Did you read Emily Ratajkowski’s viral essay? This week I delve into my perhaps controversial reaction to it, and my thoughts on her general figurehood, which I’ve been wanting to write about for a while.
Happened to re-read this masterpiece at a time when I could receive it more fully. I feel like you did crack open an answer here to "so what more should we do". By the end of this read I thought of many ways to chink away at "revolution" in my own life. Ways I could refocus time and energy towards meaningful work that doesn't feed the current power structure but instead builds a new one. It doesn't necessarily take privilege and wealth to refocus time and energies away from giving power to patriarchy, misogyny, racism, capitalism, but privilege/wealth definitely make the sacrifice of time, leisure, rest, status, power (sacrifices that are a required for "moving the ladder to a different spot/getting rid of the ladder") less painful. And that's to me what makes it more disappointing to see celebrities virtue signaling. They have all the time and means of survival to turn towards that work. I don't defend Kim K, and maybe I'm missing your mark by saying this, but I do think maybe her feminism is occasionally, minimally less hollow than Emily's when she brings attention, celebrity resources, and time to criminal-justice reform.
Garbage white woman calling a black woman racist. In your essay calling on understanding of perpetuating problematic actions and discourse you do the same. Giving me an f’ing break. White women like your Bernie-bro loving, holier than thou pontificating, calling black women racist dribble ARE NOT allies to black women. Especially not me. Of course you wrote for MR. I’d love for you to say this ish to my face, or any other average black woman.
3 Tips For Better Confidence
•Talk about yourself nicely
•Overwhelm yourself with kind and kind words
•Don’t just act in such a way that the surroundings are satisfied
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Hi, just passing by to say: Rick is the best! Such a brilliant creative - such a deep, humane, special person. One of the few true inspirations. He played a special part in the person I've become and am still growing into. Love him forever.
And you too are inspiring Haley!
Hayley, I've always appreciated your writing and thinking, and I agree with everything you've written here, but I couldn't help but notice that while you critique Jia Tolentino, your argument related to choice-feminism is an almost exact reiteration of her argument in "Always Be Optimizing," one of the essays in her recent collection. I was surprised that your argument does not seem to extend beyond Tolentino's—in the end, you are critiquing her for the very same limitations that your argument cannot seem to work beyond. It's a limitation that I see and feel and reproduce often in relation to my own cultural criticisms. We want to say, "This person isn't doing enough," and yet, we can't seem to do or say anything more that they are already saying and doing. Ratajkowski’s essay is easy to critique, as is Ratajkowski herself and her brand of feminism. I think the more difficult and potentially more interesting work is reading an essay like Ratajkowski’s and asking questions not only about its limitations, but about what it makes possible. What does this text know and how does it come to know what it knows? What does this text's knowledge make possible? What questions does it offer us? What does it open us toward? What might we *do* with it? From where has this knowledge traveled from and where might it continue to travel? (This kind of reading is what Eve Sedgwick calls "reparative reading.")
Really enjoyed this piece, I had been for a while thinking this but struggled to put it into the words you did so eloquently. With choice feminism at times, I felt anti-feminist because I wouldn't always think something a woman did was feminist. Though she feels empowered and she can't help the way she looks, and it is good she is able to comfortable and proud in her own skin, I can't help think, when my friends and I looked at her Instagram posts growing up, we never felt empowered but often inferior and self-conscious we will never look like that.
Sometimes I think we all need to address and identify the misogyny and male gaze we all internalise (I believe it's almost impossible for us not internalise this, growing up in a world that is still (though better) very sexist and misogynistic), I would have liked her to maybe address this, talking about the work she does, instead of stating all her Instagram posts and the makeup she applies is just for herself and to feel empowered.
Though what Emily has been through is awful and what the industry did to her is atrocious, however, like you said I wished she would have used her platform to raise awareness to all the other young women who are being exploited by this industry. Who are vulnerable because they do not have the same amount of power and platform she has, which comes with being a multi-millionaire supermodel. One of these privileges as well being a 'conventionally' attractive, young, white, non-disabled cis woman, where her story can be relatable for some, it often can't be related for many.
'What does it mean to participate and benefit from a culture you also want to denounce? Is denouncement enough?' - I have a friend who defines herself as socialist, loves Che Guevara and Cuba so much she decided to do a 'Destination Wedding' in Varadero ... ??? It was the most awkward experience I ever had, especially when she asked me to bring MAC lipsticks as the local make up lady only had terrible products, making my friend Bride very frustrated with the lack of structure in Cuba. Thank you for this, this uncomfortable true is all over the place.
