First, read Cintra Wilson’s article here, then come back when you’ve finished, and when you’re done throwing things at your monitor.
Fun times, huh! Ready to rage at it with me? Let’s go!
MY, what a heteronormative heap this is! My primary function as a woman is “to be critical of the corruptions that divide men from themselves?” No, thank you kindly! I believe my primary function is to determine and aspire toward that which fulfills me and enables me to fulfill others in turn. I believe that’s every human’s function. But apparently I’m wrong! My real purpose is to nag men when they’re “corrupt.” But that’s only my primary function “aside from childbirth!” My REAL function is to extrude more children into the world. Tell infertile women about how they no longer meet their primary function. Tell it to those childless by choice. My primary function is not mandated by my uterus. I do not owe motherhood to my society.
“Then I wondered if the female currency had been unduly diluted by the unprecedented availability and mainstreaming of porn. The scarcity economics through which Pussy had enjoyed a relatively stable value, most of our lives, was suddenly, abruptly clobbered by the internet.”
Does she seriously believe that is all women are, or are worth, to men or to ourselves? That our only value is in our genitalia? While it’s true that all media – not just porn – relentlessly hammers men and women with impossible ideas of perfection, it is ludicrous to assume that sex is the cause or center of it all. Porn is not a “new normal.” Porn is an old, old normal. What has changed is how accessible porn is — and how ephemeral and disposable it is. Does she genuinely believe that all the personal relationships she mentions, and all the high-profile celebrity affairs, are truly driven by lust and lust alone? Maybe it’s not just that men sought younger, sexier women to bed — an instinct which is not new to the media-driven culture, mind you. Maybe it’s that these women were also, as she indicates, equally shallow and vapid, equally uninterested in personal fulfillment, equally deluded by beliefs in perfection and Prince Charming. Why should any man want to stay with someone who believed she could or should be doing better? Who would be eternally unsatisfied so long as the man had flaws? Why would either party accept anything less than their unattainable dreams?
But when people have no deeper understanding of themselves, or of others, and do not aspire to such understanding or contentment, when they are engineered to simultaneously see themselves as deeply flawed and as people who deserve to have and to be only the very best, there seems to be no choice but to get rid of the other person and replace them with something newer, better, younger, more representative of what they want to be. Women are not being undervalued because men value porn more. It’s just that people on both sides of the issue are rarely thinking about what they value anymore, because our culture no longer values the very idea of lasting value.
Instead of addressing the big picture — the way that capitalism needs disposability and planned obsolescence, and the way it disincentivizes fixing or accepting the imperfect — she instead treats heterosexual sexual dynamics as the core of the issue. Men don’t throw away women because porn has taught them to only want young, perfect girls. Men throw away women because men and women throw away EVERYTHING. Men throw away the imperfect and women wait for Mr. Right because capitalism teaches us that we deserve The Best, and teaches us that The Best is something we obtain from outside ourselves, not a peace and contentment we find from within.
“Valor, honor, nobility and courage are virtues now exclusively relegated to sports and warfare. Men are not really encouraged to cultivate the interior qualities that have classically deﬁned a warrior/philosopher/poet/ king/hero (or, for that matter, an adult man).”
Well, a fine fuck-you to that. Nobody’s encouraged to seek those qualities anymore, I can say that much — our heroes are now just as disposable as anything else in our culture. But to lay all of this out with the clear implication that these traits are For Men Only? I have just as much ability to seek and attain those traits as any wang-bearing human out there. Who the hell is she to suggest otherwise? Everyone can undertake the Hero’s Journey. Everyone can identify with the philosopher king. These are not the qualities of an adult man. They are the qualities of anyone – male, female, trans*, both, neither – who has reached Apotheosis and the Return.
“Only a close, sustained human relationship, with all of the rigor, ordeal and misery this implies, can actually tell you where the termites live in your psychological foundation.”
So nobody can lead a complete, healthy, and sustainable life, emotionally and physically and mentally, unless they are in a relationship? Because that’s what “only” implies. I’m sure Buddhist monks, Catholic nuns, and other single spirit-seekers would appreciate the knowledge that their psyche is inherently fragmented and flawed, despite and in fact BECAUSE of the fact that they forgo these human relationships to seek a higher truth or connection with the inner and outer world. She strongly asserts that monogamy is vital to combating the more noxious aspects of capitalism, and holds that polygamy (which she conflates with infidelity) is emblematic of the capitalist drive. However, in this, she asserts that being single is inherently undesirable. That the only way to develop and stress-test one’s own psychological foundation is to enter into a long-term relationship. This is the kind of cart-before-horse inanity that causes relationship problems in the first place: the belief that one NEEDS to be in a relationship, that one NEEDS to define oneself in terms of another person, that one logically cannot know oneself without someone else’s input. This kind of thing is why people rush into relationships that they cannot fulfill, making promises they cannot keep. They do not know who they are, much less who the other person is, and they believe it’s the purpose of the other person to help them identify and exterminate the problems in their life. This is the most poisonous suggestion she could possibly make. You cannot simultaneously extol monogamy — not even serial monogamy; she rails just as much against divorce as against infidelity — and also deny the individual any ability to know themselves and cultivate themselves while single.
