What it might feel like for women

Many are praising Louise Perry’s review of Andrea Long Chu’s book Females. I like this passage:

The feeling of desperate, conflicted desire is a thread running through Chu’s writing. Where she departs from mainstream trans activism is in vocalising that conflict, rather than wishing it away: “What I want isn’t surgery; what I want is never to have needed surgery to begin with. I will never be natural, but I will die trying.”

It is impossible not to feel compassion, despite the fact that Chu does not spend even a moment wondering what it might feel like for cis women — a little over half the human race — to be the objects of all this longing. To engage with her writing as a female reader is to be constantly coming up against passages that trigger unease: 

I transitioned for gossip and compliments, lipstick and mascara, for crying at the movies, for being someone’s girlfriend . . . for feeling hot, for getting hit on by butches, for that secret knowledge of which dykes to watch out for, for Daisy Dukes, bikini tops, and all the dresses, and, my god, for the breasts. But now you begin to see the problem with desire: we rarely want the things we should.

Reading this, I happened to be sitting in a hospital waiting-room and looked at the women around me: tired nurses, frail elderly ladies, mothers pacifying screaming children, and not a pair of Daisy Dukes in sight. Observing femaleness in its unvarnished reality, I am forced to wonder whether Chu’s idea of womanhood is dependent more on an idealised image than on day-to-day reality: more on Solanas the dominatrix than on Solanas the person. 

Wonder no more: yes of course it is. That’s one of the things that drives us up the wall: the obsession with the surface, the trivial, the appearance-based, the sexy, and the indifference to coupled with ignorance of the ordinary humdrum every day reality. The thinking of “woman” as a fetish as opposed to a brute physical fact that brings a lot of ordinary human drudgery with it (as does being a man, of course).

Next comes the last paragraph, which is a gem.

But then Chu is hardly alone in her preference for fantasy. Females, and the praise for Females, is the product of a school of feminism now dominant in academia that has abandoned interest in the material aspects of women’s lives and has instead embraced confection and self-obsession. This form of feminism is far more interested in the supposedly liberating power of lipgloss and orgasms than in the difficult business of incrementally improving the lot of women and girls. When a porn-obsessed writer can be lauded as a feminist prophet for describing the “barest essentials” of “femaleness” as “an open mouth, an expectant asshole, blank, blank eyes” we should wonder how on earth we got to this point. Chu’s writing may be funny, engaging and thought-provoking, but this is not a feminist book in any meaningful sense of the term. This troubled and talented writer is in need of a hard-nosed editor and a cold shower.

Keep your blank, blank eyes to yourself, bub.

15 Responses to “What it might feel like for women”