Sheila Heti’s novel “How Should A Person Be?” resonated with me, both negatively and positively. Initially, I disliked Heti’s portrayal of herself—she seemed contrived, obnoxiously melodramatic, self involved, and certainly not representative of a feminist. However, as I began to reflect on the novel, especially in the context of Julie DiCaro’s, “The Dangers of the ‘Cool Girl Ideal”, I realized that I had jumped to an unfair conclusion about Heti.
My initial distaste for Sheila was largely due to my decision to classify her as a “cool girl” -a woman who dismisses the value of meaningful bonds with other women, while allowing men to dominate, and even violate her. As I continued to reflect, however, I came to the conclusion that her outlook and actions could be considered an unconventional definition of empowerment. Maybe her eagerness to “give herself” to Israel through casual, submissive sex was in fact her way of being in control of her identity. We are so quick to conclude that women who partake in meaningless sex are lacking self respect, or are troubled, confused, or mislead. However, maybe their choices are much less reflective of their character, and are simply due to the fact that casual sex is something that they enjoy.
I am slightly embarrassed by my original perception of Sheila. Having identified myself as a woman who does not judge other women on the way they conduct themselves sexually, I am surprised, and still wondering why I was so deeply troubled by Sheila’s relationship with Israel, and was so keen to dislike her based on sexual preferences.