So, in sum, women have no place in seeking valor or honor on our own, and in fact our only purpose is to enable men along their road to valor. We cannot both be single and know ourselves, nor can we be single and still fix the flaws in our psychological foundations. However, even though we inherently won’t have a complete sense of who we are and what we want, and even though our psychological foundations will be troubled, we must seek a monogamous relationship as soon as possible in order to remedy those problems. And we must stay in that relationship for our entire life. Men are the only people capable of the Hero’s Journey, but they are divorced with it completely if they enjoy pornography or play violent video games. They are also destined to die alone, because apparently no female would ever masturbate, no female would ever play such games, and any person who does either thing should be ashamed of themselves. Women also do not ever spurn the ideas of Disney princesses, hookers with hearts of gold, or dream weddings. It is absurd to think that women AND men might be able to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives alone or in same-sex relationships. Gender is completely binary, and sexual diversity does not even merit a mention. Also, something about drones and prisons and Goldman Sachs and G.I. Joe.
In leaping from attacks on capitalism to attacks on very specific elements of media and culture, she belittles women and their purpose as strongly as any simpleton senator, she undermines men, she rails against certain implications of gender roles while heavy-handedly endorsing others, and she disregards the personal integrity of anyone who leads a life of solitude. All the while, she forgoes any discussion of what connects those elements, what drives them, how they in turn drive capitalism and drive its Perpetual Dissatisfaction Engine — Dissatisfaction which both creates and is created by the undue sense of Self-Entitlement that lurks closer to the heart of these interpersonal and cultural issues.
For a person to treat a relationship or a person his- or herself as disposable is shameful. It indicates an inability to accept flaws or imperfections in the other, it may indicate a lack of desire on the other’s part to fix or even address those problems, and it indicates a lack of communication that would enable both partners to understand and accept each other, flaws and all, while they grow and mature and seek their goals.
But our culture teaches that our flaws are more outward than inward, and that they can be remedied by seeking something new. That our inner dissatisfaction comes from dissatisfaction with our goods. That we are represented by our goods, that we are what we wear, what we drive, what we watch, what we listen to. That we should think about our goods more in terms of What This Says About Us than What It Does For Us, and we think about What It Does For Us far, far more than we think about What We Can Do With It. It is a heresy to stop oneself and ask “Do I want to have or do this thing, or do I want to be The Kind Of Person Who Has And Does This Thing?” We are made to think these are — and should be — one and the same. We are more manipulated by our tools than manipulators of them ourselves.
We don’t fix anything anymore. When something breaks, or gets damaged, or has flaws, we throw it out and get a new one. Whether discussing computers, phones, shoes, clothing, or cars, it’s often easier, cheaper, and usually more advantageous to just get a replacement instead of repairing the old one. In fact, more often than not, what’s being thrown away simply can’t be fixed — it’s engineered to be unfixable. It’s made with hidden screw-holes that require proprietary tools; it’s made to self-destruct when tampered with; it’s just too cheap and flimsy to be worth sewing or patching or darning or cobbling.
And, worse, if our goods show the signs of patches and repair, they make us look like we’re Not Rich, which is one of capitalism’s greatest sins.
What about designer jeans with holes in them, you ask? What about “vintage” style tees, already soft and thin and faded when you buy them off the rack? Aren’t you paying extra for the status of owning something that looks like it’s been around the block a few times — something that looks “authentic?”
Yes, and that’s exactly the issue. Because that very pre-worn nature means that the clothing will be less durable as time goes on. They will rip so much that they don’t function as pants; they will fade and fray and be useless as shirts. The prestige is not just in saying “I can afford these expensive objects.” The prestige is in saying “I can afford to buy expensive objects that have already been damaged enough that they have only 30% of their utility left.” It’s tearing and wear that are valued — there is no trend for patches. There is no trend for mended seams. There is no trend for artfully sewn-up holes.
Patches and visible repairs also make us look Not Young, which is another sin of capitalism. We’re old enough to have had these objects for a long time, and for those objects to have become worn and damaged. If our items are old, then we too must be old. This is why it’s trendy to buy new vintage-style items, but it’s a mark of the mildly countercultural to buy actual thrift clothes. Feigned authenticity is more desirable than actual age, actual wear, actual damage, actual ugliness — the actual admission that the styles of even one decade ago are now so undesirable as to be subjects of mockery, something that can be worn as a joke, or to assert an understanding that modern trends are just as ephemeral.
And yet actually sewing your own clothes is still largely considered something well beyond the popular/counterculture dynamic and squarely in the category of things done by poor kids and losers.
