Autonomy & Attention: A Guide
Once I had a boyfriend who said his friend got beat up by her boyfriend. I asked him what he’d done about it, what he’d said to the friend/to the boyfriend/to anyone, and he replied that he couldn’t feel sorry for girls who made bad choices. Once I dated a guy who told me he couldn’t read books with female protagonists, because instead of understanding them he’d just want to fuck them. Once I took a hookup to a Hockney show and later he told my parents that he didn’t think I’d understood it. Boys who never asked questions, boys who wouldn’t be seen with me on social media, boys who didn’t believe in rape culture. I figured that this was the shit you put up with if you wanted to be loved by boys, the same way you put up with an education in white guy writing if you wanted to be a writer. I spent a long time accepting that degradation was the price of admission for female artists.
“The Serious Young Woman looked everywhere for sex but when she got it it became an exercise in disintegration,” Chris Kraus writes in I Love Dick, the book that ruined all my relationships. Or, rather, I ruined my relationships, because after reading I Love Dick, I couldn’t play with my phone while my boyfriend and his friends Discussed Art, and I couldn’t shake that there was some middle path between self-respectful loneliness and romantic abjection.
The thing is, I Love Dick came out in 1997. Almost twenty years later, the bi and hetero women I know are still fumbling in the gutters of that middle path. I’m so grateful for I Love Dick and Bad Feminist and every essay calling out fuckboys. And, I have no idea how to be. If you loathe the patriarchy, how do you love men?
I want to chart a course for the young feminist who wants the D. I gathered two of the brightest women on the internet—Kylee Luce and Leah Clancy—to explore writing and feminism and girls liking boys. If we don’t make it out, maybe we’ll have permission to stay complicated. Below: the evolution of language, the female future, and fuckboys.
Leah Clancy He really is the ultimate fuqboi
Kylee Luce Haha. There’s something about his fumbling, performative, unsophisticated faux masculinity + pretty face + origin story that I find endearing
AA This pic is relevant bc my desire to have this lil roundtable basically started when I took all these self portraits for a photography class and my professor said that I looked too “pretty” in them for them to be good art
And like — she wasn’t wrong per se
KL Hmm. What did she mean by that
AA She was like “this looks like advertising, you’re selling something”
LC That’s a crazy critique
AA And I, like, — can I ever not be selling something?
KL That seems like such a baby boomer mentality
KL Millennials seem to have metabolized and appropriated advertising in a completely different way
Like, it’s treated as a completely natural part of the landscape, like plants
LC Yeah, definitely
AA Do you think that’s intentional or as a result of having advertising come into formerly neutral spaces (sponsored content, sponsored instagram posts)
LC I think that it also involves producing images of the self
AA I feel like I have a hard time writing anything that’s not basically a word selfie. Wondering abt your thoughts on this
LC That’s how most of my writing is
It seems impossible for my to naturally produce a piece of writing that in some way doesn’t include myself
If I’m writing about experience or history or science or whatever, I feel like I can’t (and don’t want to) disconnect myself
KL I think attempting to obscure your subjectivity — as is the habit/writing voice of a lot of educated white men — is becoming rapidly outdated
The idea that there even is an “objective” position has been completely dismantled by new media/new journalism
But one of the problems that accompanies that is getting “trapped” in identity politics that limit your freedom, artistically
LC It’s crazy how ‘objectivity’ is still so widespread in more historical terms
Like, did you see that textbook excerpt that called slaves ‘immigrant workers’?
