By Jaclyn Friedman
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Tucker Max thinks that "all women are whores" and that "fat girls aren't real people" -- and those are some of his family-friendlier observations. So why do so many women love him?
If you're not 19 and don't regularly scan the best-seller list, you may need an introduction to the Max oeuvre. Max, a hedonistic folk hero to his fans, got his start in 2002 when, egged on by a friend, he started a blog detailing what he calls his "life as a self-involved, drunken womanizer." The site now gets more than a million unique visitors every month. It has spawned a book, "I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell" -- more than 100 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list -- and his exploits have been adapted for the big screen in a movie opening this week.
Max and his growing audience share an unabashed focus on three basic adolescent obsessions: bodily functions, drinking toxic amounts of booze and "scoring." The women in his stories are insulted, tricked, coerced, traded and discarded. One conquest is vomited on and videotaped without her consent.
The author is now in the midst of a 31-city film tour, attracting sold-out crowds at every location, just as he does on college campuses across the country. And according to Max, his audiences are nearly always at least half female.
These women are not reluctant dates dragged there by men exacting revenge for being forced to sit through the "Sex and the City" movie. They are die-hard fans, willing to do almost anything to get their hero's attention. For one fan at a recent stop in College Park, that meant using her mouth as a receptacle for a male audience member's chewing tobacco. Another female fan sought out Max, slept with him, and then tattooed an explicit sentence commemorating the event just below her hip bone, thus earning the Holy Grail of any Maxite: an original Tucker Max blog entry featuring her.
This is Max's magic trick: The Amazing Max Mistreats Women and Makes Them Love Him For It! It's also his ultimate defense against critics, one that he has repeatedly deployed after the protests at some of his recent tour stops, insisting, "I am still waiting for a protester to answer the question: 'If Tucker hates women, why does he have so many female fans? Why is half of each screening women?' "
It's a good question. I'm a woman who likes both sex and a good laugh, and I find Max's antics revolting. But I'm hardly his target demographic. Max girls, mostly college-aged, come from a generation of young women raised on abstinence-only education in schools and unlimited free porn online. They are the legacy of federal initiatives in the last decade that poured more than a billion dollars into programs willing to teach girls only to "just say no."
Girls of this generation understand that their "no means no," but they've received little guidance on what to expect if they want to say yes. At the same time, as many as 90 percent of today's 8- to 16-year-old kids have viewed pornography online. As a result, once they've rejected virginity as a lifestyle, many behave as if the only other option is to act like a porn star. Tucker Max and his male fans are more than happy to direct the show.
In retrospect, we really should have seen Tucker Max coming. We've already, after all, replaced the fiercely independent vampire slayer Buffy with the helpless vampire lover Bella. The cult of Tucker Max is just a photo negative of the "Twilight" phenomenon: Both cultures view women as irresistible objects that tempt men into doing dangerous, uncontrollable things. If Edward Cullen were less stoic and less monogamous, he'd be Tucker Max.
Max girls have worked out that sexual purity is a trap -- they've even worked out that there's power to be found in proudly claiming their sexual identity. But they seem to have no idea that they can use that power and still demand respect from men. Instead, they use the language of female empowerment to rise to Max's defense with comments such as this one, posted in response to a recent column by Amanda Hess in the Washington City Paper: "REAL feminists believe that women should be able to make their own choices. . . . It seems to me that the people against Tucker Max are more at fault of degrading [women] than Tucker Max is." These Max defenders, however, avoid any discussion of actual feminism, which has argued for decades (if not centuries) that women should be afforded some realistic choices between "virgin" and "slut."
Meanwhile, on the college campuses where many of his fans live, and where Max often hosts events, rape has reached the level of a full-on crisis. Conservative estimates predict that more than 150,000 young women will be raped on American campuses this academic year. University sexual assault prevention efforts are losing funding across the country, and many schools' initiatives have been reduced to little more than a grim hour during orientation. It's hard to imagine how any school could justify allowing an "entertainer" promoting the idea that female sexual consent is the ultimate prize in a drunken game to be won by any means necessary -- no matter how much the students clamor for it.
Of course, not everyone rolls out the red carpet for Max. Protesters disrupted his appearance at Ohio State University in May, causing enough of a scene that Max required a police escort to leave the building. But in some way the protests help entrench the idea that Max is an embattled guy just trying to "keep it real" in the face of haters. Max has even launched a Photoshop contest for his fans, encouraging them to insert their own (unprintable) slogans on the protesters' signs.
Women who love Tucker Max feel rebellious because he shocks their parents and preachers. In that way, the Max phenomenon is no different from any other generation's rebellion. Every generation thinks that it invented sex. What's disturbing about this version is its unapologetic misogyny. It's bolstered by a twisted, victim-blaming tautology. Max is fond of telling women that "men will treat you the way you let them" -- in other words, if you've been used, abused or assaulted, you must have done something to invite that behavior. More troubling than that, though, Max's media empire is built on the enthusiastic participation of thousands of swooning fangirls, all competing for the title of Most Thoroughly Objectified and imagining that the crown brings with it some kind of liberation.
Jaclyn Friedman is the editor of "Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape."