The doxxing of Elena Ferrante is distressing, and infuriating, and worrying, whether you are a fan of her work or had never heard of her prior to this. The fact that she is a ‘respectable’ literary novelist rather than an erotica writer isn’t particularly relevant; the fact that she is a woman is perhaps more so.
Because it’s far more likely to be women writers who get outed by male ‘investigators’, and it’s not that difficult to see sexism and male entitlement in this sort of outing. Speculation about women writers who take steps to hold on to their privacy quite often takes the form of insisting that the author ‘must be’ male because the writing is ‘too good’ to have been achieved by anyone without a penis (Belle De Jour, Pauline Reage – and Ferrante, of course).
Belle De Jour, along with Abby Lee, who was also pointlessly and spitefully outed, wrote about real experiences rather than publishing fiction, of course, but that still didn’t and doesn’t justify hunting an author down and signposting her real identity all over the place. Writers of fiction, in particular, owe the reader nothing at all of themselves: the general demand for all writers to interact via social media might be the only hope of the newcomer, self-publisher or indie-published to attract any attention at all but that doesn’t mean we have to share our postcodes, our family members’ names or our actual sexual proclivities.
Yes, OK, some people might be whining by now about that small percentage of authors who actively seek to decieve: the fake memoirists or the bloggers who claim to be members of some marginalised group such as young Iranian lesbians in a war zone when they are actually middle-aged white men living in Southampton or whatever. There’s quite a lot of discussion at the moment about authenticity in writing, but it is very much to be hoped that doesn’t get used as a justification for further self-righteous, prickish snooping. It isn’t a justification, at all.