Saturday, February 19, 2011

Meet Up?

Seems like a lot of folks want to meet up and discuss the reading. Someone should organize a time and place that works for most.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

not very organized

As I've been reading this book, I've found myself vacillating wildly between feelings of distress, epiphany, horror, understanding....I too found it really difficult to read her account of being raped. I thought it immensely important and powerful for Despentes to discuss rape fantasy, particularly in relation to the reality of being raped. I think that Despentes does a wonderful job of complicating arguments, not allowing solid footing or a moral highground. Juxtaposing her enjoyment of dressing up as "a creature of vice" (pg 59) with her idea that "these kids in g-strings seem to be proclaiming, 'look at what a hot girl i am, in spite of my independance, my culture, my intelligence, all i care about is pleasing you. i can do whatever i want but i choose to alienate myself through these efficient seduction strategies.'" (pg 19), Despentes places herself within this world, not allowing herself the safety of speaking outside of this world. At times, her constant reworking of perspective can make it difficult to get a firm read on where she's going, particularly in regards to rape-- I read the chapter "she's so depraved you can't rape her" as dealing more with a conundrum that a solution. She advocates violence against rape, speaks to her own feelings of helplessness during rape, feelings of shame, the ways that rape so insidiously permeates our lives (collectively and individually). When she writes on page 50 that "I always imagine that one day I will be done with it. Will have gotten over the event, emptied it, exhausted it. Impossible. It is a founding event. Of who I am as a writer, and as a woman who is no longer quite a woman. It is both that which disfigures me, and that which makes me," She seems to me to be saying that her experience isn't the answer-- she will continue to struggle with her experience, and that struggle is a part of her. She isn't attempting to provide a solution to a problem, but demanding that we interrogate our responses to ourselves and everything around us.

On pages 53-54, Virginie Despentes writes "Over the last ten years I have often found myself in stylish living rooms in the company of ladies who have always had their bills paid for them by the marriage contract, often divorced women living off substantial alimony aggreements, and these same ladies explain to me, without the shadow of a doubt, that prostitution is in itself a bad thing for women". I think this speaks to the ways that Despentes sets up an intersection of gender and class-- in order to lay claim to the power and comfort of higher class standing, women must also perpetuate patriarchal hate and judgement. I agree with Tobi that Despentes does not seem to be speaking from a perspective that addresses the intersection of race/ class/ sexual identity, but within her analysis I believe that she begins to break down the universal, rigidly defined gendered binaries that she initially imposes, particularly when writing about her experiences with prostitution. On page 61, she writes " my small experience, the clients were heavy with humanity, fragility, distress." and on page 68, " The experience of seeing men in a childlike, fragile, vulnerable light made them seem nicer, less intimidating, more endearing And in fact accessable ...More than I would have thought, it lessened my aggressiveness toward men, which I consider a good thing."

I thought that it was really important for Despentes to point out that patriarchy and oppression were not invented in the 1970s, nor were violence and assault invented by cinema. On page 17 she writes, "Neither women nor men are happy here. And this has nothing to do with the respect of gender traditions. Women going back to the kitchen, putting on aprons and producing kids every time they fuck would have no impact at all on the failures of work, free enterprise, christianity or enviornmental sustainability." The context that she paints is a difficult and harsh one, implicating the structures that we hold up and so seldom benefit from, but it refuses to allow that the struggle to break free is to blame.

I think I need to go back through and reread the book, jot down notes and spend some more time with her ideas. These are my initial responses, it's a lot to take in, but in my reading I didn't feel that her constructs of 'male' and 'female' were rigidly defined roles, but rather recognition of patriarchal archetypes that are damaging to all individuals.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Meet Up?

I am going out of town from the13th to the 19th of feb. Do people want to meet face to face to discuss the book?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Secondary Impressions of King Kong Theory

"I am furious with a society that has educated me without ever teaching me to injure a man if he pulls my thighs apart against my will, when that same society has taught me that this is a crime from which I will never recover"
"Forever guilty of what is done to us. Creatures held responsible for the desire we provoke"
King Kong Theory is growing on me.

At first I found it sort of off-putting in a Valarie Solanis-meets-Camille Paglia kind of way. Her anger is totally justified, but hard for me to let in to my life. I cried a lot reading about her rape. She argues for violence, which I have a hard time with. I agree that self-defense and knowing how to fight is necessary, given the world we live in, but I personally do not want to fight. I hate violence. I don't want to hurt someone even if they are hurting me, but as Virginie Despentes points out, this is exactly what it means to be a woman under patriarchy.

Writing about her rape, she says:
"I wish I'd been able to escape the values instilled in my gender that night and slit each of their throats one by one. Instead of having to live with being someone who didn't dare defend herself, because she's a woman and violence is not her domain and the physical integrity of the male body is more important than that of the female".
"A powerful and ancient political strategy has taught women not to defend themselves".

Well, ok. So in being a pacifist, am I then just brainwashed to be a victim? Her point is that violence is the answer to rape, claiming that that is what a man would do. Her "proof" is to name films made by men, who depict violent response to rape.
She writes:
"When men create female characters, it is rarely an attempt to understand what the characters are experiencing and feeling as women. It tends instead to be a way of depicting male sensibility in a female body"
Citing several examples she claims their message is "why don't you defend yourselves more fiercely".