The generations after us
Are barely going to be able to read any of the “art” or “history” produced by the 20th century
Without heavy doses of irony and remove
LC For sure
Even now, so much of what I learned as a kid as ‘historical fact’ seems so insanely unpalatable in any way
KL Like how some formerly beloved white men become too racist in retrospect to be read seriously
AA A cool thing about the internet is the opportunity for backlash. Like sure we have to deal with, like, This Mom Gave a Boy a Girl Toy and You’ll Never Believe What Happened, but also, there are enough subjective personas out here reminding us that what used to be objective fact is actually just the opinion of the people in power
KL Yeah! one of the best things abt the internet is the way it’s allowing us to remap history
Or form connections across temporal distance that wouldn’t have been possible before. I mean data is most useful for pattern recognition, right
LC Yeah, that is definitely a really exciting aspect
I kind of always fear, however, that while the people I surround myself with are so tuned into this questioning, idk how across the board this mentality is
AA That’s a good point
And also like there’s so much information from so many different places that sometimes I have a hard time choosing what’s like “good art”
A displacement of punctum if we’re going with Barthes
LC This is kind of goofy, but I got scared to keep unfollowing those shitty people from high school on facebook
Because now I just feel like I’m erasing what I don’t want to see
KL Sometimes it’s nice to keep a few high school ppl around to keep a finger on the pulse of the other America
LC Lol yes
AA Okay totally. I feel like in weird ways we made the same point: like are ALL opinions valid in art (which is such a tired question I know)
I’m accepting your cousin’s racist girlfriend’s fb posts as art btw
KL I also don’t see anything inherently wrong with forming communities around similar interests, ideas and positions
LC Omg so accurate, Aiden
And Kylee, definitely
But I fear that I limit my potential ways to engage with people who think differently then me
By severely hacking away/curating who I follow and read on the internet
KL Yeah, it can start to feel like your world/concerns are too small
AA Maybe it’s like what my therapist calls “compassionate detachment”
You can see it in your feed and acknowledge that it’s part of reality
But like you don’t have to engage with it
I just get this visual of like parents on the sidelines at a soccer field
Watching their toddlers flounder with the ball and like, score on their own goal and stuff
Writerworld definitely feels like that
KL But Merritt Kopas has talked a little bit abt the idea that a strong/nurturing support system is necessary for the formation of good ideas/assertive art
Maybe this is a little different than the idea of ‘community’ at large
LC But I know what you mean
You gotta shut out the haters
KL But like, culture is obsessed with/worships the idea of the solitary, tortured genius
The man pronouncing brilliance from on high
When in reality…every person is part of an ecosystem of other people and influences
Collaboration is the new genius imo
I think hybridity in general — across genre, but also across creator
The consumer and the producer sort of meshing
I think this general movement towards collaboration, co-creation is really cool too
On really macro levels
KL Oooh hybridity
I like that word
AA That’s why I love tumblr
I think reblogging and giving credit to the op, and the person from whom you just took the content, and yourself, is just great
(Which is funny cause that’s sort of academic, all those papers that are labyrinths of cited references)
KL You know that phrase, ‘the future is female’
LC I DO NOW
AND I LIKE IT A LOT
KL I think that’s extremely true, on a profound level kinda
LC Oh my goodness, completely
KL Bc like, the masculine is rigid, singular, defined. The feminine (this is Irigaray) is multiple, fluid, and full of exchanges
And that’s where the tech revolution is leading us
AA The feminine is also involved in the history of being content + consumed tbh
Like, if you’re going to collaborate you have to accept that you/your work will go through a process of objectification
Content to be content
And I think this has a lot to do with language
The way in which the patriarchy polices language is so critical of ‘feminine’ verbal cues
But like, it’s been proven again and again and that these cues, which are certainly not limited to women by any means (vocal fry, etc)
Are an extension of compassion and understanding
Fluidly communicating ideas and confirming that the receiver is on the same page
KL I remember reading a study abt how women are much faster to adapt to fluid vernacular cues (slang etc) than men
Leah Clancy Ohh whoa that is really interesting
KL Yeah, it was cool.
Anyway, fuckboys. lol
AA Can we find a new word for fuckboys?
I’ve been thinking about how steeped its etymology is in black and queer culture and I feel like it’s getting weird to use it with such abandon
But it’s also the most important recent addition to my lexicon, in terms of considering these dudes who think their consumption is art
KL YessS! One of the notes I took for this was ‘language is not catching up to our lived reality fast enough’
Like we need more sophisticated ways to discuss things like this
AA Proud of u for taking notes btw
LC Yes yes
I feel like already, it is so engraved in my mind
That I can’t think of what else to call a fuckboi
Which is dumb and weird
KL ‘Softboy’ is gaining a little traction
Did you guys read this
AA Softboy is good
But again I worry that its like calling a boy a pussy
LC As an alternative to fuckboi?
AA Maybe I’m being a wimp about this
KL Yeah I know what you mean re: pussy
Which brings us back to: we don’t have enough options to articulate the conundrums we’re wandering in 2015
AA These boys aren’t new– like, look at the Beats
So why was there never a word for them
KL Because female reality has been shut out of the discourse
/Language at large
KL It’s interesting to me…it seems like the word ‘fuckboy’ is a symptom of a larger trend towards, maybe, masculinity being increasingly unable to hide from itself
AA Mm like masculinity is being defined not in the old code of sports and dark liquor, but in a code of how women are treated
KL Do either of u guys follow @bardotsmith
She got me thinking abt the idea of attention as currency
Like, being really really rational about the vectors of your attention
I’ve been obsessed with this idea
AA Bc basically we’re in this fucked up economy in which women’s value is in the currency of male attention
That tweet’s totally flipping that
LC I think Monica McClure is another amazing figure for this reason
KL Yeah, I’m completely on that team
That’s why we’ve been convinced to hate ourselves
So we’ll accept nothing (their attention) in exchange for our labor and life force
AA I like want to completely unhook myself from this economy but I have a hard time
LC Damn, yes
I feel like I flounder with that as well
AA Because like obviously I want to appeal to dudes bc my body wants their dicks
I’ve just recently given myself more permission to be “difficult”
And like not just accept that if I make a subtle joke, they’re going to say it right back to me but more obvious and not as funny, and then I have to laugh
LC I think I constantly just readjust the ways in which I seek out positive attention
AA Tell me how you do that Leah! Teach
LC Even when it’s not superficially, I look for affirmation in certain ways I guess?
