#MeToo, Disclosure & the Confessional Mode

If you’ve been a woman for a while, and attempted whilst afflicted by visible womanhood to participate in the doings of human society, it is probably no momentous revelation to you that men can be creepy, coercive, threatening, tyrannizing, and gross. Not gross in the sense of unwashed hands and very terrible smells breezing into one’s life from other people’s lunches, but gross in that “I will corner you at the office party and make you regret ever leaving your house today, ever leaving your house at all, ever living” sort of way. Is there a woman alive today who has not been harassed by a man, at work, at school, while riding a train or bus or while walking down the street, sitting in a park, shopping for produce at the grocery store, breathing the air in a place outside her own home? I would love to meet this woman if she’s out there, to talk with her about what it’s like: to feel you can move through the world freely because you are not its prey and you do not fear it will devour you. Since I’ve not yet known a woman who hasn’t been harassed or made to feel uncomfortable or far worse by a man while she was trying to do something rather basic like maybe her job or maybe just existing in public, however, I have trouble believing that any woman could be genuinely alarmed to learn that Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., Dustin Hoffman, Charlie Rose, Al Franken, Matt Lauer, Artforum’s Knight Landesman (evidence that Male Scum Syndrome is not a blight exclusive to the middlebrow) etc., etc., etc., did the creepy, coercive, threatening, tyrannizing and gross things that they did to women.

We have no cause for alarm. Men harassing women sexually – and to be specific: high-powered men harassing their young, hungry-to-succeed female subordinates – is as unsurprising as a white supremacist state’s police force routinely murdering black citizens. It is as unsurprising as endemic poverty in a capitalist paradigm. These are the symptoms of the structural realities of our society and they should not be news to anyone has not been in a coma since birth. They are devastating. They are not surprising.

The surprise is that suddenly there are consequences for the men. All those little “indiscretions” buried to fester under the oversized rug patriarchy supplies its loyal henchmen have made like revenants and clawed their way risen to the surface to haunt the guilty. Powerful men are being ousted from their positions of power. They are being reviled and banished. Recovery seems improbable. The major shocker is that women are bringing men down for a change; women are being believed instead of dismissed as desperate for attention, denounced as psychotic schemers, or blamed for enticing abuse; the harm done to women by sexual harassment has neither been shrugged off as trivial nor laughed away with the usual lewd sneering. It is as if what men do to women, and how men’s actions reverberate through women’s lives, is of some actual significance. As if it is not women’s ineludible doom to be reduced to sexual chattel whenever we dare venture out in public.

And this is surprising, and this is good. Even if it is only a symbolic purge submitted by the Nice Good Liberal (male-dominated) Left as a safeguard against looking severely hypocritical subsequent to its politically pragmatic show of appalled horror over Donald Trump’s I’m-the-Boss-Man handsiness, it is nonetheless good. Let’s call it progress.

The #MeToo campaign is a product of this freakish and pathetically unprecedented moment in which it would almost seem that a woman can expect to be listened to when she speaks about what men have done to her. Women have come forward online in droves to share their stories of sexual intimidation and coercion by men, the publicization of our collective victimization cascading out to overflow the Internet, as the dams give way under the wash of horror stories: each woman who speaks out grants another woman license to speak, and what woman doesn’t have a story she could tell? #MeToo has the potential for infinite growth. If every woman ever harassed or assaulted by a man with power over her announced to the world how she was abused, the thread could mushroom on and on forever. Maybe it should. There is an urgency to sharing these stories, their public airing a corrective to the silence that women have been paid off for or terrorized into. Our own shame has forced us into silence, too. It is disgusting to have to put words to what men do to us, the vileness of their offenses such a stain inside accusing our own bodies our own selves of badness that we long to forget them immediately, even as they are happening, and to never mention them again afterwards—they are unspeakable. And we have stayed silent because we have been afraid. Afraid of the repercussions of speaking. Afraid of not being believed. For the many women for whom #MeToo has been a release from silence, and for every woman unwilling to accept silence in the future, having seen a million sisters before her raise their voices, the value of its impact cannot be overstated.

Yet I was reluctant to join the #MeToo chorus. I watched other women broadcast their experiences, cheered, at first, that women were catalyzing a long overdue reckoning with the scourge of sexual harassment, but as the atmosphere grew increasingly #MeToo-saturated, an old wariness edged in to replace my optimism. I still appreciated the women who added their accounts to the deluge and I remained encouraged that women felt newly supported in outrage over the everyday sexual violence and exploitation that gives form to Existing While Female in a patriarchy, but, as the Internet filled to capacity with the grim details of harassment, assaults, abuse, rapes, I began to sense with creepy-crawly acuteness something unsavory latent in the media’s receptiveness to all of these stories, all of these women telling them. I wondered: what is the social function of women’s admission of sexual trauma? There’s a market demand for this stuff. Women’s personal revelations of painful, and especially painful sexual experiences have a long history as a tantalizing cultural commodity, to be dished up lurid, with a garnish of theatrical shock and solicitude on the side. If women start talking, these are the tales we’re supposed to be telling. They sell. It’s true that women have been silenced but our silence is not the whole story. Women do not in fact go around all the time with ball gags lodged between our lips. Muzzling women is the bluntest way of ensuring that female subjectivity does not contaminate precious masculinist cultural real estate; it is the most obvious strategy but not the only, or necessarily the most effective option at patriarchy’s disposal. Circumscribing the range and manner of women’s speech is a subtler tactic, a nicer, less glaring suppression, useful for its preservation of the exigent illusion that women are free to do as we please and just happen to end up an underclass because – ain’t it the weirdest thing? – such is our nature. Many women stay mute, but there are plenty of us who speak. And that is all well and good, on the condition that what’s coming out of our mouths are nuggets of “realness” razored from the deepest recesses of our private lives, the darker the better, warm still and glistening with gut-blood. Continue reading “#MeToo, Disclosure & the Confessional Mode”

I Can’t Watch: The Kitsch Sexism of ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’

David Lynch as Agent Gordon Cole, demonstrating the respectful treatment of a female character on Twin Peaks: The Return.

