‘Three Women’s’ Lisa Taddeo On The Shifting Conversation Around Female Desire

"It's changed in broad daylight but I don’t think it's changed after hours."

Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women was arguably the biggest book of 2019.

The American writer spent nearly a decade immersing herself in the intimate lives of three very real womenMaggie, Sloane and Lindato write a deeply complex portrayal of female desire that leaves its readers equally shocked and seen.

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Now, the bestseller has been adapted into a series for Stan with actress Shailene Woodley in the leading role—a role which, rather unusually for book-to-screen adaptations, was absent from the original book.

This character is, of course, based on Taddeo herself.

“The decision to include me as a character in the show came from TV needing a way to connect the women,” Taddeo tells marie claire Australia. 

“Some of the people in the TV world were like ‘perhaps Maggie’s lawyer could be Sloane’s husband’ and there were these kind of very in-organic ideas that felt like, because I had a non-fiction book to adapt, we weren’t going to take it in the right direction.”

The resulting decision saw Taddeo become the fourth woman in a story she only wrote about three.

“We wanted to have as much be as realistic as possible for the three original women and then the fourth characterthe sort of me characterwas important for the story and how the women were related to one another,” Taddeo explains.

“Shailene Woodleywho I absolutely adore as a human and admire wildly as an actorwas going to do me but yet, do her own version of me.

“I felt like if we were really to do a movie of me…” Taddeo explains while laughing. “I’m just one of the most neurotic, anxious, depressed…

“A lot of it’s in there,” Taddeo admits. “But we didn’t into as much detail in order to highlight the three original women.” 

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Shailene Woodley takes on the lead role in ‘Three Women.’ (Credit: Stan)

These three women include Maggie—a young woman who takes her former English teacher to court after their alleged relationship, Sloane—a woman who likes to have sex with other people while her husband watches and Linda—a woman who falls into an affair with her high school boyfriend after her husband stops sleeping with her.

It’s these subjects, who Taddeo, in her role as an executive producer, felt the most responsibility for while taking the book from page to screen.

“Adapting that book in particular is really really tricky because it’s three non inter-related stories of three real women. And you know, to do that and to do it with tricky subject matter to maintain honour and the integrity that I wanted to maintain for each of the womenthat was the hardest part.”

While Taddeo’s book is widely considered to be one of the most nuanced portrayals of female desire in contemporary literature, Taddeo didn’t initially set out to write about the subject.

In fact, when her editor asked her to write a book about anything she liked, she felt “lost at sea.”

The “open-endedness” as Taddeo describes it, “was obviously incredibly lovely but also incredibly terrifying.” 

“Where does one begin? Do I want to write about balloons,” Taddeo laughs.

The idea of writing about female desire came about after Taddeo’s editor loaned her a copy of  Gay Talese’s The Neighbour’s Wife.

“It was fun to read because it was about sex but I did feel like it was so wildly male,” Taddeo explains. 

“Not even male,” Taddeo corrects herself, “so much as lacking the emotional underpinning that go with any intimate encounter…” 

“The sort of not unpacking of how it feels afterwards felt very weird to me. It made me go out and seek out books that would have—not only a female counterpart—but an emotional counterpart.” 

When Taddeo didn’t find what she was looking for, she decided to write her own—the result is a book that acknowledges female desire in all of its complexities.

Of course, in the years between Taddeo starting her research for the book and the Stan series being released, the conversation around sex, desire and consent has admittedly evolved—just not as much as Taddeo would like.

“I mean, Me Too has happened and you know, it was a wild change I think,” Taddeo muses. “It was both big and not big enough as of course, I think we all know.

“You know I think the amount of emails, specifically after Three Women came out and did well, from men who had been in my life—workplace life—these sort of searching emails to make sure I was still cool, because hadn’t I been the cool girl who was cool with the things that they had said when we were out to drinks about things?

“But also it was sort of this thing where ‘if I weren’t so woke I would say you looked really hot right now but I’m woke so I’m not going to say that.’

“So, you know, it has changed a lot. I think it’s changed in broad daylight but I don’t think it’s changed after hours as much as we would like it to.” 

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Fans of Taddeo will be pleased to know that Three Women is not the last of the writer’s work to be brought to life—she’s in the process adapting her second novel, Animal, for the big screen, while also working on a draft of a horror film about female reproductive health, a book about grief and a gothic horror novel.

Taddeo’s transition to the horror genre may seem unexpected but then again, what is more horrifying being a woman in the world? That, is something Taddeo fundamentally understands.

Three Women is now streaming, only on Stan.

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