey and she explained that she was a writer. I asked her about feminism.
"The feminism that gets me excited is second-wave feminism, which is very strict old-school, anti-sex and kind of anti-male."
Excited and enamored, I interjected.
"Like Kathleen Hanna?" She laughed. "No, she’s a third-wave feminist.
She’s pro-sex whereas second-wave feminists believe in withholding and selfpreservation. They’re not fun, they’re like angry lesbians but I like them more."
In the reflection of a computer monitor, I noticed that my shirt had completely soaked through.