Let’s start off with a bit of heresy, so there’s no confusion: Twin Peaks: The Return, David Lynch’s revival of the ’90s surrealist soap opera by which the weirdo director insinuated himself into the living rooms of the average, non-weird U.S. TV-consuming population, is not at all, in any way, worth your time, or mine. It is something like mandatory that, before I tell you about the various reasons why it may be flawed from a feminist perspective, I fawn over the show and its creator, everyone’s darling transcendental pervert-boy-scout, as if some degree of appreciation is a prerequisite to criticism. I’m supposed to begin by telling you that Twin Peaks: The Return, which premiered in May on the Showtime network and has basked in a predictably benefic sea of acclaim since then, is brilliant, formally; it’s pushing the boundaries of what TV can be, it’s audaciously experimental, it’s visually stunning, and, like, weird as hell, man, totally blowing my mind. Attaboy, David Lynch! I’m supposed to say this sort of thing before I proceed with “and yet…” then outline my timid tiptoeing case against Lynch’s new project, but I think I’ll pass because I don’t count “pushing the boundaries of what TV can be” as an innately intriguing endeavor — I’m in no rush to celebrate a more inventive re-imagining of the passivity-preserving, life-sucking narcotic spectacle that is Must-See Television — and also, The Return is stupid, I’ll even submit: without redeeming value. It is not good. I wish I hadn’t watched as much of it as I have. Having watched it, I feel I have lost something, some small but not negligible chunk of my life I cannot get back. I did not want to watch The Return. My plan was to be a conscientious objector. I read a piece I am reluctant to call a “review” of the first episode on the Artforum site and my curiosity wheezed once, spat up something bilious, a twitch shuddered through its shriveled carcass, and it died. I was satisfied that there was nothing to be gained from tuning in, that I could carry on unmolested by any sense of obligation to participate in this particular pop culture phenomenon.

Yet, being weak-willed or perhaps slightly depressed this summer and by constitution more than slightly drawn by the morbid lure of that which I fully expect to loathe, I toppled from my desert plateau of non-participation and in July, with resignation, I joined the herd. My friend had been watching the show in secret, keeping his viewership from me, and to abate my own sense of exclusion from everything due to being a chronic killjoy to the point that my friends are unwilling to share with me what they’re doing out of nervousness that I’ll object to it, in order to try to seem game and up-for-it, I sat down with him to take in an episode: Part 9 of Twin Peaks: The Return. What I saw was a small herd of buffoonish men in beige suits chasing a Bruce-Willis-in-Diehard mini-me assassin through the hallways of a budget hotel. I was not interested. I have an extreme lack of interest in midget assassins, in the use of physical difference as chuckle fodder. It’s boring, it’s easy. It is lame. My snap judgment of the new Twin Peaks emerged as a moan of exhaustion: “Men really can do whatever the hell they want.” Lynch gave us a midget assassin because he could and we the loyal viewers are expected to be happy about it. Because he’s David Lynch, it’s David Lynch’s midget assassin. A ponderous, far-out, surrealist midget assassin. He gave us this lame, boring, entry-level gag because he is David Lynch and no longer has to try to make what he does interesting; if he makes it, it will be declared interesting, because he is David Lynch—he is an interesting man. The more brazen that which he chooses to do is in its awfulness, the more suggestive of a lack of self-critical second thoughts, the more whatever it is he does testifies to his genius. This is the first lesson of Twin Peaks: The Return. If this had been the only lesson, I would not have continued watching.

But then there’s the second lesson, being: women are garbage people who scarcely deserve to breathe air. And it was this woman-hating subtext of The Return that hooked me, not its formal unconventionality, or its visual appeal, or its uncompromising “weirdness.” The show is, foremost, a hot mess of self-consciously vacuous, self-indulgent meandering; it’s the David-Lynch-is-a-Living-Legend show and I don’t care. It is also a sexist nightmare. And I care about that, I do care. Helplessly, I do. I have now watched 13 episodes, wasted 13 hours of my life, transfixed by the spectacle of Lynch’s newfound commitment to gross misogyny. I have nothing good to say.  Continue reading “I Can’t Watch: The Kitsch Sexism of ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’”

On Being an Unlikeable Woman Artist, Also a Feminist

It is easy, as a woman, to be unlikeable. Speak clearly, straightforwardly, with conviction. Have convictions. Do not smile when there are eyes on you. Do not make a joke of yourself. Do not cut yourself down in front of others. Take yourself seriously. Be smarter than you are pleasant. Do not deny that you are smart, possibly even smarter than someone else, particularly a man. Do not mutilate yourself to make other people comfortable despite the nightmare creature that is your intelligence. Stop adding smiley-faces, triple exclamation points, and little hearts to your emails. Be shitty at small talk, impatient with bullshit. Don’t ask about the kids. Don’t bother with the kids at all. Don’t compliment other women on their outfits, or nails, or hairstyles, or new shoes. Dress poorly. Assume it is entirely possible that you are right, much of the time, in what you believe, because you’ve worked hard to learn what you know. Be reckless and imperfect and ready to try and fail, even if failure is not a Good Look, when perfection is the bar set for women. Do not flirt. Don’t be coy. Get angry. Openly oppose someone, particularly a man. Explain to him why he’s being stupid or cruel.

Congratulations! You are an unlikeable woman.

