Why I love Miller and hate Hemingway or, how I pick and choose my misogynists.

Posted on February 14, 2011 by

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Henry Miller and a nameless, available female.

Ok, so I can feminist it up with the best of them. I’ve been down most of the paths: Intellectual antidisestablishmentarianism media whore with Germaine Greer; ultra pissed-off-ed-ness with Susan Brown-Miller and Alanis Morissette (ok, I may never have been THAT shitty); chemistry studies with Mary Daly to try to develop synthetic sperm; Übermensch intelligent existential “help-me-I-don’t-really-exist” angst with Simone de Beauvoir. I even shucked the heels and lippy to opt in for dungarees and distemper a-la Andrea Dworkin.

I am a woman who owes a lot to feminism. It has a very special place in my heart. And I can honestly say, I gave activism my very best shot.

My attempts at full-blown lesbianism, though enthusiastic were ultimately fruitless. Besides some half-hearted obligatory orgies, (I am cool, really I am) an on-line relationship with a woman, that was never consummated (!), several nights of (admitted) bliss going back to an anonymous ‘her’ place from lesbian bars, one six-week long relationship with a woman (my best effort) and a night consummating a life time of pent-up passion for my Aunt (this saw me conquer homosexuality, infidelity and incest in one dreadful fuck that should have been the hottest moment of my life, but was ruined by an intense mary-jane induced anxiety attack and the worst case of cotton mouth in my life) I was horrified to discover that all my lesbian masturbatory fantasies included the male gaze. In short – lesbianism didn’t quite do it for me unless a male I was deeply attracted to was there to watch or participate.

Can I just say. This aint good for a feminist.

In the end the hetro girl won out, and I picked up the mascara and dropped the hard-core attitude in order to get laid. Unfortunately lesbianism was only ever a political choice for me. I may not even be bi, though I’m not quite ready to admit that yet.

For me, the above was a huge problem, but I did have all the answers. And some of them I even believe. We (as a whole) are conditioned to see women as sexual objects! I am a fully functioning member of society, therefore I see women as sexual objects too; and hope to objectify them with my partner. I can appropriate my partners penis by sharing a woman with him – it’s a bonding experience, kind of like footballers like to engage in, except with them it is a homoerotic thing (without exception – sorry fellas – but really, is there anything as gay as football anyway???). These answers are all accurate. This is as true as, you act like your parents when you have kids, or you bring your baggage to your relationships. There is a distinct inauthenticity around my desire for women.

But this is also true for my attraction to men. The dilemma above has a corresponding corollary. How does the thinking woman deal with the possibility she may have moments of attraction for the predatory male?

I found, after much soul-searching honesty, that I was completely trapped. I loathed that which I craved sexually. It was a disturbing time in my life, the low point of which was an embarrassing, searing, white-hot empathy with characters from Sex and the City. I found myself caught between the male hating bitch that fucked them and laughed at them, or the mindless bimbo who giggled her way into flattering him, in a desperate hope she would never actually be compelled to look properly into the mirror she’d become obsessed with.

Usually the best I could hope for was some midway between the two, often directly proportionate to my male partners ability to be warm and loving toward me, or his own ego drive toward his ‘bad faith’ self-actualisation. After all, the term woman is virtually synonymous with inauthenticity. Being with a man reminds you that you don’t really exist outside of his gaze. When you’re a lesbian you can hide from that (to an extent), but hetro women can’t. We have to deal with the very penis that obliterates us on a daily basis.

Thank you very much Mr Freud.

This problem manifests itself in the weirdest ways inside me. Initially there is an aspect of the male arrogance I am attracted to. I want it. I want it for myself. I want to have male privilege, and if I can’t have it, I want to fuck it. Own it that way. Use sexual connection to appropriate it.

It took something to get out of this, and now I find myself drawn to the deep complex artistic male. He has to be examining himself. But also, I still love a tiny bit of that arrogance on occasion. That sense of entitlement that men kid themselves about, that we women wish were possible, even-if-we-can-never-have-it-and-the-men-never-actually-have-it. There is still – I am ashamed to admit – a piece of me that wants to think my ‘essence of woman’ can tame and control that arrogant male creature and ruin him for every woman in the hereafter, until I get sick of him – which will inevitably occur about five minutes after said ruin.

And this plays itself out in my attraction to male writers and musicians.

My fellow writer and blogger Paul noticed this recently and asked me about it. What it boiled down to for him, was the difference between misogynists. Or rather, he wanted to know how someone such as myself, who can’t take Hemingway’s ‘blokiness’ can be so ‘in love’ with someone like Henry Miller? Or even stronger than that, how can I have such intense passion for the Marquis de Sade?

I took this a little further to examine why I fall in love with any misogynist artist at all. It goes on for a female cultural consumer all the time. I like Roman Polanski films and yet despite the fact that he wrote one of my favourite short stories I can’t take Martin Amis. Why? Why is Roman’s actual horror less objectionable to me than Martin’s ego drive? Why can I worship Nick Cave’s murdering of Kylie Minogue and yet I can’t tolerate Mick Jaggers’ perpetual sexual conquests? (That one may be self-explanatory on both counts.)

Appropriately, I was ashamed of my obsession (and let’s be frank – it is an obsession) with the Marquis de Sade when I studied Andrea Dworkin. Like the dutiful daughter, I methodically packed him away and hid him in my garage when I read her chapters, so disdainful of his obsessive hatred of women, and the way he documents their torture so faithfully. Even at this point however, I couldn’t bring myself to hate him. I couldn’t even say to my lover at the time, “She is right; he is bad.” My confessional yielded quite the opposite response. I lamented the sacrifice. I decided I had to ‘choose’ which battle I aligned myself with. I loved Andrea Dworkin (and still do) and I think she was terribly important (certainly in my life she was) but this love was not commensurate with the Marquis de Sade. The good Marquis didn’t give a shit who I loved (emphasis on shit) but Andrea demanded a sacrifice. She wanted a certain thing to be obliterated – destroyed and removed from the face of the earth. And a large emblem of this was written in the chronicles of the Marquis de Sade.

I was faithful to Andrea for about a year, then I dug the books out of my garage and gave them pride of place on my writing shelf again.

It wasn’t honest. I couldn’t turn my back on the man who had meant so much to me. I couldn’t reconcile the piece of me that his Justine and his Juliette spoke to. I had no explanation, suffice to say, to hate him completely was to hate and reject a piece of myself. They now sit on my shelf together, a reminder of my own irreconcilable differences. Sometimes, in the liquid heat of a summer night I hear them squabbling, trying to resolve this problem for me, but it usually ends up with the Marquis propositioning her and Andrea removing his penis with a knife. Which, of course, he loves.

Kandinsky talked about choosing the object of form based on a corresponding vibration in the human soul. This is one of my favourite ideas, and one that I go back to repeatedly. I think sometimes, of my fingers like a divining rod, fluttering across a store or library bookshelf, waiting for that vibration. Then there is a recognition in me, a piece of me that says “this book, and this book right now,” and then I “have to have it.” Usually in those moments, the book will represent a great deal. I don’t mean to appear esoteric, nor do I want to supply weak answers that have no foundation in fact. I merely want to point out that sometimes the body recognises something that the conscious mind is refusing to see. (We all have this experience of our body ‘betraying’ us)

This had to be enough for me. I couldn’t adequately explain to Andrea Dworkin (who very thankfully was not in front of me demanding an explanation) why I needed the Marquis, I merely had to trust the piece of me that knew that I did. Just as I trust the piece of me that needs Andrea.

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