The first line of Virginie Despentes’ King Kong Theory (written originally in French as King Kong Theorie and then translated into English) is:
“I am writing as an ugly one for the ugly ones: the old hags, the dykes, the frigid, the unfucked, the unfuckables, the neurotics, the psychos, for all those girls that don’t get a look-in in the universal market of the consumable chick.”
Prior to King Kong Theory (which refers to the hypersexualization and damsel-in-distress-ifying of female leads in every King Kong manifestation), Despentes’ name was known primarily for writing and directing the French film Baise-moi (Fuck Me in English). The movie shocked French audiences with its graphic rape scenes, murder plots and REAL sex (no undies were on in those takes). Despentes received quite the backlash from critics and audiences and this book is largely a response to the criticisms of her haters. The part that isn’t sassily justifying her art, vision, and situated mode of thinking is half theoretical expansion and half memoir – fusing it all into one book that’s accessible, entertaining and chock full of analysis of the type of -isms that can make the heart of this feminist melt.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of pop culture moments for those of us who need that fix, but right alongside them is the nitty-gritty analysis that most commercially successful pop-feminism books tend to leave out (Think: Inga Muscio’s Cunt). Despentes writes about the aesthetic of ‘hooker chic’ (she’s talking to you, Courtney Love), while then turning around and being able to add to the discourse on the commodification of women. There is a buying/purchasing of women’s bodies beyond sex work (work that Despentes herself did for some time) and Despentes locates this in the trend of women hypergamously sex-ing or relationship-ing. Bringing in concepts like the marriage contract and how it functions as a sexual trade for various ‘goods’ allows Despentes to make solid commentary on and to those who have dismissed her life choices and the knowledge she’s gained from them.
Positioned at an intersection of having experienced rape, worked as a sex worker and in the porn industry, Despentes uses her standpoint to blow apart feminine ideals and applauds those who refuse to be regulated.
Of course I wouldn’t write what I write if I were beautiful, so beautiful that I turned the head of every man I met. It’s as a member of the lower working class of womanhood that I speak, that I spoke yesterday and am speaking again today. When I was on the dole I was not ashamed of being a social outcast. Just furious. It’s the same thing for being a woman I am not remotely ashamed of not being a hot sexy number. But I am livid that as a girl who doesn’t attract men, I am constantly made to feel as if I shouldn’t even be around.
Looking at beauty as an axis of power would make Naomi Wolf proud. The book is full of these referential feminist theoretical musings that are cut with such honestly, wit and anger that they resonate with the reader.
King Kong Theory doesn’t stop at reviewing and engaging with the history of the feminist movement. Despentes is quick to identify where the movement still needs to make inroads: childcare, equal pay, and the redefinitions of gendered ideals (like success). There are some generalizations that maybe shouldn’t be taken at face-value (“men are …”) but rather seen as constructions that she’s built according to her experiences.
Despentes, who refers to herself as “more King Kong than Kate Moss,” offers a risky, though engrossing, read.