KING KONG THEORY by Virginie Despentes
This book is one woman’s story and thoughts on how her life and her ideas on the Female Human Condition, has been shaped by her experiences of sex, rape, prostitution and working in the porn industry. As such, it is a personal story, not an academic treatise for feminist political debate. Although much may be lost in translation from French, reading it to me, felt like sitting down with a woman friend to just simply listen to her talk about her life, the universe and everything, including various side-tracks and tangents. Sometimes nodding along, sometimes frowning, but fully engaged from start to finish.
Virginia Despentes became moderately famous in Europe around 2000, with the release of her rape-revenge fantasy ‘girl-buddy’ film Baise-Moi based on her book of the same name. It is classic French film noir in its dark-side themes around sexual violence, but also weaves in threads of the heart of female friendship, in its portrayal of the bonding between the two women.
Her book starts with a chapter titled A Gun For Every Girl, and speaking as a girl who grew up in the 70s and came-of-age in the late 80s, from a working-class French background. Virginia as a young woman took many things about women’s lives for granted as she says she grew up with the idea that girls were as clever as boys, and:
“I wore short skirts without anyone … worrying about it…I started taking the Pill at fourteen with no hassle…. I had sex as soon as I could…. I had always known I would work, that I didn’t have to put up with a man just because he was paying the rent….. I opened a bank account….. with no awareness of belonging to the very first generation of women able to do this in France…..I slept with hundreds of men without getting pregnant, and anyway I knew where to get an abortion without anyone’s permission and without putting my life at risk… I became a prostitute and walked the streets ….. owing no-one an explanation, and I kept, and spent, every penny I earned. I hitchhiked, I was raped, I hitchhiked again. ….. For years I was far from being a feminist, not out of a lack…. of awareness, but because for a long time the fact of being a woman, had not constrained me….”
She believes the explosion of ‘hooker-chic’ into the 1990s in contemporary western culture, is a “way of apologising, or reassuring men” that despite women’s pseudo-legalised independence, they will always “choose” to please men first. Women keep sending men the reassuring message “Don’t be afraid of us”:
“Access to traditional male power brings with it, the fear of reprisal. Since time immemorial, leaving the cage has been brutally punished………
What has seeped into our very bones is the idea that our independence is harmful…… it is essential that women feel like failures.”
In the relating of her story of prostitution, Virginie likens it to being on hard drugs:
Virginie’s stories of rape, and her insights into men’s behaviour are intriguing for their In-Your-Face realism, but overlaid with a lack of rage or emotional sensationalism in the telling. In almost a matter-of-fact conversational manner, she quietly tells men, (and women), her blunt truth in not just how gang-rape feels, but also how it is perceived by a neutral observer, not just the victim. For she sees their behaviour as rooted in communal self-love – in gang-rape, they get to watch each other and reaffirm their only genuine true love, for each other.
With the release of Baise-Moi, she was shot into the public gaze, and her treatment by the press, the middle-class trendy cliques of film critics, the academia and the general public, mirror her previous life experiences.
Nonetheless, despite her amazing insights into sexual politics from deeply painful personal (and public) experience, as well as incredible intelligence and grace in telling her story, Virginie is neither an abolitionist, nor an apologist for the sex industries or rape-culture which supports it. Her personal stories, towards the end, read to me, of reaching a point of resigned acceptance of the status quo, of emotional and psychological exhaustion, a sense of having moved far beyond rage, or of reluctant fatalism:
“In women’s literature, examples of insolence or hostility towards men are extremely rare. Censored. I come from the sex which doesn’t even have the right to be disgruntled. Colette, Duras, Beavoir, Yourcenar, Sagan – a whole history of female writers who all took care to prove their harmlessness, to reassure men, to beg pardon for the act of writing by repeating how much they love, respect and cherish men, and most of all don’t want – …. to create too much trouble. Because, as we all know, if you don’t reassure men, the female pack will sort you out…. I am of this sex, the one which must keep quiet, which is kept quiet. And which must take it gracefully. Otherwise, you’re wiped out. ……. And if women want to survive, they have to learn to respect this order of things. …..
Turning in the next to last pages to speak directly to men in general:
… The weaker sex – that has always been a joke. You men can be as patronising as you like when you see Black women shaking their ass in 50 cent videos; you can pity them ….. But they are the daughters of slaves, they have worked like men, they have been beaten like men…….. (but ).. impregnated against their will like women, raped like women and …. left to raise their kids alone, or have them removed from their mothers….. And they survived. What women have endured is…… Extraordinarily violent.
Hence this simple suggestion: you can all go and get fucked, with your condescension towards us, your ridiculous shows of group strength, and of limited protection, and your manipulative whining about how hard it is to be a guy around emancipated women. What is really hard is actually to be a woman and to have to listen to your shit.”
Although I may be alone in this, and hearing mostly what I wish to hear –I perceived a loud and strong irony in Virginie’s final paragraphs, which appear to be classic liberal feminist apologist and male-inclusive rhetoric, in calling feminism a ‘collective adventure’, for women, men and everyone else ♀