Saturday, April 17, 2010

King Kong Theory - book review

A short read, and I recommend it - an interesting view on rape, pornography, prostitution, and gender roles from a woman who has had experience with all of these. Her name is Virginie Despentes, and she writes "as one of the leftovers, one of those weirdos, the ones who shave their heads, those who don't know how to dress, those who worry that they stink...", and for "men who don't want to protect, men who would like to be protective but don't know where to start, men who don't know how to fight, those who cry easily...." The translation from the French was obviously done by a Brit, where "pissed" means "drunk" rather than "angry", and "fag" means "cigarette".

She was raped by three men while she was hitchhiking with another woman. Part of her concern afterward was how unmentionable it was:
The few times - mostly very pissed - when I have wanted to tell this story, have I used the word? Never. The few times I have attempted to talk about it, I'd skirted around the word "rape": "assaulted", "mixed up", "in a tight corner", "hassled"....whatever. As long as the aggression is not called "rape", the attack loses its specificity, can be compared with other attacks, like getting mugged, picked up by the cops, held for questioning, beaten. This short-sighted strategy does have advantages, because as soon as you name your rape as a rape, the women-controlling mechanisms suddenly swing into action: do you want everyone to know what happened to you? Do you want everyone to see you as a woman who has been subject to that? And in any case you must be a total slut to have escaped alive. Any woman who values her dignity would rather die.

Beyond the actual fact of the rape, she felt oppressed because she felt that society would place a greater importance on "the thrusts of those three idiots" than on her fear for her very survival. Not until four years later, when she read an interview with Camille Paglia, did she appreciate her own strength. She doesn't remember the exact words, but Paglia said something like "It's an inevitable danger, a danger that women need to take into account and run the risk of encountering, if they want to leave their homes and move around freely. If it happens to you then pick yourself up, dust yourself down and move on. If that's too scary for you, then you'd better stay at home with Mummy and manicure your nails." Her reaction was negative at first, but when it sunk in, "For the first time, someone was valuing the ability to get over it, instead of lying down obligingly in the anthology of trauma. Someone was devaluing rape, its impact and consequences. This did not invalidate any part of what happened, or efface anything of what we learnt that night."

Later she worked for a while as a prostitute, which she rated as an overall positive experience - the biggest negatives were the expectation of society: "I am not trying to argue that in any conditions, and for any woman, this kind of work is innocuous. But with the modern-day economic world being what it is - cold and pitiless warfare - banning the practice of prostitution within an appropriate legal framework is actively preventing the female class from making a decent living and turning a profit from its very stigmatisation."

Her take on pornography is also pro-sex and anti-society: "Pornography hits the blind corner of reason. It directly addresses our primitive fantasies, bypassing words and thought, The hard-on or wetness comes first; wondering why follows on behind. Self-censorship reactions are shaken. Porn images don't give us any choice: here's what turns you on, here's what makes you respond. Porn shows us the buttons to press to turn ourselves on. And that is porn's greatest strength, its almost mystical dimension. And also what literally horrifies the anti-porn crusaders. They reject being told directly about their own desire, reject being made to know things about themselves that they have chosen to suppress and ignore."

While I don't always agree with her beliefs (she ascribes almost all our constraints to our society, and I believe that there is a biological component to all this that she seems to reject), she is willing to look at facts and feelings straight on. An honest look like that is worth sharing.

And if you buy it from this link, I'd actually earn a few pennies:

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