An Incomplete Guide to Public Vulnerability

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An Incomplete Guide to Public Vulnerability

  • Stephanie Rogers

    Stephanie Rogers is a twenty-four year old human being living and existing in Asheville, North Carolina. She spends her free time nurturing various addictions which include caffeine, the Internet...

An Incomplete Guide to Public Vulnerability

For some reason, I missed the mid-2000s MySpace trend. Maybe it had something to do with my parents’ belief that Myspace was the gateway drug to becoming a “webcam model.” Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I signed up for Facebook instead. Either way, I’m kind of bummed about it. MySpace would have scratched a real psychological itch of mine to express my feelings on the Internet, and I think I could have killed it. I would have had a cool profile.

Fortunately, I had my Blogspot. At the time, it was self-consciously titled Funeral for a Freshman, and it’s still out there somewhere, floating through the cached pages of the Internet. “Funeral for a Freshman? That’s so emo, I love it!” the cool girl at church told me. She was cool because she had her cartilage pierced and packed birth control for church summer camp. I lived in both judgment and awe of her, and craved her validation.

Funeral for a Freshman was my coping mechanism for the hell that was public high school. In some ways, it was similar MySpace: I titled all the posts with relevant song lyrics, wrote thinly veiled posts about my friends, and changed the layout multiple times a week. However, the difference was that my Blogspot was password protected and highly secret. This was convenient because no one knew how I really felt. This was inconvenient because no one knew how I really felt.

Are you ever haunted by the feeling that you’ve HOPELESSLY wrecked your whole life? I wrote in 2010, dramatically. I sacrificed my true passion for a dull reality of mindless consumption and unflossed teeth. I’ve lost what made me DIFFERENT. Who am I? And why am I so ALONE?

I have no idea what triggered this, or what flossing has to do with “losing my passion,” which I'm pretty sure was just cute boys. And I’m sure I just got even more emotional after I finished the post. That’s the havoc that Blogspot wreaked on my emotional life back then: it fed my ego and sense of existential isolation simultaneously, in a truly awful way. Sometimes, I wouldn’t even write posts. I would just scroll through my own blog and read stuff, thinking, “Man… I’m a pretty good writer.” It was like jacking off into a mirror.

I was critical of actual masturbation at the time. Of course boys did it. Boys will be boys, etc. But girls? It just seemed sort of.... tasteless. Very unclassy. Then, one night in high school, my friend Mariah got so drunk on vodka that she curled up on the kitchen floor in the fetal position and slurringly confessed that she had been using her electric toothbrush to get off since the fourth grade. Retrospectively, it's hilarious. That's like, as good as clitoral stimulation gets for most high school girls. But at the time, I was horrified. It was an egregious affront to the feminine convention.

And then I started thinking…. was it really that much different than what I was doing alone in my bedroom? We all just want to feel good, but when there’s no one around to enable you, you gotta take matters into your own hands. Literally. I just happened to use my laptop instead of my toothbrush. Blogging is my way of intellectually touching myself. And, like any good Christian is bound to tell you, when you touch yourself, you don’t come without consequence.

 

Which is another way of saying that writing about your personal life on the Internet gets weird. The other day, I sat down at my desk and wrote a list of everything that someone would know about me if they have been following my writing for the last few years. It goes like this, in no specific order.

I am depressive. I have a therapist. I am an ever-anxious individual plagued with dismal thoughts, one who recently spent two days in bed chain-smoking joints and listening to “Blue Flower” by Mazzy Star on repeat. (TWO DAYS. Do you know how long two days feels when you're that stoned?)

You have an overview of my sex life and my recent relationships. In college I wrote about anal for class credit. You know about my friends who have died, the friends I’ve lost touch with, what I've snorted and why, and how I spent each of my birthdays for the last three years.

These are things I would never tell most people. Haha, who am I kidding? Of course I would! I am a chronic oversharer obsessed with herself. (For the record, we are ALL self-obsessed narcissists, and if you really think you are the exception, well… consider that your proof.) Exploiting my life for the sake of writing about it has been my philosophy ever since Blogspot. To write about my own failures and neurotic tendencies feels like an act of resistance, in an intrinsically female way. It feels cathartic, and it feels like coming clean.

