“Bad, gauche and unpalatable:” Thoughts on that one VICE piece

Another joint post with the inimitable Hypotaxis:


So. I couldn’t let this one go. VICE, a men’s magazine (technically not, but totally yes), gave Paris Lees a forum this week to carry on about how Feminism is THE WORST EVER because it doesn’t organize itself around Paris Lees’ right to post racy pictures on Instagram or have lots of “animalistic sex” (I’m only quoting what he repeatedly stresses; he needs us to know this about him, you guys, because it’s EMPOWERING.)

I’m not certain what prompted this article. He mentions something about Julie Bindel and something about a law that attempts to protect women from being sexually exploited, but beyond those references I’m unclear about why Mr. Lees feels that the evil feminists are gunning to take away his ability to pose naked on Tumblr or whatever he does when he’s not writing misogynist drivel for VICE.

Frankly, this bullshit wouldn’t even be worth my time if it weren’t for the fact that what Mr. Lees is peddling makes it abundantly clear that he, like virtually all other males who identify as women, is  clueless about women’s actual, lived realities, and about feminism itself.

Many have written recently about the redefining/hijacking of the word “feminism” – the way the culture has watered it down and shifted its meaning away from women’s liberation to “EVERYONE IS EQUAL” (that’s something else; the Declaration of Independence, I think?) And in this climate where no one seems to really know what feminism actually means/stands for, where everyone and their brother claims to be feminists (shit, if it means whatever you want it to mean, sign me up!) it’s really no wonder that this writer claims feminists’ naming and rejection of sexualized violence and exploitation – in our language, our media, on our streets, in our homes – is a “new” branch of the philosophy, or is, as the writer calls it (employing a truly 1950’s male word), “prudishness.”

So without further ado, here are some of the more egregious moments from the writer’s insipid, woman-hating article along with my thoughts:

“I’m sick of being told that being sexual is bad. That being sexualized is bad, gauche and unpalatable.”

Who is telling males that being sexual is bad? Uh, no one. I don’t live in England like Mr. Lees, but as far as I can see, men’s sexuality/sexual needs are glorified, romanticized and prioritized in every corner of the globe. Whether that glorification, romanticization and prioritization is openly misogynist (Tucker Max), disguised by a nice-guy mask (Hugo Schwyzer) or religious in nature (the quiver-full Duggar family). Disabled men should be able to buy sex with impunity because NEEDS. John Grisham says middle-aged men shouldn’t serve time for looking at child pornography online because NEEDS. Male sexual needs are REO Speedwagon lyrics on never-ending loop: They just can’t fight this feeling anymore!

Also: “gauche” and “unpalatable”? Somebody sure likes his thesaurus!

Prostitution, a destructive and dangerous crime that writers like Mr. Lees and, sadly, many young women have come to support, is allowed to continue because men’s sexual needs are considered SO IMPORTANT that if some girls and women have to be emotionally and mentally shattered, or murdered (a woman in prostitution is 40 times more likely to die than a woman who is not) to cater to those needs, then so be it.

Women, in fact, do have complicated relationships with their own sexuality because the culture conditions them to feel alienated from their own bodies, but to also always be sexually available (or at least appealing) to men. A woman is supposed to feel sexy, but not sexual. Women are often shamed (by males) about their own sexual appetites, but I certainly have never seen this coming from feminists. On the contrary, discovering feminist theory was for me, and for many other women, the antidote to some of the truly fucked up messages society sends girls and young women; the only useful weapon against the internalized misogyny I’d been carrying around that made me ashamed of my own sexuality.

What the writer of this article is concerned about as it relates to women’s sexuality is not that feminism might “hamper” female sexuality, but that feminism might (and in fact, does) challenge and attempt to hold accountable those views and actions that allow men to humiliate, abuse and debase women for their own sexual pleasure.

“I know plenty of guys who lovingly refer to their lovers as beautiful. And smart. And sexy. And every other complex thing that made them fall in love with them. Of course, some men do describe women in rude, reductive ways. But that doesn’t mean that every time a man describes a woman as sexy that it’s a bad thing, or, indeed, that men never appreciate women for their beauty.”