To bring writing into it, I think that’s a huge part for me
That I used to not include writing in my identity or performance of seeking attention?
And now, that’s like, the fucking headline on the marquee lol
AA Lol totally. Bc writing, with its assumed audience, is like one big open wound of attention seeking, in a way
LC And Aiden, that joke thing ^^ so real omg
AA For a while this guy who found me on instagram would paypal me money to send him mean texts (probs while he was masturbating but I didn’t let him tell me what he was doing, or talk to me, unless he was apologizing for being a piece of shit)
It was an exercise in economy and emotional labor
That is wild
AA Eventually he’d give me $25/week to NOT talk to him
KL That guy can stay
After the female-fronted revolution
AA Maybe the answer to all this is “get a submissive side dish”
KL I’ve been experimenting with the idea, lately, of just being really upfront and rational about approaching my interactions with men in a ‘what do I want out of this, what am I getting out of this’ way
LC Man, I admire that
I think that’s how I frequently think about it, but to verbalize it
KL Like, a man doesn’t need to have a perfect grasp of feminist theory, and it probably isn’t worth my time to even talk with him about it, and I probably don’t care what he thinks anyway
AA How has your upfrontedness worked for you
KL the experiment is ongoing, lol
KL but pretty well, I feel less angry with men/spend less energy feeling fucked than I used to
AA I’ve only been upfront re: my needs with the aforementioned instagram slave bc I couldn’t care less if he wasn’t into it
I want to feel that freedom with all men all the time
Like, my personal worth is so high that their attention is low-value
That seems manageable. And also revolutionary
KL It’s a long process, I’m not there yet
Sometimes what I’m “getting” from a man is something rlly unflattering like “Texting attention” “sexual validation”
“Makes me feel smart”
“Makes me feel cool”
AA I want to say that unflattering = not valuable to me but like I’m addicted to attention so
I keep going to this yoga class with this one dude instructor, mainly because he thinks he’s personally nurturing me
LC And so he gives me a lot of positive feedback
KL The male mentor trope
LC And it is like SO addicting tho
But I feel SORT OF okay about it
Because I can really easily detach myself and almost pity him
KL I dunno, maybe it’s just like a version of ’emotional labor’
That men shld be doing more of
LC If it weren’t so in service of his ego as a yoga instructor, I would feel better
AA Yeah, I think that there’s this idea, again, of male attention being special and high value, but then you go outside and you literally have to tell dudes to stop yelling at you and giving you unwanted attention
LC But I also plan on actually hooking up with him
AA Respectable plan +
KL Hot yoga instructors are late capitalist patriarchy’s gift to us
LC Which I readily accept
With open arms
KL I relate to the detachment/pity thing, I think most girls are rlly familiar with that in their relationships w men
One thing I’ve noticed after trying to be more rational in my approach
is that I can see more clearly, when what I’m ‘getting’ from someone is a generic service/feeling/role being filled, and when it’s a specific thing to them
AA ^^ that noticing is so key
I love that
Okay so now we know how to be loved the way we want
But what about loving?
Like, how do you love your partner when he can’t truly know your experience? Or when you have all these survival tactics in place that are hard to unlearn and hard to explain?
When you feel like your partner only knows the You that’s been formed in reaction to the idea of Him?
KL I love the end of that first query — “what about loving?” — because isn’t that ultimately the question behind all other questions, the question hovering inside the balloon at the top of every question mark?
AA How does this not feel lonely all the time?
And alternately, how does that loneliness not feel selfish?
LC In terms of loving, I’ve personally not yet been with a partner whom I’ve truly loved. I’ve never done the dramatic first-time exchange of I-love-you/I-love-you-too because I have always been awful at dating and also seemingly very attracted to emotionally unavailable men from the BEGINNING OF TIME.. I don’t know. So my loneliness is another loneliness than what we’re discussing— a lonely apple from the same tree of loneliness
KL To paraphrase something I once told someone I was considering having sex with: nothing makes me dry up and evaporate faster than feeling like I’m in a sitcom. Like everything is typecast and scripted and the audience will laugh no matter what anyone says or does or doesn’t. I want every important relationship in my life to be invented and anisotropic, impossible to replicate or “replace” because the most important components aren’t categorical. The answer should be impossible to give without putting a name at the end of the question: what about loving [you]?
