Wednesday, February 16, 2011

King Kong Theory by Virginie Despentes

On recommendation of both Kanako and Tobi I read this book. As of late with the mass media look back at riot grrl I've been wondering what feminism in punk rock is today. Does it exist? Is there a purpose? What is it's function? Is there a cohesive movement?

Judging by critics and sound bites this seems to be being hailed as the new punk feminism. It's got some good points, it's got some bullshit. Through the intro and first chapter I hated it. The writing struck me as that of a rebellious teenager trying to go for ultimate shock value, the content read like an overly wordy rip off of the SCUM Manifesto.

The second chapter deals with rape. This is the point where I started understanding the book. Despentes brings about several points: we are at our most feminine when being raped, rape is thought of as this huge life shattering thing that we are powerless against, men are really good at excusing themselves out of being rapists. There were other themes but these are the ones that stood out to me, especially the idea that rape is this huge life shattering thing that we are powerless against. As in the book, I am in no way trying to diminish the effect of rape on our lives, but it made me think of something a friend once said "women get raped, then they get over it". Casting rape as this huge horrible unimaginable thing not only prevents us from talking about it, but prevents survivors as permanently damaged creatures, rapists as horrible monsters you can spot from far away, and streets as places that innocent young girls shouldn't tread. At one point in the book Despentes talks about after getting raped while hitchhiking she continued to hitchhike. If she didn't continue to hitchhike she would have stayed at home, scared and closed off from existing in the world - this is such a hugely important point - giving into the fear of rape, whether that it might happen or might happen again - makes women cease to exist.

The rest of the book seemed to wander back into the same territory as the beginning of the book. A lot of it was also incredibly heteronormative, which at this point with the intermingling of feminist and queer theory seems like an outdated path to take. There seems to be a lot of time taken casting femme girls into a shameful light, which really just seems kind of juvenile to do. Though there are femme girls out there that seem so complacent that I do wonder if they've ever had a critical thought in their life - to sit around and say that femme girls=useless fucked up enemies, which is what she seemed to be implying a good amount of the time is pretty fucked. To imply that somehow being a femme girl myself somehow ousts me from outsider status and dumps squarely into playing the game of normal society is pretty absurd.

Then the worst of it reared it's head at the end. Despentes wraps up the book by talking about becoming a figure in mass media through her banned movie Baise Moi and how because of it she temporarily became more of a feminine woman and became quieter and more complacent - and that her savior out of this was Courtney Love? Don't get me wrong, as a teenager Love was somebody I looked up to in a way (I was more into Kat Bjelland) but keep in mind, I was 13 and it was 1995. If anything Courtney Love demonstrates the villanization you come into as a woman in the spotlight, I wouldn't really see her as someone who exists as both a more masculine leaning female and respected in media. Despentes goes on to end the book with some gender role switching - for example taking a break up letter by Antonin Artaud and replacing all uses of "woman" with "man". I really hate this strategy of switching genders to prove points because it doesn't make sense, it completely denies the power dynamics of society.

All and all, if I had this to read when I was 15 it would have blown my fucking mind, and there were parts that did blow my mind now. Even though there are things in this book that wander into juvenile shock rock and its overall tendency towards heteronormity, even though there were multiple times I wanted to throw this book against the wall, I am glad that this voice exists. Even though I feel her writing has a tendency to shock to be shocking rather than prove a point that anger is real and not surprising that it exists and I am glad it's articulated in some way. The majority of the bare bones ideas in this book are really good, I hope people can discover them.