Which penis size do you usually prefer?
"I would prefer pants that cut off the penis"
Men, think about your sexuality! The French writer Virginie Despentes on safe jogging pants for women and other excesses of sexual violence in everyday life.
Interview: Silvia SüessMail to the author
WOZ: Virginie Despentes, you were raped as a teenager and later worked as a prostitute. You wrote about both experiences in your book “King Kong Theory” from 2007. Why did you have the courage to write about them at the time, unlike many other women who have had similar experiences?
Virginie Despentes: The reactions to my first book, Baise-moi, motivated me to write about my rape. A young woman is raped in it, then she says: "I won't let myself be traumatized, I don't give a shit." After the readings, many women came to me, spoke to me about this scene and told me about the rape. I was shocked because I realized that there are many of us who have been raped. And we must not be silent about this violence. I had also read a lot of feminist texts, including by sex workers like Annie Sprinkle and Norma Almodovar. Many of these authors write about their own experiences in order to draw conclusions. These texts were very important to me and they made me want to talk about my own experiences.
British ancient historian Mary Beard says that a man silences a woman and that makes him a man.
What is interesting here is what is happening with the #MeToo movement at the moment: I have the feeling that the men, at least in France, would have liked it if the women had continued to remain silent. But don't do it. It's the first time I've observed an international feminist movement - until recently I would have thought that was impossible. Something is happening in the United States, and a week later women in other countries take the floor because it affects all women around the world - even if, unfortunately, the movement has not been active in all countries. Still, no one could stop or silence these voices. Even if the whole debate could have negative consequences.
It could lead to an increasingly blatant gender divide. What worries me is this essentialism, i.e. the idea that there is a clearly defined “male identity” and a clearly defined “female identity” and that these are linked to fixed attributions. The changeability of the sexes could be forgotten.
In terms of sexuality, the #MeToo debate seems tricky to me as the idea that sex is humiliating for women could be spread. Every woman should have a sexuality for herself, not just out of love, because of the wedding or to have children, but simply for the sake of sex and experimentation. If a woman lives this way nowadays, she is quickly labeled a slut. Because women should be cute and controlled - an image that is also extremely shaped by social media.
So should we talk more about sexual pleasure and women's needs in this context?
Yes, that could be a negative consequence of the debate: that we forget that women are sexually active and that that's cool for them. But I'm very confident right now that something will change after #MeToo. There is a lot of anger among the women, and for the first time they are not complaining, but rather they are saying: We want change. The hashtag is called “Time’s up” and not “Help me”.
The British feminist Nina Power sees a problem with #MeToo in the fact that it is once again women who do the work. It is the women who say: "Me, too", and not the men who say: "I did it."
Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems to me that for the first time ever men are interested in feminism. When I was young, white men were interested in post-colonialism, but never in feminism. Today there are actually young men who have the feeling that it is their business too. And I hope there are more and more. All in all, I'm surprised how little men think about what they are doing and what they can do about it. Because they are the «sex of rapists». Usually the rapists are men. Why are men so angry with women? Could you please sit down and think about it? Why do we rape, what do we look like when we do, and how can we break this pattern? Men should ask themselves such questions. Their sexuality is a problem for everyone because they don't control it. And they never learn. Nobody tells a boy of fourteen how to develop an awareness of his body and his needs.
There are self-defense courses for little girls so that they can defend themselves ...
Little girls are also used to thinking about themselves. As a woman, you learn from an early age to think about what is good and right and what consequences your actions have for you and other people. Women my age have spent their whole lives thinking about what kind of sexuality they have. Men tell you not to think about it. They don't even try to cultivate. But sexuality is not just nature. Sex is not bees and flowers. Sexuality is a political, cultural and emotional construct. And men never question that. They sit in their darkness and have a penis, it grows and grows and they think: Wow, what a miracle. They could shed light on the darkness.
A big issue in connection with sexual abuse is the question of guilt: women almost always feel complicit when they are abused.
Yes, we women are always guilty: we women are guilty when a man gets aroused, we are guilty when we don't arouse a man. We women are guilty when we overeat, but also when we don't eat enough, we are guilty when we are old. We are always guilty no matter what. We are guilty when we complain, we are guilty when we keep silent. Being a woman is a state of constant guilt. But I hope that will change ...
I'm not so confident about that - the image of the guilty woman is still so firmly anchored in the mind. In Switzerland, a national councilor and police officer said that women are partly to blame for their rape if they take a man home with them, participate a little and then no longer want to.
It's a common idea. If you take me with you in your car - it's a beautiful car - and I steal the car, then I guess that politician wouldn't say you were guilty. Instead, she would say to me: "You mustn't steal this car." Or if I go to a supermarket and I'm hungry and eat something, she wouldn't say it was the supermarket's fault because it shows me the food I want. This reasoning is just completely pointless. Everywhere we face temptations that we cannot afford. This can be very frustrating, but we are expected to face this frustration with absolute discipline. Except when it comes to women. Sexuality is the only place where masculine impulses are considered so strong that this rule doesn't count. If a woman exposes herself, she must apparently be available, and therefore it is her own fault if she is abused. If the woman struggles and kills the man, she is guilty too.
So when a woman moves around in public places, she just has to live with putting herself in danger?
That was a big discussion in the 1980s. The feminist Camille Paglia said at the time that young women who wanted to move freely in public spaces had to learn to deal with boys' sexuality. That was the only way to go if we didn't want to go back to the 1950s and 1960s, when women weren't allowed to go out and drink with men. It is a very complex point that she addresses, namely: If you as a woman are to be allowed to do whatever you want, you put yourself in delicate situations and you have to learn to deal with them - otherwise you have to stop at home stay in the kitchen. However, what Camille Paglia forgets - and that is interesting because it is slowly setting in -: Men begin to understand when a woman says no. If men start to understand what they are doing and that a no really means no, then maybe we can change the deal.
