King Kong Theory

Originally published in France in 2006, King Kong Theory by Virginie Despentes (Vernon Subutex 3; Bye Bye Blondie) remains astoundingly relevant. A feminist manifesto, societal indictment and memoir, this infuriating social commentary shares enraging observations about gender.

Despentes--writer, filmmaker, punk and former hooker--cleverly equates King Kong with the inner beast killed in a woman so she can fulfill her gender role. The "overmarketing of femininity" reassures men they hold more power; simultaneously, celebrated "masculinity" reminds men of their "irrepressible urges" and strength absent frailty. This power structure is why Despentes never pulled her switchblade while three men raped her and her friend. It also influences Despentes's discussion of prostitution, including how it is stigmatized for female sex workers, who should be married to enjoy sex, and male clientele, whose sexuality creates so-called "victims." Anti-porn efforts, too, are cited as a way desire is policed, particularly for women, for whom masturbation and sexual exploration means dangerous "contact with [her] wild side." "Womanhood is whoredom," she concludes: "Walk into a room, check to see whether there are any men present, do your best to please them." What she proposes is a gender revolution to free everyone from being fearfully entrenched in nonexistent archetypes.

Despentes writes with brilliance, anger, balance and purpose. In citing her attacked book (Baise-Moi), banned film adaptation and experience as a sex worker, she corroborates her central idea: capitalism "subjugates us all" by devaluing any woman's existence that isn't for men. With striking rhetoric, unabashed fury and resonating convictions, Despentes rallies women excluded from existence to her vision of demolishing broken systems. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer

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