Since anything you do, as a woman – if it is not smiling, submitting your body to the gaze, cooking wholesome meals for the whole beloved fucking family, or rocking a small baby//kitten//boyfriend to warm cozy somnolence against your milky bosom – will be held against you as a threatening and highly suspect undertaking, you are already at a disadvantage, with regards to likeability, if you are a woman artist, in other words a woman so unladylike as to actively attempt to do something, in this case: create art. If your aim is to remain likeable whilst being a woman artist, you’d best be prepared to spend a solid chunk of your time apologizing for yourself. A steady stream of apologies may be sufficient to console those confused by your being a woman, doing a thing. Apologies can be distributed in a variety of forms: giggling, nervous smiles, the deferential body language of shrinking oneself to occupy as microscopic a space as possible, cheerfulness, exceptional personal grooming (see: Beauty), self-denigration, and/or actual verbal apologies. Verbal apology is a timeless way to apologize for being a woman, doing a thing, because there is no limit to the things you can apologize for. The possibilities are endless. Whenever you do something, just to be safe, say you’re sorry for doing it. Be sure to articulate your self-doubt, conceal any confidence you might have in yourself or your artwork; if you’re going to talk about your work, adopt a diffident tone. Apologize, after you’ve spoken, for taking up the listener’s time. You can also mitigate the discomfort induced by this predicament of your being a woman, doing a thing (art), by carefully aligning your artistic persona and/or work with that which, unlike doing a thing, is accepted as womanly. Dress up in stylish ensembles when you attend art events. Take a picture of yourself in a bra and put it on the Internet alongside some of your art. This will make it easier to swallow; people will like you more, I guarantee it. Deal in feelings, not ideas. Appeal to the predatory voyeurism of your audience, who desire to consume you, exposed, as a woman, by peppering your work with details about your personal history, particularly your sex life. People, particularly men, will be interested, riled though they may be by the notion of a woman artist. Create work that is Pleasant, Pretty, Whimsical, Cute, or Titillating. Make reference to men’s work, to display due reverence for your fathers and intimate you know a thing or two about Real Art, meaning: men’s art. Follow these basic guidelines and there is some hope you’ll manage to be both a woman artist and likeable.

If you are a woman, and an artist, and a feminist, you have close to zero chance of being likeable. As a feminist, you stand with women, immovably, and you stand against that which harms women. Since taking a stand of any kind erects an obstacle on the road to likeability, as a feminist you’ve made a terrible error before we’ve even gotten to the crux of the issue: your allegiance to women, who are not men. As a woman, it is your social role, your duty, to serve men. Choosing to serve women, or yourself as a woman, above men is patently unlikeable. Worse, if you’re against that which harms women, you will often find yourself posed against men, as it is men who are responsible for much of the harm done to women all over the world. Saying that this is so – that men harm women – is likely to make the majority of men uncomfortable, as well as many women more likeable than yourself, who through their likeability have won (at least temporarily) men’s material//psychological support, who are, as a consequence, unwilling to lose the support on which they’ve come to depend, and thus have a stake in men’s comfort. You can try clinging to some modicum of likeability by being beautiful or coquettish or droll, appealing to voyeurism by operating in the confessional mode or playing along nicely with your woman’s role as the heart, not the mind, of the body politic by emphasizing your feelings over your feminist analysis, but in spite of your best efforts your chances of being liked are slim. You will be hamstringed by your inability to fall back on the definitive likeability trick: apologizing for oneself, for existing, as a woman. Because being a feminist is being a woman, existing, doing a thing, for other women, in opposition to those who hurt women, unapologetically. If you have any authentic investment in feminism, you know you cannot apologize for yourself as a feminist, or as a woman; to do so is counter-feminist. If your goal as a feminist woman artist is to be likeable, you are shit out of luck.

It is the easiest thing in the world to be unlikeable, as a woman artist, also a feminist. But if you are an unlikeable woman and a feminist, it is exceedingly difficult to exist, as an artist. The Arts as a social arena is as any other, wherein success is contingent upon one’s willingness//capacity to mix-n-mingle and sell oneself. The expectations for women are also as undermining of personal dignity in The Arts as they are anywhere else: likeability is critical. Mixing-n-mingling, as a woman, is comprised of a carefully cultivated amalgam of flirtation, performative eroticism, bland niceness, unquestioning reverence for established Great Male Artists, and explicit or implicit apologies for one’s own existence. As a feminist, this is not unlike letting a rat idle on your wrist chewing unhurriedly through your skin and then your veins until there is blood everywhere and eventually you’ll die, you feel it coming, you’re dying. Sadly, however, if you do not consent to mix-n-mingle as per conventions, no one will like you, no one will champion your art, and eventually you’ll die; you’ll be alone, no one having ever seen your work, which may or may not be less mediocre than other work made by people better at mixing-n-mingling than you were, prior to your death of aloneness. This will suck. But it would not suck less to mind your P’s & Q’s, feeling the scrape of your principles as they were chafed away to grit. If instead of smiling and being the Girl They’ll Like, as a woman, you hiss, cease sucking up to the boys//men, stop curtsying before the Fine Arts Phallus, rip up the picture of your bra you’d been passing out as a business card and present instead a considered analysis of the garbage nature of the party, focusing on the barely concealed sexism and the fact that any number of the wealthy white men all these nicely dressed, sophisticated people are there to celebrate are known rapists, then leave, you will not have a career. Men still own the resources you need to put your work into the world and they will not grant you access if you do not toe the likeability line. They will not offer you gallery space, they will not write about your show, they will not publish your poetry. As a woman artist, your choices are: be good to men, in word and deed, or accept invisibility. Either way you’re fucked, but at least in choosing the latter what’s fucking you will be your own integrity, not some smug creep whose art is shittier than yours. If you think you’ll be able to turn to women for sanctuary and support, be warned: women as well as men will recoil from your unlikeable person. They won’t want to be seen with you, because you are poison; the men don’t like you and the women realize they need the men. Having accepted mildness and people-pleasing as virtue, they too will try to coerce you into becoming a Nice Lady.

As an unlikeable woman artist, also a feminist, a male publisher will solicit your work, you’ll send it to him; in return, he will begin writing you emails bragging about going down on menstruating women and asking about your breakfast preferences. You will regret having sent your work to him, letting him feature it in his publication—you are now associated with this man. You will promise yourself to be more careful next time about trusting a man’s intentions. You will worry every time you consider submitting work to a man that he will use the power he has to publish or not publish your work to entrap you in some vomitous sexualized interaction. You will stop sending work to men. You cannot have a career without them.

As an unlikeable woman artist, also a feminist, you will challenge a male’s patriarchal assumptions, this person will be unable to withstand sharing space with you any longer, and women you’ve stood beside will not stand by you, because you were being “aggressive” and not-very-nice to challenge the male, to make him uncomfortable with the inappropriate force of your selfhood. If you were a proper woman, you wouldn’t think so goddamned hard, or have the audacity to put words to your thoughts, and utter them. Whatever support you’d scrounged up for your work will be rescinded. You will be chastened, reminded to prioritize the feelings of others, ostracized. You will not be able to continue with your work.

Striving to place what you make somewhere someone can see it, you will encounter men who reduce you to an art-flavored fuckable nothing and women who shut you out for the meanness implied in your resistance to being one more congenial female, or fuckable nothing. Haven’t you learned you’re supposed to beg? You don’t know your place, so there is no place for you. It will be exhausting, as a woman artist, to continue, predicting rejection, anticipating the penalties it is inevitable your noncompliance will invite. Social deaths. Locked doors. You will extract no satisfaction from being hated. It is painful to be disliked. It is a more fatal injury by far to be liked, as a woman, as an artist, as a feminist, for betraying oneself, for giving in.

If I am being honest: there is a powerful impulse writhing within my chest to apologize for everything I have written. But I am not actually sorry. I just want you to like me. Fuck it.

I WENT TO A SHOW: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

                                            Nick Cave in Wings of Desire, 1987

There is a photograph of Nick Cave in which he is a young man hunched over halfway to standing in the small room his occupancy overwhelms, the ceiling too low or his body too long for him to stand upright; the length of him unwieldy in this space cants forward, one hand where the white wall bends into the whiteness of ceiling, the other hand presses against his knee to hold crooked the weight of the bony plate of his chest, his concave abdomen, as if he were midway through lurching an exit from this room now invaded by another, whoever has come to take his picture. This room is windowless; in place of windows pages of text are taped to the walls, handwritten scrawl on sheets of typewriter paper and pages torn from books, busy with underlining; in one corner a stack of books towers precariously; a chaos of strewn books and papers covers the floor. Three cuts of long black hair hang in coils from an exposed pipe. This room that contains the young man is not like a room in which a human being is meant to live; it is a diorama, a tableau, like a habitat someone built to house a taxidermied animal in a museum. The animal is Nick Cave. His limbs the longest possible and all sinew, his nocturnal pallor, his mass of dark hair disheveled and spidering greasy over eyes shadow-rimmed beneath the black slashed arches of his brows, something primal in the thick-boned extremity of that browline, the jut of his jaw, the nightmare lushness of his mouth, wet and sullen and jarring, how his lips parted the surrounding gauntness. This man an animal like Death born in boy-form, brutish and dissolute and dressed in black jeans, ripped denim iest, white wife-beater like the freak runaway son of some disintegrated blue collar home, a suburb lost to the desert now ruins the dust will bury: I saw his photograph when I was young, I saw him as the brooding tenant of a white crypt of a room crowded with words, he lived holed up with heaps of books but he was not bookish, as in incorporeal: he was physical intensity’s limit realized in bone and hair, smoldering with the silken night-black currents of ash I imagined must be his body’s substance. I thought the books he read must radiate the scent of sweat. Pages stained by bloodied fingertips. I saw this photograph of this man when I was young and my heart slammed hard into my mouth and stayed there, fattening on my tongue, unshakeable; I gagged on it. This was the man I wanted to become, but I was not a man. I could not be him. This was the man I would permit to devour me.

Nick Cave is a man I have loved.

I loved him, his beauty was violence. I was destroyed by it: in the video for his cover of Elvis’s “In the Ghetto,” he staggers, listing towards collapse, in his jacket with its sequined lapels, he is taller than anyone, how could he be human and be as tall as that, with his eyes glowing like that, pale bluish, tinged greenish, glassy, unfocused in the bright light like something unfamiliar, he runs his hand through his black hair framed in a halo of blue smoke, avoids eye contact—I watched this video and I felt sick with wanting, clamped my thighs together more tightly to quell the sickness that shuddered through them. The most conspicuous piece of décor in my bedroom when I was a 15-year-old child was an enormous poster of Nick Cave. His eyes turned heavenwards. From whence he had descended: Milton’s Satan, or an Evil Angel, stumbled out of Baudelaire. He who haunted the lakes of my blood. And I was a loser girl in the dregs of black stockings, more holes than nylon, determined to get myself killed one way or another, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ Tender Prey playing loud in the car, my mother frowning as the man snarled, “I come a death’s-head in your frock” while I grinned inwardly at the idea of this flawless display of affection, or what I counted for affection then. My harshest longing went to Nick Cave as he was during the Birthday Party era, squawking “BITE!” in the voice of heavy thrash, the song’s tachycardic din assaultive, the man inhuman, and I was undone.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds played the Wang Theatre in Boston on Saturday, June 10. I was there; I could not stop myself from going, hard as I tried to convince myself that my conscious resolve to renounce the Nick Cave imaginary – a universe of murdered women, murderous men, romanticized carnal cruelty, and desolate, tortured, hopeless eroticism – was enough to dissipate an adoration endured for over a decade. I told myself, you are not who you once were, you do not wallow in men’s violence against you now, you do not want this, you cannot go see Nick Cave, he is bad for you. It was not enough. I wanted to see Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, badly. I bought my ticket, I went; as if I were a teenager desiring attention again I even dressed up: black silk kimono, black satin slip, bone baubles and the bat earring, black hair braided, lips blood-claret. I felt my choice to go to the show and my preparations for it as symptomatic of reversion, as if I were betraying myself, so mortifying, like the shock of guilt that stabbed into me when I admitted to my friend I was going to see Nick Cave and they exclaimed, “Oh, no…”, inciting an angry eagerness in me to explain away such an obvious transgression of my principles, but I couldn’t. There was no justifying my undying love for this egoistic man with his celebrated oeuvre of alternately thuggishly misogynist and reverentially misogynist sex-murder ballads. I thought of my friend’s “Oh, no…” again when the Bad Seeds came on stage, a bunch of middle-aged white men, self-satisfied, men in expensive shoes, expensive jackets, confident of their place in this world, which is theirs, which is not mine. I was also reminded of a profile of Nick Cave I read in the New York Times several years ago, wherein the male NYT writer, Nick Cave, and Bad Seeds’ member Warren Ellis were reflecting on how Cave writes for women, with a woman’s voice at heart—an awe-inspiring exhibition of bullshit. I sat back in my seat in the opulent gold-and-coral theatre and wondered how I had allowed myself to pay to see these Men. Then Nick Cave came out.  Continue reading “I WENT TO A SHOW: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds”

The Misandrists (2017)

The feminist radicals of ‘The Misandrists’ pose in the afterglow of a revolutionary pillow fight. They’ve done good work tonight. The patriarchy shall crumble. 

A misandrist is a person who hates men or a person perceived to hate men; usually it is a man doing the perceiving, and the perceived man-hater is a woman. She may or may not but probably does not hate men though she almost definitely hates having to tell people that she does not hate men; she may have ceased to argue when people accuse her of hating men, a refusal indicating to her accusers that she does, after all, hate men. She probably does not hate men but she does hate male power, or the machinations of male-dominated society, and also hates what men do to women within such a society, what male power is succored by men doing to women, like raping beating selling murdering enslaving them. The misandrist is open about hating patriarchy and its consequences for women, as she is open about her certainty that social transformation is the solution. She is a feminist. But because the mind stymied by masculinist dualistic thought is bound to binary oppositions and cannot wrench itself beyond reductive EITHER/OR, because the feminist recognizes and reviles the harm done to women by men in a man-made culture, because she would make a better situation for women, the feminist – the misandrist – must therefore desire a worse situation for men; women rise up, men sink down; she must dream of women dragging men around on leashes, women punishing men, a cadre of Amazons giggling while waves of sludge drive the mewling weeping bodies of men into Boschian Hell-mouths.

She is angry, so she is mad.

Surely something horrible happened in the madwoman’s life for her to hate men viciously enough that she would challenge the rightness of male supremacy and her own inferior status, her subordinated selfhood, the tightness of the cage built around her life and the constant threat that tonight, tomorrow, this morning, in an hour: she could be raped. Or her sister could call her, tell her she was raped. Or her friend.

Every woman I love: a man has harmed her. You want me to tell you I do not hate men?

( i do not hate men i hate most men i hate hatred more i do not hate i hate i will not let myself hate you )

But if I hate men because men have hurt me, then I am discredited by my hatred, an enmity even the men acknowledge to be rightful, since they expect it: that one of them hurt me, so now I hate.

The misandrist’s hatred is irrational; it is not the outcome of careful thinking, study, observation, analysis, but has its basis in the blind rage that floods her female brain by constitution, and by the messy influence of hormones, erratic. Unstable. Once she was fucked over and now she is fucked up forever, wrathful in her post-fucked fever of man-hating. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Something else about the misandrist is that she is a lesbian. Lesbianism is one more way that she is sick. She hates men because she has a deviant aversion to the penis as an organ.

In high school I refused to speak to a boy who followed me around while I was working asking me pointless questions I suppose he thought were flirtatious which I cannot remember and did not answer because they were below both memory and response. I would turn my face to the pavement, walk by in silence without looking at him when he would shout my name. Later one of his friends spat on me and called me a lesbian. “She doesn’t like boys,” the boy who followed me said to another boy when I was forced to stand within earshot of them because we worked in the same building, “she’d rather eat pussy.” Several middle-aged women who were notary clerks with spiked red arches penciled over their sockets affecting eyebrows turned to squint at me, the pussy-eater. I hated men.

Yes, I do love women.

My mother does not know the word “misandrist” but that has not stopped her from believing I am one. My mother told me she did not understand me. I asked her what there was to understand.

Mother: This thing, your obsession, how you hate men. Were you raped?

My mother was not spontaneously disclosing previously unspoken concern over whether or not a man raped me, I knew. I did not answer her. Begrudgingly I began a mumbled delivery of my prepared speech on the subject of How I Do Not Hate Men, I Hate Male Supremacy as the Organizing Principle of Human Society, I Hate the Injuries Men Inflict Upon Women, I Hate Men’s Acceptance and Revelry in the Power They Are Granted Over Women, I Hate Male Supremacy Because I Place It at the Root of All Oppressive Systems, And I Am Opposed to All Oppressive Systems, I Am Committed to Their Unmaking, but my mother interrupted me: “I like men,” smirking, self-satisfied, as if her intact affinity for males were a prize I should envy. I congratulated her. I will not spend a single minute more of my life trying to convince anyone I do not hate men. At least I will not reek of pandering.

The misandrist is the feminist, pathologized and trivialized. “Misandrist” is the label invoked to slander her, implying she is damaged, unreasonable. The bitch is broken. She cannot be taken seriously; she is not a sensible woman—she’s a violent freak! she doesn’t like men! Continue reading “The Misandrists (2017)”

Makeup Cannot Unmake the Man, or: Sorry, Yr Shallow Playtime Politics Don’t Stop Men from Raping Women

Ben Hopkins, accused rapist, dazzles in blue princess sleeves and matching eyeshadow. Shocker! Neither overrode his patriarchally conditioned tendency toward sexual violence.

“The PWR BTTM Debacle Demonstrates Why Queer Politics Don’t Protect Women.” 

A very silly notion, very popular at the moment, is that a man in a dress is a friend to women. For this helpful contribution to mass brain-death, we can thank the mainstreaming of queer politics, which have entered popular culture with predictable ease, since substanceless and entirely in sympathy with the masculinist-capitalist love affair with hyper-individualism. The queer theory posit is that gender has little to do with the male-dominant social hierarchy of patriarchy, or the colonization of each individual’s consciousness in service of that hierarchy’s maintenance; it’s all a matter of how you accessorize, so if you’re quite unique and against the grain you can costume your way out of oppression, whether you were originally in the role of the oppressor or the oppressed. You, personally, can do this. The overarching oppressive structure shaping the material reality that has been and is inescapably the context for your existence, in which you were raised and from which you inherited your understanding of the world, may remain intact, but you cannot possibly be expected to concern yourself with something so depressing as reality. It’s not fun, not sexy, and the associated shopping opportunities are minimal. Here’s the new mantra: Don’t try to change society, just change your outfit.

