Periel Aschenbrand clearly believes that if you do something knowingly, then it magically becomes acceptable, no matter how annoying or stupid or obscene it is. So, for instance, as long as she regularly acknowledges that she's a raging egomaniac, the tedium of her egomania will be forgivable, even lovable. Using the same reasoning, she thinks she can objectify herself (as she does on the cover of her memoir, posing naked except for a fig leaf) and still be respected for her ideas. In fact, she seems to believe that her "ironic" outlook can transform her objectification into a political act.
Aschenbrand's knowingness extends to her writing. Not far into this memoir, she writes: "Look, I understand that some of these details may be a bit tedious, but you'll have to bear with me if you want to get the story straight. If you're bored by these details, too fucking bad. Herman Melville droned on for like 97 pages in Moby Dick about whale semen, so this really isn't that bad."
Oh, but Periel, it is. Acknowledging your faults is a great ruse (we've all tried it at some point) but it's juvenile to think that it always, necessarily, justifies them. In America, Aschenbrand has been hailed as the queen of a new, "in your face" style of feminism. First and foremost, however, she's a dreadful writer. Reading her book, you can only conclude that it was commissioned on the strength of her fleeting infamy during the presidential election in 2004.
It was then that Aschenbrand had her first big idea: to design a T-shirt with the (admittedly snappy) slogan "The only Bush I trust is my own". This led to her second big idea: to convince 100 women (including Gloria Steinem and Susan Sarandon) to wear the T-shirt, and use images of them doing so to create a widely distributed poster.
All of this suggests that Aschenbrand is a go-ahead character with some potentially interesting political views. Her memoir, however, is an almost comically random hurtle through her life which reads, at best, like a badly written blog. At worst, it's like being stuck in a lift for a month with, well, a raging egomaniac. For instance, the first 60 or so pages are taken up with her experience teaching philosophy at a summer arts scheme, describing such devastatingly exciting events as the time she left a half-finished bottle of whiskey in the computer room (the programme was for 16- to 17-year-olds, so this wasn't all that controversial, and there were no repercussions), or the time one of the students was upset and fell asleep on her teacher's bed. Again: that's it.
This eventually leads to Aschenbrand's light-bulb moment, when she realises that she doesn't much like the T-shirts all the girls are wearing (typical slogan: "Tasty"). "I was like, the whole point is that people are constantly staring at our tits, right? And people are constantly staring at our tits because our bodies are objectified because our tits are oversexualised, right? It follows, then, that we should take ad-vantage of this fact, right?"
Thus begins Aschenbrand's attempt to harness women's objectification for political ends. Now, perhaps there was a time when the idea of a woman acknowledging and even playing up her own objectification seemed subversive, but it just doesn't cut it any more. Knowingness in this case seems an excuse, if ever there was one, for drawing attention to your tits while attempting to tread some spurious intellectual high ground. And while there is no great problem with people objectifying themselves occasionally (as, let's face it, we all do), suggesting that it's a political and, specifically, "feminist" act does feminism a huge disservice. At a time when there are still such things as rape epidemics, gaping pay gaps and patchy-at-best abortion rights, it makes feminism look like the most self-serving and disingenuous movement on earth.
To really get a sense of this book's vapidity, however, you have to read the 30 or so pages dedicated to coprophilia and Aschenbrand's bruised haemorrhoid. She justifies this section by saying that talk of such things is taboo. "I mean, maybe if people talked more, human beings wouldn't be committing the most fucking dastardly acts against one another. Maybe there would be some fucking chance for this planet to be something other than completely fucking doomed."
Which only raises the question: who knew that talking shit could be of such consequence?