Latest posts by L’étrange Madone (see all)
- Women we love: Fatima Mernissi - May 11, 2016
- Women We Love: Nawal El Saadawi - March 25, 2016
- French Writer Virginie Despentes Doesn’t Care if You’re Offended - February 10, 2016
When reading books, I go through phases that resemble food cravings when you just want one certain type of food, like you want strawberry flavored ice cream and want only that for weeks on end. That’s how it works for me and books: I would focus on one genre or writer and ravenously read as many books as possible to quench the thirst. My latest craving was for Virginie Despentes. I read her book of feminist essays, King Kong Theory, back in 2011, when the whole feminist thing was new to me. I was impressed, moved, angered, and enlightened by her essays.
Virginie Despentes is a French punk feminist writer. What is most astonishing about her is her crude writing; nothing is sugar-coated and taboo subjects are her favorites. In her writings, she deals with rape, prostitution, violence, and marginalized women and draws from her own experience. At 17, when she was coming back from a trip to London, Virginie was raped. This event, she later said, shaped her whole career as a writer.
Virginie’s life wasn’t an easy ride. She suffered from alcoholism. Her need for money led her to get several small jobs, among which were jobs she described as “occasional and voluntary prostitution” in massage parlors and peep shows.
Baise moi (“Fuck Me”) was written in 1992, but it was a confidential book at first, distributed in underground Parisian clubs, between post punk lovers. The book later was published by a small publishing company.
In 1994, Virginie who originally studied Cinematography, was working as a porn movie critic while still a sex worker. That year she achieved a controversial fame, as mainstream media noticed her book. Though she was critically acclaimed, many journalists insisted on portraying her as a victim of alcohol and prostitution that was saved by success, yet, faithful to her provocative attitude,Virginie would respond that she is a “prostitute” and is not ashamed.
I don’t think anyone has delved into taboo subjects quite like Virginie. Her stories are profoundly humane. Her prostitutes* are not the media stereotype golden-hearted kind; they are angry, violent, and always ready to hold a gun and stand up for themselves even if they are considered to belong to the gutter of morality.
Many condemn Virginie for what is considered violence for the sake of violence, but she writes about the cold truth. Violence is not used for sensationalism. Her characters are inherently violent because they grew up in an environment that made them so, and the day they stop being violent they will not survive. In Baise-Moi, a book that was banned in many countries, she pushes the limits of the genre. Two women, a junkie and a call girl, join together on a road trip — think Thelma and Louise with guns — and they go on a killing spree. They have guns and they use them without any reason except that they want to, inspiring the reader to keep shifting between rooting for their ultimate act of freedom and utter disgust and revolt for such gratuitous violence.
Virginie explores the extreme limits of feminism, creating a world where the pain and violence that women often hide is unleashed. Women are still afraid for their lives, victimized, and assaulted, but instead of closing up and hiding their feelings, they react. It’s like Virginie puts the deepest, darkest, violent desires of revenge that women can have into words — we all have those dark, violent urges of revenge if we get hurt by someone, but we have to abide by the morals and laws of society. Reading Virginie’s books, in a way, is cathartic.
In Virginie’s universe, no woman is innocent or sweet; they are different from all the female protagonists that we encounter in most of the mainstream literature. Virginie herself is “different;” she isn’t shy about stating her man hate, and is not afraid to say that she knows that according to conventional beauty standards she is ugly and she doesn’t give a fuck about it. All of these traits work for her benefit. Her humor is not politically correct. She can talk about issues like prostitution and drugs and rape since she experienced them herself. She epitomizes the anger of millions of women who have killed their persecutors in their heads over and over again, who dream of getting justice for themselves since society refuses it to them.
In a time where everyone tiptoes around certain subjects because, no matter what you say, someone would be offended by it, Virginie Despentes is the ultimate representation of not giving a fuck about what everyone would say. She doesn’t tiptoe. She wreaks havoc like King Kong. For me, every book I’ve read made me a little bit stronger and courageous. I condemn violence but I feel empowered by the women she writes about. I feel freed because she exorcises my inner violent extremist self (we all have one, at least I hope we all do). I raise my glass to Virginie Despentes, a writer who managed to give a voice to all my demons and the deepest darkest corners of my mind. She’s the only writer who said out loud that she is “writing as an ugly one for the ugly ones: the old hags, the dykes, the frigid, the unfucked, the unfuckable, the neurotics, the psychos, for all those girls that don’t get a look-in in the universal market for the consumable chick.” (King Kong Theory).
*The term “prostitute” is used because Virginie uses it. We here at TRN would typically use the term “sex worker”.