A man, in order to demonstrate he is not one of these masculine brutes we’ve heard about but instead someone sensitive to women, need only apply a coating of mascara and espouse an affection for sequins. He smears some lipstick on his mouth so we can be assured he has renounced the “toxic” content of his manhood, e.g., a sense of entitlement to women’s bodies, an infatuation with sexual force and a willful disregard for the feelings of others. He has embraced “the feminine”: he is on women’s side! The logic proceeds: he must be “an ally,” he has great taste in crop-tops, he would never hurt a woman, have you seen his collection of platform heels?

Although it conveniently relieves one of the burden of social responsibility to imagine we might all overcome or at least opt out of the dominant paradigm by means of personal ornamentation, gender is not primarily a matter of surface signifiers and individual performance – hence an arena for carnivalesque free play – but instead must be understood as an instrument of patriarchal subjugation, an ideology that encodes into human subjects varying behaviors and conventions of being//thinking according to their sex and the role their sex allots them within the social order, to ensure that each individual will be involved in the reproduction of the sex caste system, Men over Women.

PWR BTTM singer Ben Hopkins is a man whose queer image and all-important identity entails makeup and glitter stars and cute dresses, the superficial signs of “the feminine” (which is itself a patriarchal artifact having nothing to do with women as beings and everything to do with women as men’s inferiors within patriarchy). Ben Hopkins is also a man who insulted, sexually harassed, and raped women. The “feminine” glitter stars Hopkins wore did not preclude the male abusiveness Hopkins practiced, an apparent truth that queer politics cannot sufficiently address, in the same way that a superficial remedy cannot treat a deep wound. Paste the sparkliest  band-aid on my slashed wrist and I’m still hemorrhaging. A more radical solution is required: we actually have to think (unfun as it may be) – rigorously and without self-indulgence – about what gender is, how it works, rather than merely what gender looks like. As the author of the article linked above, Jen Izaakson, writes, “Because gender is what naturalizes…male dominance and entitlement, gender non-conformity actually means pushing back against gendered power relations in concrete ways.” It does not mean making a fashion statement. Put simply, a man in a dress is no friend of women until he proves he’s not the same asshole he was when he was wearing ripped jeans and buffalo check.

How to See David Salle

Epaulettes for Walt Kuhn, 1987. How I See It: Two women are naked, presenting their asses, though perhaps not knowingly; they are standing on their heads, photographed from above. I do not see their faces. Their legs are cut off. A cow viewed from behind floats in an ochre blob over the second naked woman’s thighs; the cow’s ass is the woman’s ass; the woman is the cow. The third woman is naked from the waist down but wears a military band jacket. I see her mouth, an orifice, but not her eyes; her face is turned away from me. Her hands on her hips, her breasts pitched forward: a pose that burlesques a soldierly boldness even she seems to recognize is merely a bad joke when she’s the one wearing it. A chain like a leash hangs a loop to frame the delta of her pubic hair. A dead fish gapes in rigor, bedded in its oozes. Fish smell. Crabs, crabs’ claws, scuttling.

Eons ago, back in October 2016, the painter David Salle put out a book, How to See: Looking, Talking, and Thinking About Art. It did not enter my consciousness that this book existed until February, when I saw it displayed on the New Non-Fiction shelf at the library where I work, and I thought to myself, oh, what an ugly book, noting with distaste the blobby, glibly ingratiating computer-simulated-magic-marker-fast-food-franchise-font used for the title, primary red and blue on acid white, the words out of order in service of a visual pun: 2. to, 1. How, 3. See. The author’s name in the same kitschy mass-market font, soft gray, smaller print, in the upper right, to the right of the title’s “to,” the placement conspicuous in its self-aware awkwardness.  Then I scowled, obliged to recall David Salle had not ceased to exist. I have not read his book and I do not intend to. I did read the publisher’s description – “Internationally renowned painter David Salle’s incisive essay collection illuminates the work of many influential artists of the twentieth century.” – and a review written in the New York Times: “It’s serious but never solemn, alert to pleasure, a boulevardier’s crisp stroll through the visual world.” A boulevardier, I confirmed, is a “a wealthy, fashionable socialite,” someone with the resources to spend a significant portion of his time ambling along boulevards, in that languorous Parisian way, preferably in a top coat, kidskin gloves. According to the Times, if you are grateful to be talked down to in “witty” and “sunny” tones by such a man as he heaps kudos on the art of other rich men, his upper-crust friends, you will enjoy How to See, especially if you are so grateful for a moment’s idyll in the dazzling headspace of the aristocrat as to overlook repetitiveness, shallow analysis, and lack of original insight. Isn’t it fascinating enough to learn that Urs Fischer sups daily on delicious organic fare come lunchtime? In which tell-all essay, one wonders, will we get the official scoop on Jeff Koons’ squash game? May the circle jerk never ever end. The review in the Times concludes that if you are the type of person to be impressed by David Salle and his in-crowd pals, you will be charmed by this book; the Times is impressed by David Salle, and charmed, hence you should be as well.

Salle, emblematic boy wonder of the 80s New York art world, won critical and financial success with a prodigious output of paintings characterized by a layering of miscellaneous visual debris – e.g. candlesticks, African masks, meat, mid-century-modern furniture, male poets’ names – over images of depersonalized naked women. They are iconic paintings, the encapsulation of the lingering, though now ebbing, postmodernist ethos of cool irony, smirking indifference, self-satisfied self-absorbed nihilism. Salle’s paintings were (and are still) lauded for how they interrogate meaning, which is to say, asserting that meaning is passé, so too truth, everything is equally meaningless, phony; the sophisticated choice is to forego the hopeless, childish search for meaning and dwell instead in superficiality and introspective masturbation. Salle’s paintings are alleged to be interesting precisely because they are meaningless; they elude meaning and thus provide critics and others with a stake in voluminous babbling over art much opportunity to grope prolix toward an analysis, with a concerted focus on the formal. Much has been written about Salle’s use of collage, juxtaposition and superimposition, appropriation, the politics of representation, his inversion or coy repudiation of “art’s rules”—therein is the inventiveness and allure of his work, to a certain set in any case. It is art about art, an elitist onanism which, upheld as an appropriate, even righteous, fixation, has the salutary effect of justifying the detachment of the elite from every reality outside their own cocktail party shrimp canapé existence. With your head up your ass you are saved from bearing witness to the suffering of others. Injustice is as meaningless as everything else.

