Why Amber Tamblyn’s New Novel Is About a Female Rapist—And What She Hopes It Accomplishes

"I really wanted to know what it looked like when a woman did something for power," the actor-turned-author told FLARE

(Photograph: Katie Jacobs)

The #MeToo movement did not surprise Amber Tamblyn.

In fact, she started to write her debut novel, Any Man (Harper Perennial, $15)—which tells the story of a serial rapist named Maude and the men she leaves in her wake—more than three years ago. Since then, the themes in this novel, out on June 26, have become even more relevant.

“It’s not strange that I would come up with something like [Any Man] because it has been in the zeitgeist for so long,” Tamblyn says. “I feel like there has been a grenade sitting in our culture for decades and Donald Trump’s election was someone pulling the pin out.”

Quick refresher: U.S. president Donald Trump displayed misogynistic and sexually inappropriate behaviour long before he was elected to office. When the now-infamous Access Hollywood tape, where Trump brags about sexually assaulting women, surfaced in the lead-up to the election, Tamblyn responded with an extremely candid IG post describing how an ex-boyfriend literally did the same thing. “That part of my body, which the current Presidential Nominee of the United States Donald Trump recently described as something he’d like to grab a woman by, was bruised from my ex-boyfriend’s violence for at least the next week…To this day I remember that moment,” she wrote in October 2016.

Shortly after Trump was elected, the New York Times and New Yorker investigation into former Hollywood big-shot Harvey Weinstein helped hundreds of people come forward with their experiences of sexual violence. The exposés gave the #MeToo movement—originally launched in 2006—new momentum and sparked the creation of Time’s Up, where Tamblyn joined forces with numerous other Hollywood actresses to help survivors and push for change.

The activist-turned-author particularly focused on advocating for women, since statistics indicate that they experience sexual harassment and assault more frequently than men. In Any Man, Tamblyn writes the rapist as a woman in an effort to give a woman the capacity to live as horribly and without justification as the men exposed by the #MeToo movement, effectively flipping gender stereotypes.

“[Women] don’t often get to control the narratives about who we are, how we exist or what we look like,” Tamblyn says. “I wanted to create a character that [made us feel] like we couldn’t control her, and that includes her motive. I feel like a lot of really violent antagonists in literature, film and television are usually women who are seeking revenge or payback or something. I wanted to know what it looked like when a woman did something for power.”

the red and black cover of Amber Tamblyn's new book called "any man"

Any Man follows Maude’s victims as they’re forced to live in the aftermath of their assaults, shedding light on the ways the criminal justice system and the media mishandle sexual violence IRL. The experiences of Maude’s six victims closely parallel those who recently came forward about Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K. (among others). Each man Maude assaults is doubted and disgraced, and every little detail about his experience is dissected by the public—a reality Tamblyn knows well.

“[For survivors], there’s… this sense of not being seen and having everything about you taken away, including what you’re allowed to do, what you’re allowed to wear, how you’re allowed to talk,” Tamblyn says.

While her 2016 IG post about her ex-boyfriend received mostly supportive responses, when Tamblyn opened up in 2017 about another alleged assault, the reaction was different. Last September, Tamblyn penned a powerful open letter to 70-year-old actor James Woods accusing him of propositioning her when she was just 16 years old. In the article published by Teen Vogue, Tamblyn detailed an incident where the then 50-something Woods invited her and her teenaged friend to Las Vegas to “have a good time.”

In response, Woods (and many of his supporters) said she was lying.

Having experienced such backlash to her own story of sexual harassment, Tamblyn’s Any Man also illuminates the systems which deter survivors of sexual assault from coming forward. “It has so much to do not only with the act of the assault, but [also with] the onslaught of media, entertainment and social media after the fact,” Tamblyn says. “Even though it is a story about survivors, it’s really an indictment of our culture and how we are both complacent and complicit in what we do and what we say and how we act and how we feel about these stories.”

Above all, she hopes the book helps survivors feel more understood—and helps their supporters to better understand what they’re going through. “My hope is that it will encourage more [male survivors] to come forward, [and help] more men to really see us,” she says. “[I want men to] see what the experience is like and to understand that it’s not just about the assault—it’s about all the terrible things that come after the fact.”


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