I consumed ‘Eat My Heart Out’ on buses, at the hairdressers, in snatched moments at cafés and pubs, all the while ruing the fact that I had no access to a pen. This is the kind of book that you relish while furiously underlining, already envisioning passages to recite in the impassioned twilight hours of wine-laden dinner parties.
Zoe Pilger’s debut follows 23-year-old Ann-Marie, Cambridge dropout and charming hysteric, as she traipses through a week in London broken hearted and unrepentantly mad. She is that most unusual of heroines- one refreshingly unfettered by the concerns of the social gaze: melancholy, furious, lovelorn, excitable, lost, horny and ‘bad’. Taken under the wing of Stephanie Haight, a celebrated feminist media-whore determined to mould Ann-Marie into her own deranged likeness, Ann-Marie is both rebel and bewildered acolyte. A slave to her own impulses, she submits to Stephanie yet can never truly be led.
The narrative weaves together opposing philosophies that reference Pilger’s PhD in romantic subjection at Goldsmiths and her work as art critic for The Independent. Read it to yourself with the measured pauses of Bill Hicks to fully appreciate her dry wit. This is a beady-eyed, fantastically funny satire of pop-cultural womanhood and the consumer-driven pretentions that undercut modern hedonism.
In one of my favourite scenes from the book, Ann-Marie recounts her refusal to be her ex-boyfriend Sebastian’s muse.
‘He said that being a muse could be really sexy like Betty Blue. We had watched that film recently. I said: But the woman goes crazy. She gouges out her own eye. And he said: But the man writes a novel about it, so it’s worth it. And I was like: It’s worth her losing an eye?’
Ann-Marie then has an encounter with an elderly gentleman in a hotel whose cunnilingus skills are so epic that his now-dead wife declared it a crime not to impart this jouissance to the world (of young women). ‘He ate and ate and ate… I tried to push his head away, but his scalp was too well-oiled and my hands kept slipping off. He was good at it.’ Ann-Marie comes.
Afterwards, she throws up into a bin.
This scene is one of many that describe and challenge the complexities of feminism, desire, agency and capitulation. Pilger portrays a world women navigate with broken moral compasses- lurching newborn foals and cynical harpies at the same time. Ann-Marie is raw. Our narrator is twisted because of her very unwillingness to be unreliable. Unlike, say, Zorg from Betty Blue, who ends up smothering his mentally ill lover with a pillow in a final, unrequested act of kindness.
‘Eat My Heart Out’ has been described as ‘Hell-bent on achieving Rimbaud’s derangement of the senses’ by the Times Literary Supplement and it reads like open-heart surgery. A pulsing, exposed organ extracted with the careful precision of surgical craft. It is a picaresque romp through the darkness of the early 20s- that period in a woman’s life, denoted as ‘maidenhood’, which more often feels like a prolonged psychotic break.
Originally published in Eclectic Magazine online.
When it comes to technology, I am not a visionary, or even competent. I have not played a computer game since a sweaty, contraband session with Zelda aged 9. I was extremely vocal in my belief that interactive mapping on phones would never, ever catch on. I do not know how to turn on my television.
Take Fuckzilla. Fuckzilla is a creation of the kink.com porn empire and almost certainly did not involve female consultation at any point in the design process. Laura G. Duncan, Robot Sex Expert and candidate for best job title ever, described him in an interview with thoughtcatalog.com as “…like Johnny Five. It has appendages, and one arm is a penetrating dildo. The other is a chainsaw that’s had the chain removed, and it’s been replaced with these silicon moulded tongues that make a circular motion.”
Damn. And I always thought “Fuck me gently with a chainsaw” was a snide, passive-aggressive insult used in excellent 80s black comedies and not, you know, aspirational. Or instructive.
As anyone who has seen Blade Runner knows, the creation of robot sex slaves is fraught with ethical, emotional and physical risk. But at least in Blade Runner, there was some semblance of sexual equality for human consumers, in the form of the delectable Rutger Hauer. The yang to Daryl Hannah’s yin. The balance of nature and aesthetics was respected.
After witnessing the abomination that is Fuckzilla, I am left with serious concerns for our future. Without more women representative in STEM fields, men will be abandoning us for living dolls in droves and we will have only erotically charged Wall-Es armed with dildo-bazookas to comfort us. That is, IF he is programmed to dispense hugs in between pelting us with phallic objects.
In all seriousness, though, the lack of gender-balanced scientific inquiry concerns me. I stumbled upon this disturbing sex aide in the depravity-wormhole that is online research:
So many questions. Is she compressed for speedier foreplay? Are all body parts that do not serve a sexual function extraneous? Is the trend for minimising things like computers and phones extending to sex dolls, now, too? Is she simply more portable, this way? Less likely to arouse suspicion in a duffle than a body bag?
And why, oh why, does her face look like the ultrasound of a foetus?
Gendered decision making in technology could pose serious dangers for women. That may seem hyperbolic, but the porn industry is well known to be at the forefront of technological innovation and has a cultural reach and acceptance like never before. As virtual reality and reality become increasingly interlinked, it is vital that we divest ourselves of sexist behaviours before we let them inform our new normal.
