Maria Xia

Dear C,

I am reading an essay by a woman named Dayna Tortorici where she writes of the social and political moment happening now, where men are becoming aware of being watched and criticized, and who start experiencing this level of heightened scrutiny as an infringement, and how women witnessing this growing unease among men are uneasy themselves, sensing that the spectre of male insecurity holds more frightening consequences for women.

She says her paranoia has a kneejerk quality to it:

“Behind every brave outing I saw a legal liability. I suppose that’s what happens when you know enough men with money. Such men are minor kings among us, men with lawyer-soldiers at their employ who can curtail certain kinds of talk.”

It reminded me of a moment in “Mock Orange” by Louise Gluck:

            I hate them as I hate sex,
            the man’s mouth
            sealing my mouth, the man’s
            paralyzing body—

… where what happens to the speaker gets close to what I think is the popularly accepted (conservative, liberal) vision of female disempowerment: the curtailment of speech, theparalysis of the woman’s body under the man’s. These are the archetypal images of rape, and as
Gluck is pointing out, of bad sex. The social relations between the sexes, permeating the intimate sphere—like the odor of flowers, unremarkable and everywhere.

* * *

“The Panel found Complainant to be well-spoken and verbally skilled at expressing her opinions […] Complainant was known to and agrees that she espouses strong beliefs about personal autonomy as well as consent. […] Complainant and Respondent both explained at length that the foundation of their relationship was based on Respondent’s efforts to support, nurture, and respect her body and beliefs.” – 2016 (?)


My partner studies law. Now our arguments require maneuvering. I find that logic rises up everywhere like icebergs in cartoons—bulky inconveniences revealing themselves dramatically, and insisting on being dealt with. Substance (what I consider substance, at least— the turbulent ocean of grievances and emotions, the bobbing boat of a relationship) is loomed over, fenced in—by boundaries, by strict separations of abstract domains. I’ve come to understand the animus of law as a kind of tyranny of form—form that makes the notion of intent, desire, and even right/wrong, seem petty/pedestrian/besides-the-point.

So I can understand that as a matter of argument, in order to support a finding in favor of the Respondent, one must show that Complainant was not a woman of curtailed speech, of paralyzed body. One must show Complainant as unfettered, self-actualized, well-spoken and verbally skilled—in a sense, pure. In a formal sense, pure. The agreed-upon contracts of a relationship, the outline of a strong and self-determining woman—an appeal to the jury, does this look like a woman who…?

Or perhaps there is real prejudice, and its satellites—envy, desire, bloodthirst. Perhaps like those who scorn the unfamiliar with one hand and fetishize it with the other—so would this panel of representatives of higher learning promote respect and self-actualization while weaponizing your own against you.

Are they doing what lawyers do, or are they writing in the fullness of their prejudice? The distinction is laughably intenable, I know. There is a measure of comfort in knowing it doesn’t matter. That dreary lockstep will go on and on until something blows it all up. Here’s the panel, writing in—2015? 2016? Asking a rhetorical question, that events of the next several months will answer in full force.Does this really seem like a place where…? On the left, on the right, in the loftiest circles of the intelligentsia, the answer is a resounding, sickening yes.

- M