My favourite edition of your newsletter yet. Just brilliant.
Fascinating! Another article on this ➡️ https://therefractedmagazine.com/2020/09/24/the-emily-enigma/ discusses em rata and her choice feminism, desirability politics, the Male gaze, the power of narrative, and the nature of choice!
Yaaaaaaaas finally an articles and ideology that I can get down with. You externalized what I have felt for years.
Especially loved this newsletter!
My big gripe with the Emily essay is that it asks the question When does a model get to own her image? (essentially, never) and answers it with money. It's an anger that the system she's usually so good at winning, exploited her. Is owning an image entirely about its renumeration? If we consider the countless photos of people in impoverished places which have won their photographers prestigious prizes, would a fat check suffice as ownership? Emily seems to me is alienated from her labour not because of content or assault, but because she hasn't been compensated for it.
Thinking about this, I think what's confusing to a lot of us is this kind of situation is that EmRata got the deluxe version of the incredibly shit kind of thing we're all at risk of. So it's enviable because it's deluxe. But it's still really, really shit. And she's trying to capitalise on that in a way, because most of us would never, ever be in a position to buy back an image of ourselves for several tens of grand, because our image has so much value on the global art market. But on the other hand, posting scantily-clad pics on social media for some innocuous reason (to show strength training progress or whatever) and ending up reblogged on some fetish site? That's more the speed of it, for most of us.
I love your writing -- it comments on pop culture, through a socialist lens.
I love that you bring in the larger picture and actually name key but often implied/unexplained concepts like neoliberalism and Marxist thinking, and in the end, you make it all make sense.
Go Haley! Sharing this with friends.
Thank you! I too read the article in a single fascinated burst, but was uneasy with its relationship both to her public persona and to the praise. Didn't have time or desire to work it out, but so glad you did!
I love you analysis of Emily Ratajkowski's article. I think you really get to the heart of something I see so often in media's portrayal of feminist discourse, which is when are we actually addressing a problem and when are we just pointing it out? Another thing I noticed about Ratajkowski's piece, which you kind of touch on, it the class element of her argument for feeding into the male gaze. If you need to have $80K to buy artwork of yourself, if you need to be making tons of money as a model or celebrity, that who can actually afford to "reclaim" their power? Is this form of power only for the rich, the beautiful, and successful? Who is she leaving out in the argument? Basically everyone! The people who are most able to "reclaim their power" by leaning into the male gaze and usually those already closest to the sources of power: people who are white, wealthy, etc. Audre Lorde said it best, "the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change." Thanks Haley!!
I really appreciate you offering a different view on this essay. It made me think deeper about the piece that I, like you, had read quickly and had had a fairly neutral reaction to. With that said, I was a little confused at points in this newsletter as I felt you engaged in a lot of the techniques that you critique Emily for. You write that Emily doesn't offer concrete steps or frameworks beyond choice feminism or basically getting richer to solve the issues that her piece raises (in general, I don't quite understand this criticism as at no point did I think Emily's essay was intended as any kind of call to action); however you then write fairly vaguely about how we should "deal with the harm of an exploitative upper class" and "redefine the contours of aspiration." I think these are valuable ideas to posit, but it struck me as odd that you didn't explore them further (and without examples of what that looks like in practice) while critiquing Emily for not going far enough. I'd be curious to know what you view as real ways to "redefine the contours of aspiration" that go beyond just writing those words (I'm not writing that sarcastically, I genuinely enjoy your writing and thoughts and would love to hear the real ways that you have had to reset capitalist desires or how you are fighting for better policies for Black women). As others in the comments have pointed out, you don't go into the sexual assault aspect of Emily's essay and I read in one of your replies to a commenter that you made this choice knowing that you were writing to a specific, generally liberal-minded audience that, presumably, was all on the same page as you regarding how horrible Emily's experience was. You also critique Emily for speaking so plainly about not being able to afford $80k in art, but being able to afford $40k. To me, it looks like Emily made the same decision there that you did in your newsletter which is knowing your audience and editing accordingly so as not to have too many unwieldy topics to address in one single piece of writing. Emily Ratajkowski knows that we all know that she's a rich celebrity and so chose not to explain further how spending that much money on art is obscene, especially when the main purpose of her essay was, in my view, a personal reflection on her personal experiences as a model who has become divorced from her image in often harmful ways. All that said-- thank you for writing this! It prompted a lot of interesting conversations with friends about the limits of choice feminism and as always I loved all your reading recommendations.