Here, the writer is referring to another article where a female writer examined the language men use to talk about women, and how that language can often be problematic. (Language does in fact matter – not to the Queer/Trans/PoMo thinkers who are concerned only with their precious and special identities, but to reality and civilization itself. It’s not an accident that totalitarian regimes go after language and distort meaning of words before they dismantle and steal everything else).

But don’t worry, bro! Men will never stop calling women sexy – no one will take that away from you. Frankly, in the grand scheme of things, feminists – you know, the ones concerned with women’s liberation – have bigger issues to contend with than whether or not men overuse the word “sexy” to describe girls and women. Take a deep breath.

“I’ve been told that I’m hot when I’m bare-faced. I expect most women have. I’ve also been told that I’m beautiful (all the time—seriously, guys, it’s getting boring) when I’m wearing a smokey eye. These things are not black and white.”

Yes? Your point? Or is this just a nice opportunity to tell the readers that guys call you beautiful ALL THE TIME. Bully for you! Who fucking cares? I myself get these compliments occasionally (less so since I cut my hair and had the audacity to hit 35) but they don’t define me. Nor do I see any feminists racing to ensure that we are never again called beautiful or sexy or hot or whatever Mr. Lees is so worked up about here. No one is arguing that it doesn’t feel nice to receive a compliment about one’s appearance. But feminists do believe it is damaging for women to be perceived only as an aesthetically appealing “thing,” to be objectified (or rendered invisible if not “worthy” of objectification).

“Of course, there are  ​real issues with underage girls posting sexual photos online which are then picked up by pedophile sites, but telling girls that it makes them look “cheap” isn’t the answer. And why does posing in your bra suggest that the only value you offer is your body? I’ve got photos of my graduation on Facebook but I don’t remember anyone telling me: ‘Your brain isn’t the only value you offer, Paris.'”

Here the writer really illustrates how profoundly without a clue he is about what it means to be female. When you are female, your outward appearance defines you completely. When you are female, your physical presentation will determine whether or not you’ll be taken seriously in the workplace, whether or not you’ll be valued by society, what kind of responses you’ll get on OKCupid, and whether or not a man will rape you. Frankly, we don’t care what women want to post online, but most women understand that every choice they make in terms of how they present themselves will, in a culture of misogyny, deeply impact how they will be treated. A woman posing in a bra does not, to me, suggest that the woman’s only value is her body. Sometimes, though, seeing these images makes me sad because they underscore the fact that that woman, a whole, complete, human being, only sees herself as a body or, more likely, that someone else (a male) only values her for that reason. That’s the nature of objectification. That’s why it’s deeply tragic. That’s why feminists call it out.

“When women start returning library books wearing fetish gear, maybe then we should worry that it’s gone too far. For now, though, context is key.

I pose in my bra on Instagram sometimes.  ​I have great tits. No one forces me to do it and no one is forced to look if they don’t want to. I suppose the people who are against this sort of thing would tell me that I only think I’m making a decision for myself, when really I’m just going along with what patriarchy wants me to do. Silly me!”

  • You’re an autogynephile. This logic is not novel. “No one forces anyone to do porn.” Define “force”? Do you mean force like “I will kill you if you don’t make this pornographic film”? Well, considering the Queer/Trans lot loves their exceptions-to-the-rules, in fact, some women and girls are “forced” in the physical, coercive sense to appear in pornography or be raped for money. But more often, the force is woven into the cultural cloth – the kind of social, economic, logistic and political force where one’s options are so limited by being female, that sex work (in any incarnation) becomes one’s only realistic option. The kind of sex worker who takes a year off from Harvard to be a high-priced escort and get a book deal is not representative of prostitution or the ugly machinery behind it.
  • There’s also the kind of cultural force whereby patriarchal messaging indoctrinates girls and women into the belief that if they are not being sexualized, they are not being valued (or even validated). This is the kind of force that makes young women (especially) feel they “owe” males an opportunity to ogle them online, or “owe” sex to their boyfriends. One tactic some men use when they don’t get the kind of sex they want from a partner is to become sad and concerned about her “prudery” or “repression.” They want to help her work that out! Even if it means insisting and insisting until she acquiesces! And then, if that doesn’t work, they can get very, very angry. Women who are dependent on men economically or socially often find it’s in their best interests to submit to whatever it is he wants, no matter how painful or degrading.
  • Furthermore, “the people who are against this sort of thing” (I’m guessing he’s looking at feminists here) don’t give fuck-all what you do.
  • You, Mr. Lees, are not only colluding with patriarchy, you ARE the living embodiment OF patriarchy. If you didn’t have a super-special identity, you’d be just another gross, boring Internet misogynist.

