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A Female Perspective on “American Psycho”

October 22, 2009

American Psycho by Easton Ellis is often applauded as the iconic novel of the 80s and 90s yet is mostly read, and discussed, by men. With only a brief discussion it was clear that I, a woman, got a completely different reading out of this book than the rest of its audience. In fact, I often found myself wondering how it was possible for the typical male reader to truly “get” the book at all.

The love for this book centers around two things: the exaggerated social commentary on the Yuppie culture of the 80s and the controversy of the extremely graphic depictions of sex and violence. Yes, these are important and interesting parts of the book, but there is so much more to consider that I rarely see discussed, and misconceptions that are commonly accepted just because the analysis of this work is dominated by males.

First of all, the first section of the book has gotten a lot of flack for being boring. This is simply not true. The first quarter of the book or so, which portrays Bateman’s life he is lashing out against in great detail, is the epitome of Ellis’s dark humor for which this book is praised. So why aren’t the men laughing? Because they’re not going to understand the hilarity of Bateman’s knowledge and judgement of designer labels of everything from clothes to candelsticks. The fact that he can eye the difference between a Giorgio and Emporio Armani suit is in itself a source of humor, let alone the judgements he passes on his colleagues for wearing one brand over the other. Surely an uninformed reader can get the jist of the mockery of his obsession with labels and the general idea that everyone is dressing pretty much the same, but they’re not going to get the full picture, the subtle characterization.

It’s also highly overlooked that these men, arguably the prototypes of masculinity of the day, compete with each other based on what clothes they are wearing, how each other’s hair looks, how tan they are. Today, if men were to act as displayed in these pages, there would most certainly be rumors circulating about their sexuality (which is probably the catalyst for, what I’m assuming is, false analysis that there is subdued homosexual undertones of the story) yet these are the ideal males, the most powerful and masculine specimens out there.
And yet, despite these rather feminine characteristics, these men are simultaneously the prototypes for misogyny. It’s a completely unorthodox play of gender. They see women as nothing more than bodies to have sex with and constantly objectify and demean them (let alone when they’re raping, mutilating and murdering them). It is also unclear whether these values are that of Bateman’s alone, or if Ellis shares in this thought since he has written not one sympathetic female character. The women are idiots, soulless, materialistic. Is it because these are the women Bateman surrounds himself with? Is this the only way he sees women? Or is this the way Ellis sees women, therefore only portraying them in such a way?
It is this hatred of women itself that most directly drives Bateman’s homicidal tendencies, which become even more brutal whenever he catches himself possibly developing feelings for the woman as a person, playing into the male psychology that sexism is based in a deeply rooted fear in men of the female sex. Bateman himself even verbalizes this motivation when he expresses his sympathy for a serial killer who once said “when I see a beautiful woman on the street I think two things: how much I would love to meet her, have sex with her, marry her, and what her head would look like on a stick.”

This is what hit me most about American Psycho’s message. I have always understood his brutality to be driven by his contempt for being trapped inside the mindless Yuppie culture, but what really is the problem here is how much he despises women, and yet I have never heard that before in any discussion of the book until I read it for myself. There is no attempt at justification for this attitude, it is just asked to be accepted of by the reader (and the fact that the-mostly male- readers accept this so easily is, in my opinion, absolutely terrifying).

Patrick Bateman is supposed to be a relatable character. He is supposed to represent the inner torment of the working man in a capitalistic society. He is driven literally insane by the world he has played into (and has no motivation whatsoever for continuing to play into, since he’s backed by family money) that he unleashes his anger by becoming a sadistic serial killer. Let me reiterate this, Patrick Bateman, the serial killer, is supposed to be a guy people can relate to. And people do. That is what’s so terrifying about the book. That is what makes it a “psychological thriller” yet people are too caught up in the graphic images to realize this. He is saying that every man has the ability to be this violent and disgusting and the fact that men love this book so much is saying “yes, yes we can be, thank you for finally understanding,” but they’re too caught up in racing towards the next torture scene to even notice.

Originally written November 19, 2008

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