KL I think the only way to achieve this kind of creative flow with someone is to really refuse to perform for them, which is more complicated than it sounds. That there’s a whole layer of experience men don’t really understand is often true. (That they don’t even try to understand, sometimes true.) There have been a few times in my life when I’ve felt so tired and disillusioned with what seemed then like men not ‘seeing’ me the same way I was seeing them that I experimented with Just Giving Up, just allowing myself to just train-hop onto whatever fast and flattening narrative projection that embarrassing and ill-fitting fling was throwing at me.
Later I realized a lot of the problem of feeling like when men were unable to see me was my own failure to flip on the lights. Communicating effectively requires a raw entitlement to getting the truth across — whatever that might be in the moment — as more important than any other end, like validation or appeasement or peace or what the other person expects or is going to think.
That priority is more difficult to source and seize when your gender’s default programming is self-loathing and mandatory lifelong role-play.
LC In a way I suppose I’ve been in a relationship with an absent other for a large part of my life, and that’s shaped me? And that very absence of a person in some sense can be equated to the inability to fully understand one’s partner’s life experience as a woman? But that seems really fucking bleak. Bummer. Whatevs! Lol don’t know if this is lucrative at all
AA I feel like this is super useful Leah bc now we’re talking about the you of poetry which is as relevant (if not more) as the you of whomever we’re loving—maybe it’s the permanent placeholder at the end of Kylee’s “what about loving [you]?”
Or maybe loving the you of poetry is a coping mechanism I’ve developed so I don’t have to deal with the person who’s actually in front of me
And this conversation is about dealing with that person
KL This feels like a highly feminine problem that isn’t limited to women: the need, more urgent among the more alienated, to continually remind the people in your life that you’re fully and painfully inhabiting your own separate, self-aware consciousness. In her essay “Selfcare as Warfare“, Sara Ahmed termed this “those who have to insist they matter to matter.” We have to insist and we have to invent the relationships we need. So a person’s ability to ‘know’ or relate to my experience is less important to me than his ability to be flexible and generous when confronted with the bare fact that other people exist.
AA This reminds me of “radical acceptance,” the idea of surrendering to reality as it is– in this case, like I said above, accepting that your partner is who he actually is.
Which is absolutely NOT the same thing as approving of your partner as he is, or accepting that that’s your relationship forever
It’s just accepting that right here and now, he gets certain things and doesn’t get other things, and assessing your relationship from the standpoint of knowing who he is—once you’ve accepted that, it’s like, what do you do? Do you leave, because you’ve accepted that he’s not going to be the right partner for you? Do you teach him, because you’ve accepted that his experience of the world is different from yours? Do you put up with his bullshit?
As i’ve gotten older (aka very very recently bc I’m a baby and this baby loves to burn a bridge) I’ve realized that I have people in my life, and animals and books and music, that meet different parts of my desperate need to be understood, but maybe nothing’s gonna fill that void 100%.
My need to be understood is another way of needing to be allowed to exist in civilization, or accepted/approved of. And it’s like—I am articulating this for the first time as I write it so it feels extra thrilling/may be shakily described—my partner doesn’t need to 100% understand my experience, but he needs to accept it and believe it.
KL Anyway, gender as we know it is ending, that much is obvious. The end has been and will continue to be too slow and violent, but it’s here, and anybody who is really married to essentialism is going to age into a limited and less-free luddite. What about loving?
AA I feel like this is a process, like you both said above, of basically unlearning all this self-loathing that we’ve learned from shitty dudes and baby boomers and photo teachers
All photo teachers
Are aging fuckboys
LC LOL yes
AA In conclusion, I want you to know that in that photo class I started taking close-ups of my vagina and one male classmate said I looked like a monster and ultimately I got a B
He actually said that
I’m freaking out
AA Yeah it was the best critique
KL “Looked like a monster”
AA I was like not not into it
LC What is this photo class?!!?
AA Intermediate b&w at nyu duh
LC Omg lol
KL There’s that Chris Kraus line abt monsters
“The Blob, mindlessly swallowing ad engorging, rolling down the supermarket aisle absorbing pancake mix and jello and everyone in town. Unwise and unstoppable. The horror of The Blob is a horror of the fearless. To become The Blob requires a certain force of will.”
Aiden Arata‘s work has appeared in publications including BOMB, Shabby Doll House, FORTH, and Hobart. She lives in Oakland, CA, and blogs about witchcraft at thefatamorgana.com.
Leah Clancy is a poet and writer from Buffalo, NY living in Los Angeles. She’s an MFA Candidate in the CalArts Creative Writing Program, and is a cofounding editor of Potluck Mag. Her work has appeared in Revolver, Ohio Edit, Electric Cereal & more.
Kylee V. Luce is a writer in Los Angeles. She hates watching television.
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