“If you’re an adult and willing there’s nothing wrong with being sexual. Or with seeing other people as sexual. So long as that’s not the only thing you are expected or expect other people to be.”

and

“Sometimes people post sexy pictures just because they like it”

The problem is, Mr. Lees, for females (those of us who didn’t purchase our way into womanhood), we are often only seen as sexual. The problem is, that for a good many girls and women, we ARE expected to be that all the time – whether or not we feel like being sexual. Whether or not we are underage. Whether or not we are too incapacitated to consent. Whether or not we are willing. The problem is also, that by virtue of being always seen as sexual, we are discarded and invisible the moment we start aging and no longer satisfy men’s (often pornish) sexual appetites or fit with their sexual fantasies. THAT is a female reality whether or not it inconveniences you.

Here’s something that might make things clearer to you and those who share your mindset. You know what I really fucking liked, a lot? Being anorexic. There’s no high like the high I got when I hadn’t eaten for five days; when everyone I met had something complimentary to say about my thinness and perfect self-control. For the first time in my life I felt SEEN. I felt so empowered! But I knew deep down that it wasn’t good or healthy and that if I didn’t let them put the IV in I would die. You like being objectified the same way I liked weighing 82 pounds. That doesn’t mean objectification doesn’t harm females. Your logic is as fucked as it is male.

“I want no part in any feminism that takes “We know what’s best for you” as its starting point.”

This is not analysis. This is a thinly-veiled expression of contempt.

First off, Feminists would never claim they know what is best for you — you’re male; feminism is a political and social movement about females. Secondly, “knowing what’s best” for anyone is no more a central tenet of feminist philosophy than “EVERYONE’S EQUAL.” Feminist theory posits that there are ways the culture could be reconstructed (in the case of radical feminism, ways the culture should and must be deconstructed) that would enable women to be seen as full human beings, that would free women from the horrors of rape, that would allow women to live lives unencumbered by the heavy load of abuse and stereotyping and debasement that is our lot from the moment our female bodies are brought into this world. You are a male who has built an identity around getting cat-called, posting sexy Instagram pics, and being called “hot” by other males. Fine. Great. Wonderful. But you know what? Most females cannot afford to, and do not wish to be, defined by these things.

“If you don’t want to be seen as a sex object and desire sex that is bland and emasculated, fine.”

Emasculated? Like, without a man involved? Like…lesbian sex? More contempt here; not veiled at all and directed specifically at women who only want to have sex with other women. Those bland, cock-less dykes; there’s just no hope for them! Where have we heard that before? Also, a “sex object” desires nothing. A “sex object” doesn’t reach out with trembling, passionate hands to her or his lover because an “object” is just that; an object. An object doesn’t feel. An object is acted upon.

In the litany of reprehensible bullshit Mr. Lees spits out in this piece, one stands out as particularly vile:

“Much evil has been done in the name of protecting women’s innocence. The obsession to protect white women’s purity was one of the key factors in America’s shameful history of  lynching black men.”

Mr. Lees’ baseless fear that someone will not let him upload a lingerie picture to Instagram does not belong in the same paragraph as the horrific historical reality of lynchings in America. The notion of protecting white women’s purity was often used as a bogus justification for racially motivated murders, this is true. But it is revolting that this writer even attempted to set up a parallel between his need to be hyper-sexualized and the systematic murder of African Americans. It is NOT the same. Not even close. Not even once. The light leaving from “bogus justification for racially motivated murders” will not reach Mr. Lees’ “great tits” for a hundred trillion light-years. This shameful, disgusting rhetorical sleight-of-hand should have no place in any serious activism or discussion.

And, finally: Though evils have been done (by men) in women’s name, feminism is not one of those evils. Feminism is not about “protecting women’s innocence.” It’s about arming women to protect themselves from being demoralized, gaslighted and victimized by pornsick males like the writer of this article.

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