Canceling Tom Robbins

(CW: pedophilia)

For a long time in my 20s and early 30s, I’d tell anyone who asked that my favorite author was Tom Robbins. I put it in my author bio. I emulated his goofy writing style in my job pitches. I even wrote him a fan letter once—the only time I’ve ever done anything like that.

My favorite Tom Robbins book was Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates. I loved everything about it—the characters, the Matisse connection, the magical, the mystical, the sacred & the inane. I still admire how much fun he had with words & sentences; how playful he was with his writing.

But I tried to reread it recently, and I hated it. 😬

The main character in that book is called Switters, and Switters is… well… a pedophile. He’s “in love” with his 16-year-old stepsister. He carries around her training bra from when she was 12 like a talisman.

As a young woman steeped in a culture that oversexualizes young girls and then slut-shames them for being too sexy… I’m not proud to say, I didn’t even register the pedophilia at the time. I thought Tom Robbins was fun & sex-positive.

But as a 43-year-old feminist… it was just disgusting. I can’t believe it got published. I look back and think… did *all* of his books oversexualize and/or infantilize women? Are all those “strong female characters” just some white dude’s pornographic fantasies? What did the 2nd-wave feminists make of Tom Robbins?

What do we do now, with our problematic faves?

I’ll tell you another author I was super into in my early 20s—Ayn Rand, long before she became the poster child for Silicon Valley tech bros. Her ideas are problematic in a different way though—she basically creates an argument in favor of the wealth gap, b/c some people are just “more special” than everyone else. Welp.

But in my early 20s, slinging cocktails for a sexist Jabba-the-Hut boss who harassed me daily—I was ALL ABOUT THAT SHIT.

None of us are perfect. There is no such thing as being “perfectly woke.” There’s a lot more to reckon with besides some problematic old books… but hey, this is where I’m at today.

Samantha Pollack

About Sam

Samantha Pollack writes creative copy (mostly emails) for feminist companies and/or thought leaders who are working to build a fairer, more connected culture. She’s also the founder of The Highly Sensitive Entrepreneur, a 6-week course that helps HSP business owners create healthier, more sustainable systems in their work. 

She publishes frequent essays on feminism, privilege, pop culture, entrepreneurship, the creative process, and more on her website, cultofpersonality.co. She currently lives in Asheville, NC, and while she can *technically* work from anywhere, she prefers her adventures laptop-free.

Emails for cult thought leaders.

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