Public Sex of Feminine

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This is sort of like old-Internet news, and I don’t actually have too much to add, but an author who calls herself Marie Calloway published an autobiographical story on Muumuu House; the piece is about her soliciting sex from a famous Internet writer — who, for the sake of her story, has been renamed “Adrian Brody.” (You can read the 1,500 word story here). There has been a lot of back and forth about it, including a piece in The New York Observer, a response by Roxanne Gay on html giant and another response by Kate Zambreno on her blog, francesfarmerismysister (from which I gleaned the following excerpt):

One of the major strands around Marie Calloway, brought up in the Observer piece, is whether Marie Calloway is a feminist, whether her writing is feminist. This should not be the point. It does not matter whether the story is feminist, whether the writer is feminist. She should not have to shoulder that burden, while writing, to speak for others, to try to pretend empowerment. What I liked about the story – and if I hadn’t said so – I really liked it, so much so that I’m surprised by its wholesale dismissal   – was how flawed and vain and messy and toxic, yet totally self-aware, the character is.  No the story’s not perfect, yes, it could be edited , but I liked the vernacular it was written in, and I wasn’t bored,  or if I was bored, I think tedium was kind of the point, an atmospheric decision. I think the character was “bored and vapid,” more than the story was, and I think there’s some commentary there, the beauty stuff, the routine sex going through the cum-on-my-face rituals, I think the tedium conjured was actually very successful to the piece.  In terms of style, there did seem to be some sort of Tao Lin-mimicry, a flatness that I didn’t think benefited the story,  Tao Lin also like this god-figure looming above the story, Marie’s story, her character’s story, like this Marxist Internet intellectual, just like Ford Madox Ford edited and shaped Jean Rhys’s diaries (but she’s a young, obviously talented and brave writer. Let her find her own voice, however she must). It seems to me that Marie’s story could be read in a way as a take down, or discourse, about Marxism,  which is a conversational strand in the piece, at one point in the story Marie asks Adrien whether he’s an idealist or a materialist, and he notes that she’s definitely a materialist, because she’s a Marxist.

The whole thing reminded me of  an essay I wrote  about Laurel Nakadata — since the seeming controversy has to do with the blurry lines between empowerment and objectification and agency, trying to isolate and quantify the power dynamics.

What is difficult about [Laurel Nakadat's] work is the way it engages the subject of girl-ness, not girls as a stage in life but as it is portrayed culturally through the lens of American Apparel and Brittany Spears. It’s a highly sexualized genre—something that remains taboo while being pointed, poked and exploited. Good Morning Sunshine (2009) further delves into the subject. Here, Nakadate is behind the camera, out of view; “‘We’—that is, the camera—enter a young teenage girl’s bedroom,” on three occasions. Each room belongs to a different girl. Nakadate coaxes them awake, gently. She asks them how they slept, and not-so-slowly tries to convince them to get undressed. “Let me see your feet,” she begins. “Can you take off your socks for me?” Peppering these requests with honey-dripped compliments, “You’re so pretty,” the young women seem uncomfortably complying. This project further informs Nakadate’s relationship to the camera, her understanding of its power and how to illustrate one extreme of its mechanics. Do we imagine Dov Charney to behave any differently? What is our responsibility as consumers in that equation?

Of course that question comes to me again and again. Having seen a number of movies this summer and noted the lack of female protagnists (here’s a pretty awesome conversation about The Smurfs/Super8), picked up on the on-going project of Lady Drawers, read aboutdisheartening DC Comic conferences  and, maybe above all else, read the curiously aggressive comment threads that follow those posts–it was a relief to feel submerged in a body of work that dealt directly with the gender binary. Here too, I feel it’s worth noting that Nakadate’s work is about a male/female world–distinctions that are becoming more and more porous as our expectations of gender and its performance grow more complex and conveluted. “The traditional Oedipal backstory is grainy at best; we are copies of copies of copies of copies of Oedipus’ children. Copies repeat. Copies degrade. Copies transform.” (Ken Corbett, from his book Boyhoods: Rethinking Masculinities).

 

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