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.

1 comment:

Tobi Vail said...

hannah, thanks for writing this...I just re-read the last chapter, which puts some of her earlier generalizing statements about men and women into perspective...she is saying the whole system is a sham and describing patriarchal gendered society for sure, but I also think she may be reinforcing a gender binary and I don't know how useful that is...I also think that by discussing gender in terms of archetypes she isolates gender from race and class in a pretty old school 'radical feminist' way that doesn't really help us understand how systemic oppression actually works...I agree that she complicates her analysis within her the last chapter it seems more clear...also, yes, Despentes does have a class analysis and a critique of capitalism (and to a lesser extent a race analysis) but as Inessential Woman by Elizabeth Spelman argues, so did Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex, but there is no gender without race and no race without class, no sexual identity without ethinicity -- so when women are talked about in general terms, "white women" are being referred to...following this line of thinking-- "middle class" women and "straight women" and "able-bodied women" become the norm and everyone else is an exception to the norm, "the other" I still have to say that this tendency is problematic within the text.

And now that I have spent so much time voicing my critique I need to sit down and figure out why I suddenly like this book so much...why is it so appealing?