As Chris Kraus writes in her experimental novel I Love Dick, “I’m moved in writing to be irrepressible. Writing...seems like some holy cause, ‘cause there’s not enough female irrepressibility written down. I’ve fused my silence and repression with the entire female gender’s silence and repression. I think the sheer fact of women talking, being, paradoxical, inexplicable, flip, self-destructive but above all else public is the most revolutionary thing in the world.”

I don’t believe in applying “boundaries” to artistic self-expression anymore, simply because it does not serve me. It doesn't serve anyone. There is an incredible pressure on women to have it all together. To have careers and wardrobe capsule collections, girl squads and gym memberships, dewy skin and cunnilingus. We have Beyonce, we have birth control, we have Eat Pray Love and Gwyneth Paltrow. We have everything we need to be empowered. The pressure is exhausting. Awhile back, I read an Onion headline: Woman Now Empowered by Everything a Woman Does, and I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry.

Empowerment feminism is fucking killing me. Positivity culture is killing me. Expanding awareness of social conditioning and political correctness via the Internet is progressive, and incredible, yes. But the language that surrounds empowerment feminism leaves no space for emotional vulnerability, and that is problematic. We can't all be queens. We can't all be flawless. We can't all just dump his ass. Not all the time, anyways. Implying that there are certain feminist metrics of behavior (see also: endless arguments over whether or not posing nude is politically productive) that, if not met, will result in a revocation of your membership card to the Feminist Club is useless. It feels like the same old oppression in different clothing.  

I’m tired of feeling like I need to be strong. I’m tired of feeling like I need to be independent. And I’m especially tired of wondering about whether or not I am falsely conscious of my own agency: am I a modern, autonomous woman or merely succumbing to the dominant culture because I like to buy face masks and have sex from behind? Is Gone Girl a “feminist” book? Does downloading Tinder for thirty minutes of easy attention and thereby becoming complicit in my own self-objectification make me less #empowered? As scholar and journalist Emily Witt writes in her excellent 2016 essay collection Future Sex, “every expression raised the question of false consciousness: women were described as ‘objectifying themselves,’ ‘degrading themselves,’ or ‘submitting unthinkingly to contemporary pressures.’ A woman could not even give a blow job without a voice in the back of her head suggesting she had been ‘used.’ . . . If every expression by a woman would be second-guessed, it left men as the sole rational agents of narrative.”

She has been skewered by different bloggers for writing a "depressing" book and being a "poor excuse for a feminist," but the sentiments she expresses are incredibly real and relatable, even if they are "problematic." The moment we erase the neuroses and the mania of—not even womanhood, but selfhood, since that is really the point—is the moment “feminism” loses sight of its original goal: that of humanizing. And if what Witt posits is true, then the only real solution is to take the narrative into our own hands. Even if it’s ugly. Or “problematic.”

 

And we’re definitely getting somewhere. In the television world, Broad City is a great start. But there is still not enough of the kind of female writing I would like to see - writing that is honest, smart, “crazy.” Not in the style of Bukowski, Henry Miller, or even F. Scott “Hold My Hair Back” Fitzgerald (god, I fucking hate him) - writers whose phallus hangs over the narrative like the ghost of fuckboys past, ruining everything that would otherwise be good. I don’t want to read women imitating men. I want to read women. Real writing about flawed women who don’t structure their thinking around the old patriarchal guard.

It surfaces—occasionally. And when it does, it is unequivocally brilliant. I Love Dick, for one. It is not, contrary to its title, a cheerful book about the many joys of penetrative sex. No, I Love Dick is about erotic obsession, and self-debasement in the name of that obsession. Watching Kraus/the narrator throw herself again and again at the blank wall of lust, hoping it will give way to something productive, if not tender and/or meaningful, is ugly to read and even uglier to relate to. But you relate to it. That’s the point.

