10 May 2018

she is locked up, beaten, and flung about the room

April 13, 2018 | A major donor with close ties to the White House resigned on Friday as deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee after the revelation that he had agreed to pay $1.6 million to a former Playboy model who became pregnant during an affair. The deal was arranged in the final months of 2017 by President Trump’s personal lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen. Under the terms of the deal, the Republican donor, Elliott Broidy, would pay the woman in installments over the course of two years, and she would agree to stay silent about their relationship, two people with knowledge of the arrangement told The New York Times. The deal was first reported by The Wall Street Journal. From The New York Times.

I look at this man--everything that seems visible about him: the insistent PEPPERDINE photo-op backdrop; the poor physical and social health evident in the skin color, the mirthless pools of black that are his eyes, the grimace which at some point forgot to disguise itself as the signal of a pleasure in the world, which is to say, as an smile, rather than the wincing expression of a forbearance of, a steeling against, the world; I look at that "haircut"--I look at this man and I feel sorry for the "Playboy model," who, with those two words, is surgically caricatured into nothingness, into dismissal, as the barely described but overly present sine-qua-non--the that-without-which--pretext for the humiliation, the failure, the weakness, the desire of another, the barely described pretext for the humiliation of a man, who, as we well know, is the only another, the only other, that matters.

I look at this man, and I see the women not on his arm, in this frame or in any other frame: no surplus of disappointed wives or expensive mistresses or disappointed, expensive mothers will ever be enough to make him believe that he is a success, that he is a man, that he is alive, that he is real, that he is a real boy, alive, and not someone else's fantasy of a man, not some father's fantasy of a boy, not some father's fantasy of himself, made of painted wood and string, a fantasy whose lies are forever revealing, forever announcing, the degree to which they arouse him by his shameful erection, which is as clear as the nose on his face. 

It is, of course, the height to which he has risen; the richness of his investment and achievement; the scope and number of his responsibilities; the reputation and the dignity of--the admiration for--his family, both up (parental, ancestral) and down (spousal, childrel: inherital), which is to say, his very name, its currency and value, its reference and intelligibility; his ability, his dependability and responsibility, his ability to influence others, which is to say his word; his respect, his solidity, his fearsomeness, his strength, his resolution, his intensity, his fecundity, his power, which is to say, his maleness, his manhood, his sex, itself, all coming into question; it is the threatened or actual loss--even just the news of the threat of the loss--of these things that makes the story tragic, that gives it any value at all, that makes the story worth knowing or repeating, because the story's very iterability isn't affected at all by it's depressing and clichéed reiteration that it is news if/that/when a man falls from grace by partaking of his association with a [insert any two words here that describe a woman, but in this case:] Playboy Model. Every time, the loss, the tragic fall, the story occurs to, the story is about, an individual, a subject, a person of interest, or notoriety, of value, a person in whom I should be interested if only by dint of the fact that someone has decided to repeat the story of his loss of value to me. In the story, in his story, the (actual/potential) loss of his status--his value or usefulness in politics, industry, finance, faith, or law; his value as a leader or thinker or role-model; his value as a husband, father, son, and man--is presented as though it hadn't just happened to this other asshole yesterday, it is presented as though it were happening for the first time, when, depending on the timing it is only just happening for the first time today. And the lady--all the women, of course, for the most part--but the lady in question is just the stock character of Fallen Woman, just a two-word dismissal as a description, because it doesn't matter who she is, she doesn't have a story, she doesn't need a story, she is not important, except in one way and one way only: as the pretext for the (threatened, perhaps actual) loss of a man's status, family, fortune, word, name. Her presence in his story--because she doesn't have a story, she doesn't need a story, and no one cares about her story, except that there must be some suggestion, some hint, some suggestion to the suggestible, that she's just the least bit tawdry, or a shopgirl, or a divorcee, or an actress, or working class, or a coed, or a latina, or a european, or a prostitute, or a woman--signals his loss and is the cause of his loss. She exists--she serves--merely as a function in his story. She exists to serve. 

