I was at a Patti Smith concert this summer when a fan tried to hand her a gift onstage in the middle of a song. Her reaction was angry and immediate, "What the fuck are you doing?" she yelled. She stopped singing and had to start again. Both her creative space and personal sense of security had been assaulted by a stranger whose self-justified actions overrode traditional notions of respect.
I thought of that moment today after hearing that Kim Kardashian was robbed at gunpoint in a Paris apartment and pseudonymous writer Elena Ferrante was robbed of her anonymity by an Italian investigative journalist within days of each other. Both actions violated private female space in repellent and troubling ways.
It's not often that we think of Kim Kardashian and the pseudonymous Italian author Elena Ferrante of the Neapolitan quartet as soul sisters. Though Kardashian is a public extrovert whose every last kohl-lined eyelash blink is self-recorded for the public sphere and Ferrante is a private introvert who purposely avoids exposure ("I have withdrawn from the rituals that writers are more of less obliged to perform in order to sustain their book by lending to them their author's expendable image," she told Vanity Fair), they are both engaged with telling a female-driven story. Essentially, Kardashian makes her living by performing those rituals in public; Ferrante, on the other hand, works in solitude.
But despite their different methods, both Kardashian and Ferrante (and, for that matter, Patti Smith) are women who have carved out original spaces where they feel free to create and in control. For Kardashian, that space is more complicated than one might originally think. It seems public, but is it really? Think of her as a successful performance artist along the lines of Lady Gaga, Madonna and Michael Jackson. Not only is the "Kim-ness" of Kim most likely all performance, it is also expendable, as shown by her constantly changing features and lifestyle. It may be that everything she does shields her private life while simultaneously pretending to expose it. Like Elena Ferrante, she has brilliantly created and sold a story while hiding in plain sight.
A woman who successfully maintains her own independent space, creative or otherwise, threatens the power structure and traditional order of male dominance. In that way, both Kardashian and Ferrante are alike. So Kardashian's recent robbery at gunpoint in a Paris apartment drew Twitter sympathy, yes, but also criticism that she had invited it by publishing photos of her big diamond, choosing a discreet Paris apartment (where she could hide from the public eye) rather than a hotel, and not surrounding herself with enough security.
Italian journalist Claudio Gatti also broke into Ferrante's space and stole the jewels of solitude and privacy. Female readers were appalled; we get it. We're also worried that without this essential creative sense of safety she may not write another word. If so, Gatti will have erased her. Like Kardashian, Ferrante will no doubt ever feel as free or safe again. Yet Gatti justified his investigation and the publication of her private salary and real estate details in The New York Review of Books ever so slickly: "But by announcing that she would lie on occasion, Ferrante has in a way relinquished her right to disappear behind her books and let them live and grow while their author remained unknown. Indeed she and her publisher seemed to have fed public interest in her true identity."
In other words, both Kim and Elena "asked for it." Let me just say what should be obvious: they didn't.