Amy Dunne from Gillian Flynne’s novel Gone Girl, mentioned earlier, is another great example of this. She is a fucking psychopath, and OBVIOUSLY not a good person. But she is one of the most complex, nuanced characters that we have seen in recent memory, particularly because she exposes the dark underbelly of a psyche that just happens to be female. No, it’s not a novel that explicitly aims to communicate the feminist rubric. It’s past that. It’s better than that.

This weekend, I went down the long rabbit hole of reading former beauty editor Cat Marnell’s new memoir How To Murder Your Life—a cracked-out binge read about working at Conde Nast high off your face on amphetamines. Imagine writing about beauty while your arms are covered in bruises from shooting up. Wild! It was juicy, disturbing, and utterly human. After finishing the book, I devoured every single piece she had online, especially "Amphetamine Logic," a column on Vice. My favorite is “Coke Sex for Teen Sluts,” which opens with the following sentence: “Sometimes when a dick is inside me, I can’t help but think about my family.” Fucking killer! That’s what I’m talking about!

(Honorable mention: Melissa Broder of @sosadtoday has an essay collection that everyone needs to read. Anyone that is willing to publish an essay about their vomit fetish is a TRUE kween. It’s like restorative yoga for your soul or something.)

 

Of course, being part of the solution instead of the problem means that it’s kind of my obligation to expand on the dearth of “radically honest” writing. Maybe that’s a self-important conclusion? I don’t really care. There are lots of things I should care about that I don’t (recycling, building credit, voting). Routinely crucifying my privacy on the cross of feminist literature is my way of showing I care.

The thing I found so amazing about writing early on (and still do) is how it gave me something I don’t always have IRL: a voice. No matter what was going on in my life, no matter who broke my heart and how badly, I could always gain back a sense of control by writing about it, thus subverting paranoia over false consciousness or lack of autonomy. The first weekend of my freshman year, I made out with the cutest boy I’d ever seen on top of a mountain. Right when he was about to worm his fingers in my underwear, he was like, hold on, and then puked all over my jeans. I walked him back to his dorm room and set a glass of water on his night stand. The next morning, I saw him in the cafeteria. He didn’t say hi. I went back to my room, cried, and wrote a blog post dissing him for being a shitty guy and a bad kisser. I immediately cared less.

That need for narrative control over my own life still rules my life. Which is usually productive, though artistic self-exploitation inevitably creates...problems. Mostly because producing this type of writing involves admitting how fucking neurotic I am. Sometimes I worry I do things too much “for the story.” It’s one thing to philosophically believe in oversharing as an artistic medium and quite another to be held accountable for the IRL karmic clapback.

Like, last week I picked up a shift at my old job, and a coworker turned to me while washing their hands and asked, “So how’s it going with that guy? The one that made the comment about you editorializing stuff while you guys were having sex?”

I was highly disturbed, but I was also like, well… it’s my fault for writing about it.

I worry that no one will want to date me because I will eventually reduce our relationship to a plot line. Or because I “seem insane.” Which is fair. The last four people I’ve slept with have asked me if I’m going to write about them, and it’s hard to tell if they are paranoid or secretly stoked on the idea. Maybe boys just want to be muses, too! Which I get. Being objectified can be super hot! Either way, I ALWAYS lie and say no. It’s good to keep ‘em guessing. (But don’t worry, I have a whole Google Drive filled with detailed essays about you fuckers! Just because I don’t publish them doesn’t mean they aren’t there!!!!)

 

So as much as I believe in public vulnerability, it’s not like a walk in the park all the time. I was out at the bar with a friend recently and almost choked on my Otra Vez when he said that he liked what I’ve been writing. I don’t usually expect dudes to get it. Although we made out later, so who really knows?! Not me!

And here I go again, poorly negotiating the tension between my desire for privacy and my compulsive need to run my mouth. It’s complicated, “problematic,” blah blah, but you know what's also problematic? Life. Life is one big weird piece of performance art, so we might as well just enjoy it. Write on, ladies.