This discussion takes place in reaction to women who saw Base-Moi as perpetuating violence against women. Her film was banned, but when men have make violent films about rape, they are often celebrated or viewed as entertainment.

Again referring to her own rape, she notes that she had a switchblade in her pocket, but was afraid to use it against 3 men with a gun who she felt were stronger than her:
"At that precise moment I felt female, disgustingly female, in a way I had never felt and have never felt since"
"It was rape that turned me back into a woman, into someone essentially vulnerable"
So, she equates submission, helplessness and being violated with what it means to be a woman. It is hard to argue that this is what it means to be a woman in the society we live in. Under patriarchy, woman=weak. But is that really all we are?

I can identify with her rage and empathize with the pain of her experience, but I don't know if being a woman necessarily equates being in pain…If that is what it means to be female….well, how is viewing the world this way going to help us change it?

She wants us to fight. To continue to risk rape by living our lives freely, going out in public alone at night, being brave and adventurous. But she also claims that rape is what defines her and says that she is "infected", as if it is a disease that she caught that has no cure. This contradiction is at the core of her work.

I don't know what I think about the usefulness or truth of her statements about femininity vs. masculinity, asserting that men are powerful and women are weak. Clearly she is saying that this is the culturally prescribed meaning, not things-as-they-should-be, but things-as-they-are--the social order we are all subject to…still, what good does equating femininity with patriarchal oppression do? Does this perpetuate the gender binary? What about women who enjoy being "girly"? Are we all duped by the patriarchy? Is "the feminine" purely oppressive, something concocted to enslave women, totally subjected on us by men to serve them and control us (like in Stepford Wives) or do woman have a role to play in its cultural construction? And what role does biology play? These are some of the same questions I have for second-wave feminist theory.

A lot of Virginie Despentes claims about "women" and "men" also seem to (ironically) assume that everyone is straight. This is troubling because I don't think this is her world view, but when she describes the world in terms of rape, her generalizations about gender and use of the binary system get more intense.

In all these "universal" claims about men and women we lose sight of a class/race/sexual identity lens. Over and over again she states that men have all the power and women don't have any. But that is not really true, as we know. In reality, upper class white women have more power than many working class men of color and the same is even more true in a global sense…but so far these nuances don't seem to surface in her thinking.

But there is still something really solid and compelling about what she is saying. It's hard for me to think about everything in terms of rape because it does become so polarizing and fear and rage begin to take over my relationship to the world. That is what has been happening to me when I've been reading this book and it's been really overwhelming so far. I keep putting it down and picking it up again.

a repost of my bumpidee reader review: initial impressions

king kong theory by virginie despentes...I asked for and got this book for xmas, since kanako said she might start a book club. I read the first and last chapter and skimmed the rest. that's usually what I do with theory, a habit from school, where you try to figure out what the thesis is and evaluate whether or not it's argued coherently. so far it's more poetic than I expected and rebellious in an in-yr-face punk style, which is rare these days. in that sense it reminds me of s.c.u.m. manifesto by valarie solanis, which I'm not a big fan of although I recognize its historical impact was major --it helped inspire the women's liberation movement for example--but I never got totally into the poetry or rhetoric of solanis like some of my friends did.
I don't know too much about virginie despentes other than that she is a filmmaker. I've heard her compared to catherine breillat. I know some people think her movies reinforce patriarchy in their depiction of violence against women, even though that is not her intent. she's provocative and controversial and seems to be more of an artist than anything. she's interested in power...the weak and the strong...she evokes some of nietzsche's ideas in the genealogy of morals/beyond good and evil... also: lydia lunch helped translate this book.
I'd like to read some contemporary feminist criticism of king kong theory to see how people have reacted to her work. there seem to be some possible limitations here repeated from early 'radical feminism'...radical feminism in the sense of feminists who believe that gender oppression is primary and trumps class or race...that despentes has a class analysis and talks about economics and capitalism is relevant here, but so did many "radical feminists" and as invigorating and influential as a lot of those early texts are, they are limited in scope and have been widely critiqued. I'm not saying king kong theory is necessarily fucked up in the same ways, just that I'm questioning a lot of her claims and some of my thought process is the same as what happens when I read a lot of what is known as radical feminism from the late 60's/early 70's...I am questioning a lot of her generalizations and broad sweeping statements and wishing for more specificity.
these are my initial impressions, which will probably change as I read more. I want to finish this before february so I might actually go ahead and read it this week...but maybe that is just wishful far I'm not super into it, but I can see how it might be totally inspiring if you read it in the right time and place. it's got a lot of anger and vision to it. it's cool to hear someone say "fuck you, this world is totally fucked but I am not". it's a bold thing to say and something that women need to hear. there is a lot of resistance and courage in this work. it's visceral and descriptive.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I woke up this morning and the Beatles were playing on the radio and I thought about Despentes thoughts on the mass sexually overt reaction women had publicly to the band and how this unique phenomenon is rarely researched/discussed. What if we added her thoughts to the wiki-page on beatlemania...