Trump & Tramps

Author of Gender Studies, Curtis Sittenfeld

Gender Studies is a story of fiction by author Curtis Sittenfeld. This story revolves around a strong willed woman named Nell. Nell is a Women’s Studies Professor who finds herself hooking up with a cab driver while on a business trip. Nell has recently broken up with her boyfriend Henry of 11 years. This story is from Nell’s point of view, but it revolves mainly around two men. This fact alone is ironic when the reader considers what tell studies. The other man who occupies the story is a random shuttle driver. His name is Luke. She meets Luke while out of town on business and establishes an unusual relationship with him over the course of two days.

Nell’s relationship with her long-time boyfriend Henry was a suitable match. Henry allowed for the “partner box” to be checked off. He was her safe choice. Their relationship was not incredibly passionate. It was more of a partnership anchored in outsmarting one another for pleasure. It is evident throughout the story that Henry was a large part of Nell’s life and still occupies her mind. Nell’s thoughts draw to Henry in a variety of random ways.

Nell’s relationship with Luke seemed almost more authentic than the one she had with Henry. The relationship is complicated because her relationship with Luke began with more conflicts. Nell told him that she was an English professor instead of a Women’s Studies. She also automatically assumed that Luke had stolen her license once she left his cab. Their relations began in a way that was simple, so there was no pressure for Nell. She was not trying to prove her intelligence to this man because she genuinely thought he was a moron. Her feelings differed from those she had for Henry because competitive intelligence was the glue that held them together.

Nell compares almost everything about Luke to Henry, even though the relationships cannot be set side by side. It as if she needed to challenge herself with someone completely different to erase Henry.

The first moment she started to think of Luke in a sexual way, her mind darted back to Henry. She even made a strict comparison to how it was weird kissing a person other than Henry. She explained how it was not bad to kiss another person only strange. It is understood that only kissing one person for 11 years straight could make it uncomfortable when that streak breaks. The situation is even more unusual because Luke is so unlike Henry. Nell explains their conversation by simply rattling off facts about Luke’s life. It is as if she is taking notes about his childhood and was not genuinely interested in him as an equal. Because she looked at Luke this way, it meant he was a safe choice as well. There was no chance in that Nell would fall in love with him, After all, he is an uneducated Trump supporter.

The fact that Nell is a gender studies professor plays a big part in the way she carries herself. Just the fact that she is an intellectual alters her attitude. She explains that she is aware she is an “elitist asshole.” She looks at her encounter with Luke like he is an experiment. He is an unknown species that she is studying. The uneducated lower class male. She pulls from her studies while hooking up with Luke. Her thoughts wander to her readings like, “Booty Call: Norms of a Restricted and Unrestricted Sociosexuality in Hookup Culture.” Again, analyzing her every move. Nell compares her fling with Luke to the feeling a heroine of a romantic novel, something she never experienced with Henry. The comparison to a romantic novel is something the reader would not expect from a strong-willed feminist.

The reader can see that Nell is somewhat inconsistent in who she is. Nell can be considered somewhat hypocritical. For example, Nell is a professor of women’s studies but says Henry’s new wife is “satisfying” him in the same way that meat satisfies him. Comparing a woman to a piece of meat does not seem like it would align with the views of a Women’s Studies teacher. It is interesting that Nell is such an intelligent character, but has such a skewed outlook on relationships.

During an interview with The New Yorker, Sittenfeld explained, “if you’re going to make a character condescending, it’s probably a good idea to make that character also at least partly incorrect in his or her views.” This explanation gives the reader an insight into the motives behind the characterization of Nell. Because Nell is condescending and elitist, it was important to Sittenfeld that she also had faults. Her hypocrisy in some moments creates a way to exploit her imperfection.

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