On Brett Easton Ellis, “SJWs” and Power Imbalances

Before I start this, a brief acknowledgement that I am contributing to an Internet storm in a teacup, and that this is not, in general, a wise thing to do. I am writing here about a clickbaity piece that attacks various clickbaity responses to a piece of clickbait. This may well be the All Time Hottest Take. I just hope that I’ve earned enough goodwill from my readers by posting on topics like the best electoral strategy for the Lib Dems or out-of-print solo albums by the least-known of the Beach Boys that you know this site isn’t going to turn into i100 any time soon.

Now, those of you not on Twitter between about 10PM and 11:30PM will not have noticed that 90s writer Brett Easton Ellis, author of such books as Manly Angst Men, I Own an Elvis Costello Album, Definitely Not An Autobiography: The Story Of Ett Breaston Bellis, Greatest Writer Alive And Sex God, and The One That’s a Bit Like Fight Club But Not As Good, has written “an excoricating monologue on social justice warriors and political correctness”.

This piece, which I won’t link to, is for the most part exactly like every other “takedown of SJWs”. Mr. Ellis points to an article about a female singer, Sky Ferreira, which talks about “defiantly atomic boobs”, and then talks about several thinkpieces written about this article by deadline-pressed space-filling journalists, all of which say that the article is not very good, and is sexist.

Mr. Ellis then talks about these pieces being Nazism, censorship, the downfall of Western civilisation, and all the normal things we hear about this kind of thing. Of course, when one looks at the pieces he’s talking about, most just say “this is sexist”. One is actually a very funny parody of the original piece, talking about John Lennon using the same language:

John Lennon’s appeal is that he’s the geek’s dream guy, Clark Kent from Superman, except he looks like a supermodel from an obsessively vain novel like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. There’s also something dark and unpleasant about his look, which fans our fetishized interest in both how he composes his career, and the crazy possibilities of Masochism as both fine art and electro hair-metal for baby boomers who need something a bit dirtier than Brian Wilson’s candy-coated fakeness.

One would expect Mr. Ellis, an alleged satirist, firstly to recognise this as satire rather than a demand to send the author to death camps, and also to notice that satire cannot easily coexist with the Nazism he claims these writers espouse. (Which is not to say Nazism can be defeated by satire — as Peter Cook said “those wonderful Berlin cabarets… did so much to stop the rise of Hitler”).

None of these pieces call for the original to be censored, of course. They’ve just said that the original piece is a dull piece of badly-written lechery. Mr. Ellis comes closer to calling for censorship than any of the supposedly-censorious women he castigates, and like all critics of “SJWs” he seems to believe that the US First Amendment, which he cites because of course he does, actually says something like “Jezebel shall make no hot takes disrespecting a white man’s opinion, or mocking his exercise thereof”.

All that is, however, typical for this sort of piece. Middle-aged white man in the media doesn’t like the kids these days and their political correctness and their Pokemons and their hula-hoops and skiffle music isn’t news.

However, Mr. Ellis makes another apparent point, which does need refuting, and which is really the crux of his “argument”:

I kept thinking, what if all I wanna do is bang Nick Jonas? And I could probably write a 1500 word ode to him, talking about his sexy chest and his ass without really liking his music at all; is that gonna be a diss on Nick? Or, if a woman wants to write about how she really hates Drake’s music, but finds him so physically sexy and desirable that she’s lusting for it from him? Where would that put her? Would either of those cases raise an eyebrow? No.

Now this is the “what about WHITE lives mattering? When’s STRAIGHT pride day?” attitude, but Mr. Ellis goes on to say “The reality of the world is that men look at women, and men look at other men, and women look at other men, and women especially look at other women and objectify them. Has anybody been on Tinder lately, and seen how our Darwinian impulses are gratified in a swipe or two? This is the way of the world in order for our species to survive, and I doubt that is ever going to be erased.”

This is, of course, true. But the thing is, no-one has ever asked for that to go away. What they’ve asked is *for men to stop talking about their sexual desires in non-sexual contexts*. And there’s a very good reason for that.

You see, the equivalence Mr. Ellis makes is a false one because women cannot afford to have the same attitude to male sexual attraction that men can have to attraction from women.

As a man, I do not experience constant sexual harassment in the way that many, many women do. Of course, some of that may be because I am quite horribly unattractive in every way, but even if I didn’t look like a balding snaggle-toothed Hagrid from Harry Potter, I suspect it would happen rarely. The one time I *have* been sexually harassed by a random woman, I was able to treat it as a rather bizarre joke, because I was not threatened in the slightest.

Women, on the other hand, have to put up with that kind of attention on a constant basis. And worse than that, the threat of rape is a very real one for women at all times, in a way that it just isn’t for men.

(Of course some men *do* get raped, especially vulnerable men, and it’s horrific when they do. But in comparison with the levels at which it happens to women, it’s not a day-to-day worry for men in general in the same way).

I am a heterosexual man with (sorry if this is a little too much information) a high libido. I notice and respond to the same anatomical features that most heterosexual men respond to. I feel absolutely no shame in that. Yet what I *don’t* do is go up to my female friends and say to them “wow, you have defiantly atomic boobs — those two knockers could alter the course of human history”, because even apart from the ridiculously bad phrasing, that would be a horrible thing to do. They would feel threatened, and quite possibly in immediate danger. A level of sexual attention that would, when coming from a woman towards me (or from another man, assuming he wasn’t generally threatening), be flattering (if incomprehensible) would when directed from a man towards a woman be terrifying.

This isn’t having a double standard, it’s merely taking context into account. When one sees Kevin objectified in Ghostbusters, it’s funny. Swap it round, and it’s a cliché. In the same way, comments that would be flattering when directed from a woman to a man become threatening when directed from a man to a woman.

And so many, many, women are made profoundly uncomfortable by unexpected-in-context displays of male lust. This is not the same as them being censorious bigots who want to shut down dissent. It’s them saying “this makes me uncomfortable, please stop it”.

Actual censorship, and even the threat of it, is a terrible thing. Sighing with disgust and saying “put it away” when someone gets his cock out and starts waving it around, however, is not censorship, and is not “neutering” or “castration” as Mr. Ellis claims. It’s just tiredness, because men imposing their sexuality on those around them is as tiring as Mr. Ellis’ own attempts at still being a bad boy brat-packer in his fifties.

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5 Responses to On Brett Easton Ellis, “SJWs” and Power Imbalances

  1. Sass says:

    Excellent post. The only bit I disagree with is, as ever, the bit where you say you’re unattractive :-(

  2. Deiran says:

    i think the quote you referenced about that “90s writer” used the word “excoriating” not “excoricating”

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