“I’ll take my clothes off and it will be shameless/ cos everyone knows that’s how you become famous.”
Taking a side step away from specifically trans posts (cos y’all tiring me out already, and I have another week to go here), I want to talk about fear. Recently Mark K-Punk had this to say about Lily Allen’s “The Fear.”
“All Allen can do is point to her own inertia and complicity but awareness can only reinforce the very condition she is talking about [. . .] The verses are unsure whether they want to be satire or not, unsure whether they want to mock consumer-nihilism or celebrate it , unsure because – after all – what’s the alternative, where can all this mocked from? [. . .] Celebrity culture and its critique are coterminous; the jeremiads about its superficiality as cliched and empty as the culture itself, both appearing on the same pages of LondonLite. Only the negative capability of the choruses, only the admission of The Fear, breaks out of this circuit.”
What gets left out of this perceptive critique is precisely how sexed this is, how fear is produced as an affect on/in/through female bodies. What lies behind so much of our self-policing is fear.
When Lily sings that couplet about how everyone knows that taking your clothes off gets you famous, she’s pointing to the fact that media culture runs on a certain kind of manufactured prurience. I mean, at this point, is anyone really shocked by nudity? Sex tapes? Infidelity? Homosexuality? Is it even possible to be?
And yet, manufactured sex “scandals” co-exist side-by-side with advertisements using sex to advertise practically everything. One punishes, one rewards. Yet they’re two sides of the same coin, it’s not hard to go from one to the other (Paris Hilton), and then back again.
But see, blaming sexualized women is too easy, too simplistic, too trite. To say only that there’s a pressure to get naked is to ignore the other half – that the “critique” of raunch culture is as patriarchy friendly as the pressure to get nekkid. That half of the culture will encourage you to be sexy, and half will condemn you for it. As a culture, we love to see someone fall from grace, and then love to see them make a comeback.
Most of us don’t have the specific pressure of someone in the media, but every woman bears the specific weight of having a visible, spectacularized body.* The Fear lurks behind other kinds of body policing, that it tells fat women to slim down (and cover up for the moment), tells black women to straight their hair, tells women with disabilities to not be sexual, tells older women to look younger, tells trans women that we’re not real women unless we’re feminine (and then someone else comes along to suggest that a real woman wouldn’t femme up so simplistically). It gets so efficient, so pervasive, that you don’t even need to tell us what we need to be afraid of, we’ve got the message, we pass it onto to our friends, our daughters, our lovers.
As a trans woman, I’ve learnt to live with fear on a daily basis. Fear of violence, above all, but part of that is a fear of attracting desire. I’m afraid that a man will, all on his lonesome, check my engaged, monogamous, lesbian bottom out and then scan me. Realize that I’m trans and then feel so “deceived” about the desire he produced that he’s simply forced to assault me. (this doesn’t feel that remote a fear, I’ve been assaulted before). So what do I do? I cover up, spend thousands of dollars on hair removal, wear feminine but not hugely sexual clothes.
My point, then, is this. If you produce fear, you produce a market. Every commercial, informercial, reality tv show is working on you, nudging at you to feel inferior (the fear, of not being pretty or hot or desirable enough) or superior (displacing that fear onto someone else, someone else not policing themselves as we do). And then you have a slew of products which suggest they’ll ease that fear that they themselves have helped to produce (and of course that ease is only temporary, because God knows permanence doesn’t help anyone sell anything).
Cos maybe being rich would give us enough control over our lives, our bodies to get there – “I wanna be rich and I want lots of money/I don’t care about clever/I don’t care about funny.” Maybe (not that I’d know, personally) part of what being rich would be having the luxury to disconnect from your body, to not come home covered in fat or need to break your back lugging boxes, to have other people prepare your food or clean your house, pay the electric bills. And instead, have Botox and surgery and eat organic food and have the time and energy to work out, live in air-con and be shuttled around in first class. And then maybe The Fear gets stronger rather than weaker the more you work at it, the more you try to make your body into an ideal (into someone else’s ideal?).
And I wonder how we get ourselves out of this deadlock, how do we get beyond simple truisms about self-esteem or slut-shaming or whatever the fuck.
What happens after we’ve been taken over by the fear? What do we do next?
* At the risk of oversimplifying, I think that even with metrosexuality, the appearance of male bodies as a whole are less likely to be policed (men of color’s bodies of course are spectacularized and often criminalized in other ways). This is not to say that male bodies are not desired and objectified, but that the specific regimes of body policing seem less pervasive – men rarely have to think about how much skin they’re showing, or whether they’ll be taken seriously or attract unwanted or even dangerous attention if they wear that cute outfit.
- Lady Looks Like a Dude by Holly May 22, 2009
- In Which Solnit and BFP Split Some S*it Right Open by Jess H. August 12, 2008
- Feminist Porn: Sex, Consent, and Getting Off by KaeLyn July 23, 2008
- The Angry Tranny: Tone Arguments and Trans Women by Cara March 29, 2010
- Lessons from the Magic Carpet by Octogalore August 4, 2008