Ruby fruit Jungle
by Audrey Karnicheff
Molly Bolt is smart as a whip. A deadpan smartass who doesn’t care about being “natural”, about doing what girls are “supposed” to do. She doesn’t care for religion, either. Have you ever wondered if Mary and Joseph even liked each other, if they bickered? Molly did, because a Nativity Play in school is more an opportunity to produce realistic theatre than it is a sacred mission. Liking girls is not quite a cosmic reveal – her first kiss makes her stomach weird, the good kind of weird, that’s alright and that’s it. In fact, most of the book’s soul-searching regards her upbringing as an adopted child.
Molly seems invincible, with a reckless attitude – until, slowly, she’s on the verge of breaking, tired of being “written off” by those who stopped being her friends after she comes out to them. “Written off” by lovers who won’t accept the fact that themselves are girls who like girls. “Written off” because she uttered the word “lesbian”. She talks about her sexuality in passing, like she always does, because it’s a fact of life and not an abomination, not a betrayal of same-sex friendships, not a fundamental misunderstanding of men. She doesn’t shout it out loud for the whole world to hear, but she doesn’t lie, and her sexuality is not played for angst.
“Madam, I am a full-blooded, bona fide lesbian. As for the way I look, most lesbians I know look like any other woman. However, if you’re hot for a truck driver I know just the place.”
Molly could have collapsed a thousand times, every time the all-American ideal slammed the door in her face. Her college scholarship doesn’t get renewed “for moral reasons” while her girlfriend is sent away on a conversion therapy.
But then Molly pulls herself together and moves forward. That no-nonsense attitude is what makes Molly a fresh, compelling character.
“Let’s stop this shit. I love women. I’ll never marry a man and I’ll never marry a woman either. That’s not my way. I’m a devil-may-care lesbian.”
That’s why Rubyfruit Jungle stands out, because it’s not a book about a woman coming to terms with her sexuality. It’s a book about an unapologetic woman, not a stand-in for a young reader confused about sexuality, religion and morals.
Arguably, Molly Bolt isn’t a flag-bearer and expresses her annoyance of labels on several occasions.
“So now I wear this label ‘Queer’ emblazoned across my chest. Or I could always carve a scarlet “L” on my forehead. Why does everyone have to put you in a box and nail the lid on it?”
Rita Mae Brown shares many a thing with her heroine – her childhood, her academic background, her passion for latin… Unlike her heroine, Brown was heavily politicized in the 70s, first through student movements then as a part of the Lavender Menace. Brown was a key-figure of lesbian feminism, and took part in the writing of the manifesto “The Woman-Identified Woman”. While Brown’s commitment to second-wave feminism brought a lot of attention to the discriminations lesbians were facing, some parts of Rubyfruit Jungle show their age regarding its treatment of butch woman. Molly doesn’t seem to get that being a woman sometimes means having short hair and being buff, without wanting to resemble a man.
“That’s the craziest, dumbass thing I ever heard tell of. What’s the point of being a lesbian if a woman is going to look and act like an imitation man? Hell, if I want a man, I’ll get the real thing not one of these chippies. I mean […] the whole point of being gay is because you love women.”
It’s important to remain critical of most exclusive aspect of lesbian history to remind ourselves that the advancement of LGBT people in society must be the advancement of all LGBT people, not only those who happen to conform to society’s view of gender and sexuality.
Rubyfruit Jungle is a lesson of resilience and strength – albeit an individualistic one.