Certain kinds of psychoanalysis have a word for this state, which is often translated into English as a state of "abjection": she is abjected--in truth, before the story is told, she is already in an abjected state, always already--humbled and rejected, ejected outside of accepted, acceptable, informed, available, permissible or possible discourse. He is not. He has many more than two words to apply to his highest level of attainment, or any attainment, in the social spheres. He has many more than one sphere, he has many more than one title, many more than one role, and more than one name by which to call him, but his names, titles, roles, and spheres and his ability to move among them, capitalize upon them, and use them to his advantage and others' is damaged by his association with the storyless, abjected lady in question. Her story is unavailable and unimportant because she is abjected, and she is abjected because of some now-unimportant but singular detail of her now-unimportant and abjected story: she has no story, and it is as though his story, he, himself, takes on some contamination, partakes of some contaminating quanta of her abjection, and thus becomes, in some sense, abjected himself. So, gents, beware of Fallen Women.

But if we're really honest with ourselves, it is not difficult to see that the abjection of which Fallen Woman takes is not due to her fallen state, but due to her state as woman, as her hypothesized-but-the-hypothesis-is-enough fallenness is hypothesized on her hypothesized unreliable, unstable, untrustworthy, weak, flighty, fickle, faithless, unteachable, ignorant, dissembling, dangerous, dark, mysterious, unknowable womaness. The hint of falleness is the addition that is not an addition because it serves to call out what we all know women already to be, or be capable of, which is tacitly the same. The Fallen Woman is all women. She doesn't have the same value as a man, and her as-few-details-as-possible story only exists as a non-story to affect the story of a man. Woman is the property of someone else's story. She is property. That is why she is paid less on the dollar than a man for the same job; that is why she doesn't have her own name but has the name of her father or her husband; that is why she is defined most powerfully by her relationship to men, as daughter, wife, mother, mistress, widow; that is why when she is raped it is because of the way she was dressed or because she has had more than one sexual partner or any sexual partner, or because she is a lesbian, or a woman; that is why our vice president does not allow himself to be alone in a room with a woman who is not his wife; that is why when she is beaten by her husband it is because she must have done something to cause it; that is why we have difficulty encouraging or imagining women in physics, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, law, law enforcement, the military, sports, music composition or in leadership roles in these fields, or any field; that is why she cannot be elected president because she seems cold, seems untrustworthy, seems ambitious, and doesn't smile enough; that is why, in Virginia Woolf's memorable formulation in A Room of One's Own, she is locked up, beaten, and flung about the room. 

For her to be acceptable, she must be the paragon of fidelity, fealty, faith, compromise, kindness, supportiveness, selflessness, nonexistent opinions, disregarded thoughts, and uncomplaining labor: In the terms of King Lear, she must only be Cordelia, whose back is a bridge for men, for men and children, for male children, a bridge for men; otherwise she is those monstrous other sisters, Goneril or Regen, it seems, by default. It would be best for everyone if she died in childbirth. For there will always be another woman to marry--as they are interchangeable--who will teach the daughter her place, or beat her into it, because she can be counted on not to love her as her own. Because we must always force women into competition with other women, for everything, but especially for the attention of the Man, who is the hero of the story, the narrator, the author, the publisher, the bookseller, the critic, and the reader. And he has made the notion of Fallen Woman--precisely because there is no real distinction from Woman, precisely because Woman is, at every moment, in danger of submitting to her nature, like a scorpion--to distinguish interchangeable women from one another. If you believe that the purpose of sex is not pleasure, a dimension accorded only to men, but solely for the reproduction of men, sons to carry the name only they may keep and to safeguard the property only they may inherit, upon your body, which is the purpose of your body, by the man you were given to by a man, through the painful labor of your body, which is the only labor you are to be allowed; if you are Cordelia and make an incubator of your body, a bridge of your back, and suffer beautifully with your muted voice and your cramped agency, a jealously restricted purview that is mostly the execution, reinforcement, and extension, as their agent, of someone else's interests, desires, prejudices, and will; if you defer to, maintain, celebrate, supplement, and anticipate those interests without question, because they are, and must be, your own; if your every action and expression is toward keeping things the way they are, then you will be called "respectable"--a precarious high-wire act of a designation--and your origins, your class, your poverty, your ethnicity, your foreignness, your sins, your past, your woman-ness will not be held against you. You will not be fallen.