Because the biggest issue of fixing the old or making things from scratch isn’t just being Not Rich and Not Young, it’s being Not Busy. Capitalism works best when a person’s time is worth so incredibly much that it’s more expedient to spend money than to spend time. This critique of How You Spend Your Time can be heard levied against all sorts of fringe groups, from DIY enthusiasts to foodies to computer nerds to artists. Why spend TIME on these things? Don’t you know how much your TIME is worth? Your life is short, and you are running out of TIME.
And so it’s no surprise that we treat other people as we treat our objects. If that person shows age, shows wear, shows the scars of a life lived hard, shows eyes that have seen both too much and not enough, shows calloused hands and wrinkled faces, lines where years of emotion have visibly etched themselves into the flesh, that person is clearly Not Rich enough to get cosmetic surgery, to get a new nose and new boobs or new hair. That person is clearly Not Young anymore. And that person has clearly spent too much time doing things that didn’t have a goal of maintaining youthful perfection — not enough time exercising, or moisturizing, or doing makeup, or doing anything else to conceal their bodies. They’ve spent too much time doing other things they value more than the way they look, the way they feel, the way they act. Therefore, their very appearance is proof of the passage of time, proof of the ephemeral nature of life and beauty, and is therefore undesirable. And if we define ourselves by what we own, and if a woman’s place, particularly, is as an object or tool by which men are to be satisfied and kept in check, an object or tool by which more children enter the world, then yes, a man will discard that woman as swiftly as he’d disregard any other outmoded product.
And if there are flaws in the relationship itself, flaws in what motivates each partner as a person, or motivates them both as a couple, flaws in how one copes with the world, copes with these very processes of aging and feeling obviated, we are not taught to fix these flaws. We are not taught to admit to having them. Youth is valued, and age is valued by the degree to which it still has the appearance and abilities of youth. Experience, understanding, and wisdom are irrelevant, because our culture thrives on an inability to learn from past mistakes and a willingness to make the same mistakes over and over again, forever believing that the Next Big Thing will solve all our problems.
And so people throw away relationships when the other person gets too human, too old, too real. They reach out to someone else who is more of a fantasy, abandoning it again when the genuine human frailties show through. Monogamy isn’t in opposition to capitalism, like she asserts. It, too, is just another instance of seizing onto whatever sounds best at the time — most self-affirming, most reflective of the you you’d like to be, most useful toward one’s own ends — then enjoying it and using it until it’s expended, then seeking out the newest model. Serial monogamy is monogamy, too. And whether that’s done while still in a relationship or after a divorce, it’s the same concept of expending / disposing / replacing, frequently with something that more closely embodies the fantasy of what they want in someone else and what they want in themselves.
And, yes, they frequently reach out to their own inner fantasies, using them more and more as a crutch. It doesn’t even matter what that fantasy is. Maybe it’s a sexual fantasy. Maybe it’s a fantasy of wielding guns and swords to save the world. But maybe it’s a martyr syndrome. Maybe it’s a belief in religious or cultural superiority. Maybe it’s keeping up with the Joneses. Maybe it’s a fantasy less about what you hope to be, and more about what you fear. But, whatever it is, it perpetuates that drive toward believing oneself to be undeniably and objectively valuable and simultaneously believing oneself to be somewhere irrevocably behind where one Should Be. It keeps you running like mad just to stay in the same place, simultaneously believing that something better is just around the corner and that it should have come to you already. It keeps you unsatisfied, unfulfilled, unable to even explain to yourself why you feel this way, or to realize that you feel unsatisfied at all. You will dispose of everything you can, replace everything you can, buy everything you can, in hopes of finding the secret.
But so long as it’s something that perpetuates that drive toward dissatisfaction, it’s nothing but cultural spackle — something with no purpose but to give a false sense of fulfillment and a false sense of repair. Something that exists to smooth out all natural variation, to make a bland and neutral surface — a surface that’s receptive to whatever somebody else wishes to paint you with. To make you feel, believe, and know that your true self is weak and unworthy — and that you are only beautiful, only strong, when painted.
Wilson does not challenge us to seek our true selves. She does not fully address how culture motivates what we keep and what we dispose. She does not encourage us to look at the way capitalism tries to sell us ourselves. She just tosses out these sexist assertions, throws in a peppering of jabs against porn and video games, adds some scary noises about Wall Street and drones and prison, jumping from concept to concept without ever saying anything concrete about what she thinks one should do, how she thinks one should live — except, of course, for the sexist parts about what a woman’s purpose may encompass. At every turn, she misses the chance to clearly address the disposability and entitlement at the heart of so many of these issues. And I can only guess that it’s because she isn’t able to pin it down as such. That she, too, believes herself to be simultaneously enlightened and unfulfilled. That she finds more value in what she can throw away — like capitalism, or women’s liberation, or sexual freedom, or coherent thesis statements — than in what she can cultivate. As a result, this article becomes just another kind of spackle, and she only wants to coat us with a different kind of paint.