Continue reading “How to See David Salle”

It’s Internat’l Women’s Day

Monique Wittig, Les Guérillères, 1969


// Andrea Dworkin, 1995 preface to Intercourse, 1987

Ana Mendieta, Silueta Series, 1973


// Kim Hyesoon, “A Death as a Theme for a Meal” from Mommy Must Be a Fountain of Feathers, 2008

Jenny Holzer, text from Lustmord, 1993

Shilling lingerie with the poetess (a profitable desecration)

The anguish of the world is on my tongue.
My bowl is filled to the brim with it; there is more than I can eat.
(Edna St. Vincent Millay, “The Anguish”)
It well may be that in a difficult hour, 
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release, 
Or nagged by want past resolution’s power, 
I might be driven to sell your love for peace, 
Or trade the memory of this night for food. 
It well may be. I do not think I would.
(Edna St. Vincent Millay, Sonnet XXX)

Edna St. Vincent Millay was a poet and playwright; in 1923, at 31, she won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, she was terrifically famous, and today hers is one of the few women’s names anyone can summon when asked to identify a female writer. When I think of Edna St. Vincent Millay, I think of delicate poems of longing, bucolic melancholia, the pains and pleasures of female desire in a phallocentric universe, the inescapable hours and years altering the green of spring’s bowers to ash on your palm, whose skin is fated to shrivel and dry to the bone, your bones washed bare on the shore of the endless sea and the small soft music of your life hung a coil of light from the crescent moon, as dusk settles, violet-streaked. I think perhaps of candles weeping their last tallow at 3am and fruit held in my mouth until it is liquid and I swallow it. I do not think of black lace lingerie. The memory of Millay does not rouse in me a ravenous appetite for new “undies” or satin robes. (“Undies”? I have not wanted “undies” since I was nine, but we’ll have to ignore the infantilizing language for now and move on.)

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So, when I noticed large photographs of Millay’s head floating around in the display window of the local lingerie boutique, her head taped to the neck-stumps of limbless mannequins dressed in lace maillots and peignoirs as if the boudoir-ready limbless mannequin were Millay herself, I was at first puzzled. For a fleeting moment I was a prey to my naivety and the connection between a bra sale and the poet eluded me. Although I have by no means read everything that Millay wrote, I’ve read enough to know that underthings were not a major motif in her work. She referenced ribbons in her hair and spoke archly of “pleasing lads” with such decor, but if she had ever penned an ode to the bralette, I missed it.

What I’d forgotten, for a moment, was that Edna St. Vincent Millay was a woman, and that womanhood alone is enough to convert the female artist into a lingerie boutique’s spokesmodel. In a patriarchal world, women are sex (Simone de Beauvoir said it and I’ll carry on saying it until it’s no longer true). The female artist is therefore an object of predominantly sexual interest; her flavor, as sex object, is “artistic.” If sexuality is a subject of her art, as it was for Millay, and which it will be for many women artists, because sexuality is inevitably central in the life of someone raised to incarnate sex, her course to the Sex Symbol pedestal will proceed all the more smoothly. In a capitalist world, sex is reduced to commodity, and sold to women, who are sex, as lingerie. Thus the tether that connects Woman Artist and Lingerie Model is a constant specter. A woman is a Woman no matter what else she may be and we all know what the world wants from her. It is charming enough if she makes art, if she has a talent, but that is not the core of her; at her core, she is sex. Our culture strips her, to delve to the core: we are to wonder what color panties the painter preferred, to gossip about under what conditions the poet lost her virginity, and did she wear silk stockings, and how many black rosettes crowned the curve of her breast.

I can only assume that it was women who decorated the window of a lingerie shop with a bevy of Edna St. Vincent Millay black lace sex mannequins. Women sell women lingerie: our conditioning is more effective if it is promoted as “women’s culture,” the influence of men rendered invisible. Much of the bullshit that degrades us we learn to do and to cherish from other women, who learned from other women, who learned from other women the terms of our lives within a male-ruled society. It is women who write romance novels and diet guides; it is our mothers who teach us to mind our manners. Where female genital mutilation is practiced, it is women who perform the cutting. Such is “cultural tradition”—but one is compelled to inquire: whose culture is it, at base? A woman may hold the blade, but who instructed her in the art of cutting? I assume that the women involved in the lingerie shop’s Millay display imagined they were paying tribute to the poet by offering discounts on their wares in her honor and proudly taping her head up in their window. And I assume, too, that they figured it would be a clever and unconventional way to sell women expensive sexual accessories, lending their store a certain artistic, pro-woman if not feminist mystique, for they were appreciating a brilliant and accomplished – not merely a beautiful – woman. This is a good marketing strategy; we fall for it again and again, because we want to be brilliant, certainly, but that alone does not fulfill us, for we know our true worth to be in beauty, desirability; we desire our brilliance to be what makes us beautiful: the poetry I write becomes an intellectual negligee I flaunt when I long for someone to love me. Just as I have sold myself short, as we sell ourselves short, as capitalist patriarchy has trained us to sell ourselves, the lingerie boutique sold Edna St. Vincent Millay: the Woman Artist as sexualized commodity, her image exploited to peddle sexualized commodities (bras and chemisettes) to women, so that we might venture bravely out into the world as sexualized commodities. It seems terribly cynical, yet it was not, or not consciously: I do not question that the lingerie-mongers were sincere in seeking to celebrate Millay, and their exploitation of her is all the more disturbing for their good intentions: it reflects a self-exploitation so engrained in us as women that we scarcely notice when we do it to other women. We have come to call this carving ourselves distorted into consumable objects on display “loving” ourselves. Yet I do not believe Millay would have been pleased by the “honor” of seeing herself so reduced. I believe she knew herself to be something more. I hope like hell she did, in any case, and I hope that someday we all may recapture that knowledge.

