Girl World is the unseen parallel dimension where women wage a forever war between shifting alliances in a John Connor-less dystopia. Men are mostly oblivious of this horrorscape, though they occasionally pick up on hints of it, puzzling to their girlfriends, "Huh, she said that in a weird tone." Girl World's many feuds, for the most part waged via "little comments," include the ancient Blondes vs. Brunettes, the post-Title IX Sporty Girls vs. Girly Girls, and the brutal Thin Girls vs. Curvy Girls. One of the most fraught wars of Girl World is Women Who Write About Women's Stuff vs. Women Who Don't Have Weird Hangups, because the former category has a near monopoly on magazine feature wells. The most important feature of Women Who Write About Women's Stuff is that they are trolls. This week's top troll is Katie Roiphe, who argued for Newsweek that all this equal rights for women stuff has made women more interested in getting beaten up during sex. Behold, Roiphe's quick movement through the stages of troll.
Girl World Troll Phase One:
The troll's goal is to maximize emotional outcry with the simple thesis, "Heads up bitches: you think you know but you have no idea," and then "prove" said thesis with a personal anecdote or bit of pop culture. That was the tactic of the Daily Mail's Samantha Brick, who earlier this month sought and received the outrage of the English-speaking Girl World when she wrote how hard life is when you're pretty:
If you’re a woman reading this, I’d hazard that you’ve already formed your own opinion about me — and it won’t be very flattering. For while many doors have been opened (literally) as a result of my looks, just as many have been metaphorically slammed in my face — and usually by my own sex.
Brick's proof was that one time a female neighbor didn't wave at her on the street, and a different neighbor said it was because she was fat and Brick was thin, and that another time a boss thought Brick was flirting with her husband. But Brick is certainly not the first Girl World troll. Another example might be the entertaining, insightful, thought-provoking essay about porn written for The Atlantic last year by Natasha Vargas-Cooper, who argued that porn reveals even the sweetest boyfriends love watching extreme penetration YouTubes because they are programmed to want to humiliate women. ("Armed with a 'Take Back the Night' pamphlet, we were led to believe that, as long as we avoided the hordes of date rapists, sex was an egalitarian endeavor… This is an intellectual swindle that leads women to misjudge male sexuality, which they do at their own emotional and physical peril.") At one point, her essay seems to suggest that her single bad date is concrete evidence of a nationwide anal sex crisis.
And then there's Roiphe, who says that there are a couple of books and movies that are popular right now, and they involve a little lite S&M, so women are wrong in thinking women want egalitarian sexual relationships:
It is perhaps inconvenient for feminism that the erotic imagination does not submit to politics, or even changing demographic realities; it doesn’t care about The End of Men or peruse feminist blogs in its spare time; it doesn’t remember the hard work and dedication of the suffragettes and assorted other picket-sign wavers. The incandescent fantasy of being dominated or overcome by a man shows no sign of vanishing with equal pay for equal work, and may in fact gain in intensity and take new, inventive—or in the case of Fifty Shades of Grey, not so inventive—forms.
This is proven by some popular books and TV shows.
In Girls, Lena Dunham’s character finds herself for a moment lying on a gynecologist’s table perversely fantasizing about having AIDS because it would free her from ambition, from responsibility, from the daunting need to make something of her life. It’s a great scene, a vivid piece of real-seeming weirdness, which raises the question: is there something exhausting about the relentless responsibility of a contemporary woman’s life, about the pressure of economic participation, about all that strength and independence and desire and going out into the world? It may be that, for some, the more theatrical fantasies of sexual surrender offer a release, a vacation, an escape from the dreariness and hard work of equality.
(No one in the history of Western Civilization has fantasized about having a debilitating illness to get out of work. Oh, wait, there's this passage from The Discovery of France, by Graham Robb, about France in the 18th and 19th centuries: "The infirmity… was a blessing to the natives. The birth of a cretinous baby was believed to bring good luck to the family. The idiot child would never have to work and never have to leave home to earn money to pay the tax collectors.")
Girl World Troll Phase Two: Deny You're a Troll
The trolls' next step is to marvel at all the uproar and say it only proves you were right. The day after everyone made fun of her I-feel-pretty essay on the Internet, Brick wrote:
I knew this was sensitive territory at which women would take umbrage — but I thought it was a taboo that needed shattering... While I've been shocked and hurt by the global condemnation, I have just this to say: my detractors have simply proved my point. Their level of anger only underlines that no one in this world is more reviled than a pretty woman.
It's amazing how similar low-brow Brick's defense is to high-brow Roiphe's. Roiphe said on NewsBeast Tuesday that her story was merely a "quiet cultural analysis that seems to be provoking a good deal of vitriol on the Internet." She said the problem wasn't hers, but those who attacked her: "In our post-ironic era, one of the things people criticize is, 'This piece is so boring,' or 'This piece is so stupid." What they really mean by that is, 'This piece made us kind of uncomfortable,' which to me is a sign of a successful little polemical analysis." Further, "I think it's a good sign, a positive sign and a healthy sign when you write something that enrages, irritates and appalls so many people." It's not a bad thing to write about controversial things, she says. But people aren't mad because the topic is controversial, people are mad because they think she's wrong.
The beauty of this phase is that it's self-perpetuating. The more you say the outrage proves you're right, the more outrage exists to feed your argument. Roiphe is an accomplished troll, and her past writings suggests this is the course she'll take. Brick is a n00b, though, and has moved on to a defensive crouch: Her last essay on the subject of her own beauty is a blatant attempt to generate sympathy about how her self-confidence comes from her dad, who loved her so much. We await—and dread—Roiphe's next move with queasy anticipation.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.