Noah Berlatsky, contributor to Atlantic Magazine and the Platonic Ideal of cartoonishly worthless liberalism, is a man who thinks a television show about a woman’s prison has too many women. That’s really all you need to know.
Actually, wait a minute, one more thing: To get to his new dissertation on feminism, hosted on that bastion of feminist theory that is Playboy, I had to first decline faceless photos of “a 45 year-old with an amazing booty.” Okay, now that’s all you need to know.
I can’t fucking stand Noah Berlatsky. His college freshman writing style is clunky even for the Atlantic, and his articles on race and gender hit a note between aggressively dull and insultingly shallow; I don’t think I could write a better parody of rudderless dude feminism than his pathetic analysis of the role ass-shaking plays in women’s liberation. But even I couldn’t have guessed the depths to which he would descend in his latest temper tantrum about mean ol’ Meghan Murphy.
If you haven’t read the Feminist Current article that has deeply offended Noah Berlatsky, champion of nude women around the globe, I’d highly recommend it. To quote Meghan Murphy:
“Is it really a sign that we ‘love everything about ourselves’ (which, for the record, I hardly expect anyone to do. Women, especially, are taught to hate their bodies and work to alter them to suit the expectations of a misogynist society. Trans people have received the message that, if they don’t properly fit into the limiting and oppressive gender binary, there is something wrong with them that can only be resolved by embracing the opposite end of the gender spectrum) if we alter our bodies through surgery and hormones? It seems clear that ‘radical self-acceptance’ is not at all what Cox is experiencing or conveying to her audience.”
I really don’t understand how anyone could disagree with the assertion that “radical self acceptance” does not find its fullest expression in spending one’s life savings on genital mutilation and plastic surgery in order to better adhere to the standards of beauty men created ten thousand years ago and imposed on women through violence, coercion, and psychological abuse. And after reading a good hundred or so tweets sent to Meghan Murphy in response — many using misogynistic language and degrading references to female genitals — as well as Berlatsky’s article, I still don’t understand. Noah Berlatsky gives no actual explanation for why what Murphy says isn’t the case. He just says she’s “cruel” for thinking it.
See, the problem with writing any kind of rebuttal to Berlatsky’s article is that it displays a shocking lack of actual analysis beyond simply restating Meghan Murphy’s completely reasonable claims and just kinda hoping that the misogyny of the readership will be enough to ensure their rejection. For example, Noah just throws this out:
“She scoffs at the idea that trans women who take hormones or have surgery are accepting themselves. Murphy suggests that trans women are ‘spending thousands and thousands of dollars sculpting their bodies in order to look like some cartoonish version of “woman,” as defined by the porn industry and pop culture.’”
As if that assertion is so ridiculous on its face as to not warrant an actual rebuttal. But it’s not. It’s actually a pretty obvious point, Noah. The fact that you don’t see that says nothing about Meghan Murphy’s “coldness” and everything about your inability to even consider the idea that womanhood and surgically enhanced breasts actually have nothing to do with each other.
Berlatsky goes on to describe Murphy as reacting with “disgust, prejudice and horror” at the sight of a black transwoman’s body, which is the first of several deliberate and irresponsible misrepresentations. Murphy didn’t react with “disgust and horror” at the sight of Laverne Cox’s body. She reacted with disgust and horror towards a culture that would define someone’s status as a woman by whether or not people like Berlatsky find them fuckable.
This is the central point that dudes like Berlatsky and his bro-feminist brothers don’t get: Radical feminists aren’t attacking women. Radical feminists aren’t telling women what to do. Radical feminists aren’t “body policing.” Patriarchy is doing that. It’s been doing that for ten thousand years. Radical feminists are simply pointing out that patriarchy has been controlling, manipulating, modifying, and abusing female bodies since the dawn of civilization – and that fact makes a lot of people uncomfortable, so Berlatsky would rather we not talk about. In fact, he’d rather we demonize the women who notice their oppression instead of the institutions of male supremacy that actually enact that oppression.
Noah Berlatsky doesn’t mind that women are fed shit; he just minds when women question the taste.
Now, you’re probably asking yourself right now, “Hey Jonah, this is pretty bad. But there’s no way this white man would use a Sojourner Truth quote to defend his interest in softcore pornography, right?” WRONG. Because just moments after deriding Meghan Murphy for being, essentially, a cold-hearted bitch, he puts out what I have officially labelled as the nadir of popular male feminism:
“Cox, for Murphy, is a cartoon: a plastic-surgery-constructed thing, unreal and, in its parody of beauty, ugly. The loathing and contempt are palpable. With black feminist activist Sojourner Truth, Cox, in her nakedness, asks, ‘Ain’t I a woman?’ And Murphy with cold glee, replies, ‘No.'”