Xiu Xiu’s “I Luv Abortion” vs. My “I Love Abortion”

As my friend and I tottered through a snowstorm this weekend en route to a Planned Parenthood rally, the large “WOMEN DO NOT LIVE TO BREED” sign I carried easily seen from passing cars and by passersby marking us clear proponents of women’s authority to purge their//our bodies of undesired fetus-type parasites, I complained to him about many things (I am a woman lavish w/ complaint), including 1) the way that Nice Good Pro-Choice Liberals tiptoe around the issue of abortion even whilst defending it, as if the idea of a woman not wanting a baby and taking the necessary actions to preclude her having said baby left an unpleasant aftertaste in their Nice Good Pro-Choice Liberal mouths, and 2) the song “I Luv Abortion” by Xiu Xiu.

Regarding the former, there is a tendency in pro-choice rhetoric and narrative-shaping to focus on the services that Planned Parenthood provides besides abortions, i.e. pap smears, contraceptives, STD testing, and, when broaching abortion directly, to cushion the reference in the warm-n-fuzzy context of “My abortion made it possible for me to have lovely babies later, when I was ready to be a mum.” I recognize that there are many women for whom this is true; they had abortions when they weren’t ready to have babies and then later at some point they determined that they were ready, had their babies, and lived happily ever after, married to so-and-so, feeding babies apple pie and smiling more or less constantly. How nice for them. The problem is that this narrative of abortion-having-woman-later-becomes-a-loving-mother aims to counter the idea that women who have abortions are bad women because they don’t want babies by reassuring everyone that, no, no, they aren’t bad women, they do want babies, just not right this minute. Hold your horses, boys, and soon enough we’ll have some babies, we swear! Only some of us won’t. Some of us don’t want babies ever; some of us do not even like babies. Let’s say I dislike babies. Does that make me a bad and unnatural woman? Do I not get to have my abortion now because I am too mean and therefore must be set on the path to niceness by a life sentence of compulsory motherhood? If so, that baby is in trouble. I will swaddle it in my “PRO-ABORTION NON-BREEDER” shirt; it will have to live under my desk. I’ll forget to feed it.

Unless they’re actually trying to reinforce the male supremacist conceit that women’s purpose is to get fucked and eject men’s heirs, reproductive freedom campaigners ought reconsider defending abortion with an implicit promise of prospective love-and-daisies maternity. Instead, we could yell “I LOVE ABORTION” and refuse to be ashamed for desiring to be more than vessels//caretakers for squirmy interlopers.

I love abortion. It saves the lives of women and girls everywhere in the world. I love abortion. Securing bodily sovereignty is a prerequisite for women’s revolt against patriarchy. I love abortion. Never for any reason do I want to have a baby. Abortion?? Yes!! Love it. 

There are numerous compelling reasons to love abortion, none of which are mentioned in Xiu Xiu’s song “I Luv Abortion” (Always, 2012). Singer-songwriter Jamie Stewart has said that he wrote the song as a tribute to his friend who got pregnant and chose to abort as a teenager, and that he meant for it to be a pro-choice response to the “U.S. right wing.” Yet its believability as pro-abortion anthem is undermined by the ghastly gross-out sorrow-gore sensationalism of Stewart’s lyrics, as in the yelped chorus:

When I look at my thighs, I see death // It is great // I love abortion // When I look at my thighs, I see death // It is rad // I love abortion // You are too good for this life! 

Going by the above, it would seem that the girl Stewart proposes to channel senses her abortion as something grotesque, is flippant about that grotesqueness, and yet, flippancy aside, loves her aborted child. In further misguided lockstep with the mainstream pro-choice party line Stewart sings, “When the time is right, I will love you like I should,” implying that the abortion-having girl will, sometime down the road, convert to a state-sanctioned Doting Mum. Somehow with all this Stewart manages to cast abortion as both morbid and disgusting — “the rose elf is stabbed, the rose goblin is vacuumed o.u.t. out!” — and as politically de-fanged, since the song anticipates the girl’s redemption by eventual childbirth (“when the time is right, come back come back!”).

Stewart does not love abortion; he cannot write convincingly about loving it because he wouldn’t know how to love it—he is not a woman, he has never lived through a pregnancy scare; he does not know what it’s like to sense your life warping and fading out of your control due to the possibility of another human being growing inside of your body. He has never had to think about getting an abortion; he has never had to have an abortion. He cannot love abortion because it is not real to him and so the song he writes about “luv-ing it” defaults to being not so much about loving abortion as about loving the symbolism of it, as a hot red-dark juiciest form of female suffering. Xiu Xiu’s signature gimmick — which I am sometimes a sucker for; the reason I had the song in mind to begin with is that I’ve relapsed into Xiu Xiu bingeing lately — is affective dress-up in women’s pain and “I Luv Abortion” is a choice example of why this roleplaying is an exploitation, not an expression of solidarity. In hammy agony the man says, “Look at me, I’m a girl, I hurt,” or he hurts himself and claims he is getting in touch with his “feminine side”; in so doing the man affirms that it is women’s destiny to suffer, that masochism is in our nature. He identifies with us, because we are the suffering class, and sometimes he too is in pain. Paint his mouth pink, the boy aches!

Or: he felt pretty bad one time and he imagines it might have been sort of what it might possibly be like kind of to get an abortion, maybe?

But maybe abortion needn’t feel bad at all, and maybe that’s what is most important to say, in its defense: abortion is a positive possibility and should be a positive experience. It is only painful in a woman-hating society that insists women who won’t sacrifice our lives to others – children, men – are villains and shames us for electing instead to live as we please, as if our bodies were our own.

As we walked through the snow to the Planned Parenthood rally, both of us freezing, my backpack plaqued with ice, I complained to my friend that Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart was not qualified to sing about a woman’s experience of having an abortion, that it was his confidence in his fitness to articulate such a patently female experience that doomed “I Luv Abortion” to its fate as miscarriage, tasteless and counterproductive. Screeching about the grimness of abortion and how it makes of the female body a House of Death may satisfy your lust for abjection, but don’t insult us pretending it’s advocacy for women’s reproductive freedom, Xiu Xiu. I love abortion more than you ever could.