Magazine | April 17, 2017, Issue

The Razor’s Edge

Wonder Woman, who does not exist, is getting her own movie. Some feminists have been perturbed on social media — I know, I know, who saw that coming? — because her fictional armpits are shaved.

It doesn’t matter if the quantity of people who are concerned about Wonder Woman’s armpit foliage number in the high hundreds. It becomes a thing on the Internet and gets amplified and discussed because social media need to be righteous about something all the bloody time.

It starts with Lyndx Myspttixlic (née Susan Johnson) writing a blog post about how the whole notion of hairlessness is oppressively gender-conformative in the context of the historicity of the male gaze. Right? Any fool can see that. The culture needs strong, positive role models of women who can deflect bullets and also have French-level lady fur.

You want to ask these people: Will you finally be happy if Wonder Woman forswears daily depilation? If not, when will you be satisfied? Seriously. Wave a wand, the world’s yours. What does it look like?

For starters, it would be a place where white women can’t paint a picture of black history. The recent Whitney Biennial featured a Dana Schutz painting of Emmett Till, the African American lynched because the locals thought he’d talked to a white woman — he hadn’t, she’d lied, and he paid with his life.

Many demanded the painting be removed; one artist demanded it be burned. A writer asked in the New Republic whether Schutz should be allowed to paint such a work — the answer, of course, being nope:

For a white woman to paint Emmett Till’s mutilated face communicates not only a tone-deafness toward the history of his murder, but an ignorance of the history of white women’s speech in that murder — the way it cancelled out Till’s own expression, with lethal effect.

As art criticism goes, it’s characteristically gaseous and overwrought, but there’s an interesting sleight of hand. The white woman’s speech that got Till murdered becomes the history of white women’s speech, thereby eliminating the right of an entire group of people to address a historical event.

This is what they want, then: rules, enforced to the molecular level, about who may say what about what. Art may not explore the human condition, because that is simply an excuse for concealing a narrative of power and exploitation. Art must identify skin color, gender, sexual interests, and perhaps the shape of one’s eyes and assign permissible subjects according to those criteria.

You can imagine a White Biennial, no? Complete with manifesto. “We, the undersigned, being pale in hue, realize that any attempt to depict a situation outside our privileged experience is an act of cultural appropriation, and therefore we will confine ourselves to celebrating events and lore from European cultures.”

They would be called Nazis by the very people who want to burn paintings for political reasons.

Many years ago at a Biennial I saw a big block of chocolate sitting on the floor, with teeth marks engraved on the edges. Nearby, a plastic simulacrum of vomit. It was intended as a comment on the culture’s unrealistic body images and how some women hoovered up the Hershey’s and barfed it back out so they wouldn’t get fat.

First of all, art that’s a comment on something, or meant to start a conversation, is usually your first clue that the artist can’t draw.

Second, if you didn’t know what the tableau was about, you could assume it was two different pieces: The chocolate was about Western plenty, and the floor-barf was a meditation on our faith in janitors. Why has he not arrived to throw sawdust? Do we really see janitors as people? Were janitors not depicted in old movies as being Swedish immigrants, and is this not a reminder that the immigrant experience is always involved in the messes made by so-called real Americans? Or maybe some kid just hurled a hot dog, I don’t know. It’s gross, whatever it is.

Back then, in the Nineties, it was still permissible to be a male-type guy who said, “Sure, it’s art, but it’s lousy art.” Now your gender invalidates your response.

“That vomit is bad art,” the guy says. “I mean, my kid could do that. Hell, my kid has done that.”

“You’re not a woman so you can’t have an opinion.”

“But I do! I’m standing here with an opinion. Several, in fact. I don’t even think it’s well-done vomit. Technically, the color — ”

“Shut up! Get out! Only women who understand the vomit are allowed to speak about it! Your opinion is violence!”

If someone overhears, takes a video, and posts it on Facebook, in three days you’ll be all over social media as the guy who denies bulimia exists or who thinks women should be sick in private, and then there’s a movement that stresses Vomit-Positive messages, and then there’s a march where everyone synchronizes their up-chucking and it’s so empowering. T-shirts: I am woman, hear me ralph. Chelsea Clinton tweets out a picture of herself with her finger down her throat.

So that’s what they want, maybe — Hollywood putting out a special edition of Wonder Woman that digitally adds leg hair, and universities with free tuition that give degrees for theses titled “It Just Makes Me Sick: Nausea and the Purgative Impulse in 17th-Century South American Midwife Poetry” or something.

This will be a sign of enlightenment. They’re welcome to it. The rest of us will be over here listening to a performance of an Asian conductor with an African-American pianist performing a concerto written by a Jew in the tradition of German music.

You know, like Nazis do.

– Mr. Lileks blogs at

In This Issue



Books, Arts & Manners


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