Have you ever read Sojourner Truth’s speech, Noah? It’s called “Ain’t I a woman.” It is not called “Aint I Fuckable,” although the terms are apparently synonymous to you. The idea that Truth’s demand for recognition, dignity, and respect is in any way equivalent to Laverne Cox being displayed for male approval — regardless of any rumored previous consumption of macaroni and cheese — is perhaps the most shameful thing I’ve ever heard a supposed “male feminist” say. I have no witty retort. Just disgust.
I feel the same disgust towards Noah’s claim that Meghan Murphy espouses “the logic that led 19th century white feminists to push for votes for white women alone.” The actual “logic” that led to the disenfranchisement and marginalization of women of color is the “logic” that sees them as things to be used by those with power over them, incapable of full humanity — and it is this “logic” that leads someone like Berlatsky to identify the power to give a white man an erection as the greatest possible freedom a black woman might have. Whether through pure ignorance or simple projection, Noah Berlatsky continues to identify radical feminists as the perpetrators of injustice that he himself celebrates.
Not one for avoiding grand declarations, Berlatsky (who at this point I assume just has some sort of contractual obligation to shove a Julia Serano quote into every single thing he writes) decides that now would be a good time to tell women they’re oversimplifying this whole “ten thousand years of male domination” thing:
“Trans feminist and author Julia Serano explained that trans-exclusionary radical feminists ‘subscribe to a single-issue view of sexism, where men are the oppressors and women are the oppressed, end of story…'”
Yes, Noah, they do. That’s what feminism means. It’s the recognition that men as a class dominate women as a class through social, political, economic, and sexual power. It is not just a self-help program for men who are sad about not being able to play around inside the cage they created for females. If you have a problem with the notion that men are oppressors and women oppressed, you don’t have a problem with “radical feminism.” You have a problem with feminism, period.
Fresh from an attempt to redefine feminism itself, Berlatsky continues his forward march through the Approved List of Liberal Dude Tropes – journeying from a ridiculous claim that transgenderism “threatens” the gender binary, past an obligatory reference to “agency,” all the way the supremely creepy final paragraph where he describes his attraction to Cox as though his finding a sexualized female body erotic is the ultimate act of resistance to patriarchy:
“She has very large hands, which are not hidden, boldly displayed. In the photo, Cox lies on a blanket; her body taut rather than relaxed, her head in one big, strong hand, eyes closed, a slight smile on her face — like she’s a little embarrassed and amused at being embarrassed. She’s voluptuous and awkward and sweet all at once. In her simultaneous enjoyment of and discomfort before the camera, she seems, in the frankly staged pose, startlingly natural — and beautiful.”
Clearly Noah Berlatsky thinks his comfort with Laverne Cox posing nude illustrates a depth of progressive thinking that Meghan Murphy simply can’t match; in reality, it illustrates nothing but the obvious fact that a naked black woman splayed out for a white man fails to challenge even the most basic assumptions that misogynistic, racist males have about the place of women of color in society. This bizarre, self-congratulatory account of arousal is, in a way, a perfect example of Berlatsky’s central error: He thinks his feelings are radical expressions of his enlightened mind, when they are in fact just banal consequences of the most boring misogyny.
Berlatsky sees himself as some sort of philosopher-poet, pontificating on the intricacies of sexuality and race, when in fact his analysis rises no further than that of a teenage boy caught by his parents watching Cinemax. It’s all just a flustered attempt to justify the fact that he finds objectified female bodies arousing. His interest in feminism begins and ends there. And if you doubt that, remember this: We’re talking about a man who dares to host his condescending lectures on a platform that offers faceless female asses to men in exchange for likes on Facebook, a man who thinks Meghan Murphy, not Hugh Hefner, is the appropriate target for scorn and derision in the name of feminism.
Strip away all the theory, all the self-congratulatory Sensitive Dude style, and you find the central problem Berlatsky has with Meghan Murphy: He thinks his penis is a better patriarchy-smashing tool than feminist analysis will ever be.
Jonah Mix is a member of Deep Green Resistance and an anti-pornography activist. He runs the blog Gender Detective at Jonahmix.com and tweets at @jonahpmix.