Privileging Fleabag


Fleabag, BBC, 2019

From The New Statesman:

When a young woman’s cultural output becomes critically admired and held up as representative of other, maybe all, young women, she becomes a shorthand for contemporary femininity, and the diversity and innovation of the art of other women starts to fade into the background (then people get angry with the woman, whose work becomes similarly flattened). This was frequently the criticism with Lena Dunham. The media were largely responsible, but the backlash had its role, too. If you want to stop making it all about her, you have to stop making it all about her, starting with your own keyboard. But I’ve been a writer long enough to know that universal adulation irritates readers. It makes a vicious kickback all the more likely, which in turn can be extremely hard to bear for the successful woman who has had the temerity to make art that people love.

I’ll admit that I am tired of being sent proofs which say “for fans of Dolly Alderton and Sally Rooney”. Publishing is trend-led, but these books are rarely anything like the work of Alderton or Rooney (nor does the writing of Rooney resemble Alderton’s). But they are millennial women. Like Kristen Roupenian, Waller Bridge, and Lena Dunham they are hailed as representative of a generation. These women are all, in some ways, like one another: white, educated, to varying extents privileged. As Rebecca Lui put so brilliantly in her piece for the feminist film magazine Another Gaze, The Making of A Millennial Woman, “What does it tell us that ‘we’ are meant to be drawn to women who live in elite social worlds, whose lifestyles many cannot afford, and whose rebellions against the world are always a little doomed and not that unconventional, even if we’re meant to think otherwise? Why are we so eager to graft relatability onto them?” Not only is it likely to place a disturbing amount of pressure on the creator, but as an endeavor for much of an audience comprised of individuals it is doomed to fail. We are not, nor never can be, that other woman. Difference is erased.

“Stop comparing all women’s art to Fleabag”, Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, The New Statesman