A German designer invented “Safe Shorts” last year so that women can go jogging without being raped. Apparently there is a great demand for it.
Can't you open your pants?
Security consists of three different systems, including a built-in alarm. Here you can see.
(She stares at the photo) Shit, man! That's tricky. And being a woman is tricky. These pants could also be abused by men.
What do you mean?
The first thing I think about this picture is that it's fantastic for men who want to control what a woman does outside of the home. You may not even want to wear these pants - but when your man tells you to wear them, he's controlling your sexuality.
Then these pants say something about the madness we go through: We women can't even go jogging without thinking about the danger of being raped. In a well-functioning society, men would stop immediately if they realized that the woman didn't want to. You'd say, “Shit, women can't even run without being in danger. We have to change our attitude immediately. " But that doesn't happen. The whole thing is super violent. In the last few centuries it has been so socially important to discourage women from having sex outside of the family that these pants act like a backlash. At the same time I understand it too. Yes, why not when you feel more secure. That's why I said it's tricky. It would be more logical, however, to say: Please, men, you are responsible for this problem. Think about it and change your mind!
Do you think that these pants actually protect women?
No, all in all it is useless. Because you have a mouth and hands that he can use to rape you - you cannot go jogging with your hands blocked or your mouth closed. We cannot avoid rape. You never run fast enough, you never hit hard enough. It is so difficult not to be raped even if you are not actually sexually approachable. And with pants like this you feel even more like a helpless victim. There is also the risk that the men will still get excited. I would prefer pants that cut off the penis. Something really dangerous that the woman does not lock, but rather signals: "Come in" - and then it happens. Men are really scared. That would surely help.
Incidentally, this is also the interesting thing about the #MeToo movement: that men experience fear for the first time. That disempowers them, and that feels good, really. Sorry, I like some of them, but it's still good.
We learn from an early age that women shouldn't be violent. The women in your books, on the other hand, are violent and fight back. Did you have some kind of missionary intent when you created these characters?
I just had to do it, I really wanted to. At the time I didn't think much about it when, at the age of 23, in «Baise-moi», I created these female characters who behave like men in classic road movies from the nineties. The book was a huge hit, but many had a problem with it. And I realized that I had touched on something crucial: women are not allowed to behave as they do in my book. However, the discussion was never about the fact that this behavior in itself is not acceptable, but that it is not accepted by women. And then I thought that my work as a writer might lie in what I had done spontaneously: working with female characters who are not feminine in the classic sense. Because a lot of us are not like that. A lot of us aren't pretty little things.
But the women in your books also pay a price for their violence: they are killed, arrested, or have to go into hiding.
I think that girls shouldn't be banned from violence just because they are girls. Especially in a very violent environment. And especially when violence is seen as something positive for boys at the same time. But I struggle with my own anger and violence, as well as with the political violence in our country. And I know that violence can destroy your whole life, no matter if you are a woman or a man.
My favorite character from your books is the hyena from the novel "Apocalypse Baby". She is almost a superhero: strong, cool, quick-witted. She has great sex, she killed a man and got away with it. The hyena now appears in your trilogy "The Life of Vernon Subutex". Was it clear from the start that she would also be part of this story?
No. When I wrote Apocalypse Baby she was a pleasure to work with. She is so different from me. I'm shy, it's not her at all. She was my first lesbian character, kind of a lesbian Clint Eastwood. And I loved her. That's why I brought her back. Working with her is like driving a car ... I love driving with her.
The hyena once said of straight women: "They are used to being treated like shit, they think that is normal." Is existence as a heterosexual woman really so strongly influenced by violence? Is there no escape?
This is difficult. It was only when I left heterosexuality that I realized how hard it is to be a straight woman. I'm sure that in another society it would be possible to have a straight relationship where it's cool for both of them, but these days ... you're never the good woman when you're straight. It's almost impossible when you see what straight women are grappling with. They have to be sexually satisfying but not sloppy, they have to take care of the kids and work at the same time, they have to be feminine at work but not too sexy, they have to settle for less wages but should feel equal. Understand that old age is a humiliation, but not complain.
Have you left all that behind?
Yes, leaving heterosexuality is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I had my first love story with a woman when I was 35 and became a lesbian. At that time I had a lot of lesbian friends and thought that it wasn't a big step for me to be a lesbian myself. But it turned out to be a huge thing. And I was shocked at what a relief it was for me. I found myself in a newfound freedom. It was like when you were in a crowded room and suddenly someone opened a window.
Records and porn films
After the publication of her first novel, "Baise-moi" (1993), the author Virginie Despentes, born in France in 1969, was considered a scandalous writer. Seven years later, her film adaptation of her novel of the same name, in which two porn actresses play the protagonists, was also scandalized. In France, the film was banned from showing in regular cinemas.
Before becoming a writer, Despentes worked as a record seller, prostitute and porn film critic. Since the publication of the trilogy “The Life of Vernon Subutex” she has been one of the most important writers in France. In 2016 she was elected to the Académie Goncourt. The Subutex trilogy is a grandiose work about French society, the focus is on the aged eighties, it's about sex, drugs and, above all, music. The homeless former record store owner Vernon Subutex goes to see his former friends. Each chapter focuses on a different character, each with its own literary sound. The third volume will be published by Kiwi-Verlag in September.
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