If current female representation trends continue, how can we insist on equality in a world that is developing independent of our input? If you are interested in the whys and wherefores, read this extremely depressing article by Eileen Pollack in the New York Times… It will leave you feeling like this.
What is so threatening to masculine identity about replacing Darwin with Jane Austen on a £10 note? So threatening that it merits abusive tweets describing rape and murder? At its apex, Caroline Criado-Perez, the campaigner responsible for this menacing spectre of Emasculation In A Bonnet (the worst kind) received ‘about 50 abusive tweets an hour for about 12 hours’.
So, why are these men so hostile to Jane? Could it be quotes such as, ‘There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort’? This was obviously written in a time before sociopaths on social media could pinpoint and broadcast your home address, as they did to Ms. Criado-Perez. Poorly played, Jane. Bit dated, that. Here she is more on track: ‘A woman, especially if she should have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can.’
196 years after her death, the pandering subordination of female intellect to the prickly intransience of masculine identity remains a necessary social tool to avoid violation. These necessary social tools are often defined as ‘womanly wiles’- manipulative, crafty, underhand, ignoble. They are conflated with our sexuality- the only arena in which we can be said to have power over men. Except when that power is taken away from us- through rape. There, we may be said to be at a loss. Gangbangers are notoriously resistant to charm.
Jane Austen is one of the best-loved female authors of all time and thus her work is regularly maligned. One of the criticisms levelled against her is her very innocuousness- the ‘mundane’ descriptions of society and love from a women’s perspective at a time where power and agency rarely went hand-in-hand with having a vagina. This very benign quality, of women navigating their future with only gentle quips and fine eyes to recommend them, should have made Jane a perfect candidate to appease the dastardly feminists while leaving insecure men with a reassuring sense of their own superiority.
It is not enough for a woman to be inoffensive, apparently. Better that we are ignored entirely. The argument that The Queen is on the other side holds no water- she is there as the Monarch, not because of her achievements. So, really, why- why is it threatening? Why is a tiny visual concession to women’s contribution to society a destabilizing force to small-minded, petty, violent misogynists?
There are those that argue that these men have been disenfranchised. That they are probably young, jobless, poor and angry. They no longer have a place in society. This may or may not be true. Due to the anonymity of Twitter, supposition is all we have. The harassment could have come from a financially stable, middle-aged man in Kent who always secretly suspected that all women are gold-digging whores and had his suspicions confirmed when his wife ran off with Lembit Opik. It doesn’t matter. These are excuses. We are coddling. A hateful misogynist is a hateful misogynist in the same way that a hateful bigot is a hateful bigot.
Misogyny is regularly downplayed or side-lined. This dismissiveness, by men and women, denigrates all of humanity. It is a cultural act of gaslighting to say that violence against women, rape culture, sexism in the workplace, street harassment and negative stereotyping is exaggerated, or is only really evident in extreme cases. Most women will not experience a bombardment of twitter abuse threatening rape and death (I speak of privileged women- for the unprivileged, the threat of rape or death can be a part of their daily lives). What they will experience is a death by a thousand cuts in which their concerns, work, effort and opinions are patronized or treated with quiet disdain.
Most men aren’t like this. Most men are lovely. Yet until, as with racism, the behaviour of those men that are Total Shitbags (or Undercover Shitbags) is called out and collectively shunned, the subtle insistence that women are not true equals will continue to pervade society. And it does. Women are not even allowed to claim ownership of this, this regular denigration. ‘We are all equal now’ can be a threat in itself, when it is used to dismiss the personal experiences of women who have not been treated as equals. It negates our concerns and renders us invisible- or worse, high-strung, shrill, aggressive, pettily overreacting.
The Hysterical Woman has been replaced by The Feminazi, her image popularly accessorized with dungarees, a shield of obesity and a coating of unacceptable hair- wielding a vibrator in a call to arms. Is it any wonder that many women, particularly women who associate their personal power with conventionally feminine traits, don’t wish to align themselves with a movement that at its heart only asks that the essential value of the female sex be treated with as much respect and deference as the male? Scared to lose what little power they have, they disassociate. This is very short sighted. Sexual power fades and a life lived in reliance upon it will be a life of dependency at best, subordination at worst.
In millions of little ways, I have made myself small over my lifetime so as not to offend, aggress, accidentally encourage, hurt, belittle or threaten men’s egos. Ways that have become second nature and men are not even parenthetically aware of. I used to consider it good manners, a socially useful tool and a relatively unimportant concession for an easy life. I am starting to think that as a sex, this pandering, this good girl niceness is what causes male rage. More than disenfranchisement. More than joblessness or poverty. Men surrounded by women that have made concessions to them since birth throw their toys out of the pram when their rightful place is threatened. By a face on a ten pound note.
So, ladies, it is our fault, really. We were asking for it. We were too quiet.
‘I do earnestly wish to see the distinction of sex confounded in society, unless where love animates the behaviour.’ – Mary Wollstonecraft.