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.

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