TW: sexual assault, intimate partner violence

As an ADHD girly and Leo moon, I can be guilty of chancing upon a new novel thing and embracing it as the manifest doctrine by which I now live my life (or at least for the next several months). The latest contribution to my dopamine-fueled fascinations is someone by the name of Julia Fox. Thanks to her recently published memoir, “Down the Drain” (which took me right down the internet rabbit hole), I’ve been pondering, chewing on, and indoctrinating anyone in my path to the gems of wisdom put forth by this notorious nonconformist. 

You might hear the name Julia Fox and immediately think of one of two Hollywood happenings: her role in the 2019 film, Uncut Gems (and subsequent viral soundbite), or her 2-ish month ‘muse’-ship with artist, Kanye West. Much like myself, you might be surprised to discover the even more gobsmacking events that have unfolded throughout this actress/designer/writer/photographer’s 33 years of life. 

Each page of “Down the Drain” took me on the gasp-inducing, brazenly unapologetic, and raw journey leading up to Julia’s Hollywood stage debut. 

What is disguised as an ode to the ‘party girls that survived’, is really a bold and enlightening exploration of female friendships, the male gaze, and the awakening to the patriarchy’s efforts to get women to play small. 

To this last notion, in prose and in online presence, Fox says, “F that.” 

Bad Survivor

In the book, Julia discusses multiple experiences of sexual assault and abuse at the hands of men across her lifetime. In her introspective telling, she simultaneously describes the palpable shame she feels being judged, doubted, and ridiculed by those around her, while remaining unrepentant about her ‘messy’ and painful past – which includes a months-long confinement to a psych ward as a teenager, her year working as a dominatrix, multiple arrests, and surviving a series of drug overdoses. 

For many of us, carrying the label of “survivor” is a challenging burden to bear. Even as broader society pushes for change and visibility through the Me Too movement, we keep seeing that public survivorship comes with stipulations. Being brave and loud does not always mean being believed, and even in our strongest moments, echoes of shame and rationalization threaten to weigh us down: He was a friend. He was my boyfriend. I was drunk. I was high. I initiated it. I was young

I felt these familiar pangs as I read one particular incident Julia details in which an ex-boyfriend assaults her in plain sight, in the middle of a crowded club. Despite multiple witnesses and the immediate rush of patrons to check on her, Fox reveals what so many of us have experienced as the duplicitous nature of victim blaming and shaming. Witnesses who initially rally behind her gradually fall silent and so-called friends begin to excuse away the assailant’s behavior. Ultimately, Fox is forced out of her native New York City, her less-than-wholesome history used against her to cast doubt on her accusations.

One thing that is clear in Fox’s story is how much society misunderstands and limits our healing process in the aftermath of abuse. On one end, we understand the numbing, disassociation, and reckless behavior, while on the other, society imposes a deadline and a triumphant moment in time when all pain is to be forever banished to the past. Yet, Fox’s unfiltered and unconventional journey symbolizes a rebellion against the ‘good survivor’ mold. In defying these rigid expectations, she helps us see a path where solace, strength, and genuine healing are achieved, not by hiding, but by continuing to live our lives authentically.

The Power of Female Friendships

I’ll admit, towards the middle of the book, I was nursing a bit of pinball whiplash. Fox’s portrayal of her close friendships, starting with her childhood best friend Mia, all the way up to her late best friends (both passed away from overdoses), Gianna and Harmony, to whom the book is dedicated, are described almost like romantic relationships – at times toxic and codependent, always all-encompassing, and very, very monogamous. 

“I think female friendship is a great topic to explore because when it’s that intense, it can move mountains. At least for me, they’re the strongest, most beautiful, trusting relationships I’ve ever had, and they are the ones that stand out in my mind way over any boyfriend I’ve ever had.” 

Julia Fox, New York Times interview

But I also found myself longing for the familiarity of that closeness – the kind of bond that eats up the entire day in texts and phone calls; where free time is just more time to be together and mundane tasks become shared experiences; where anything and everything, including toothbrushes, beds, socks, and deodorant are free reign. Haven’t we all had at least one of those all-encompassing best friendships (I asked Google, and to my relief, it’s a yes)? I recalled how life-giving and affirming those connections during my formative college years were, our genuine comfort with each other (evident in our unreserved and unaffected nakedness – both figuratively and literally), and the profound, barebones camaraderie we shared. If you wronged one of us, you wronged all of us. I couldn’t help but smile while reading some of these passages, thinking of the safe and nurturing bonds my friends and I have forged amidst adversity and existential angst. 

Learning about Fox’s upbringing, characterized by neglectful and emotionally abusive caretakers, a financially struggling single-parent household, and probably way too much independence way too soon, sheds light on the genesis of her self-made community. Her family of “dreamer and delinquent” women and femmes that she’s collected along the way, became integral and necessary companions on her journey, and her devotion to them shines through in every passage. As a single mom in the present day, she cites her community as the most essential influence in raising a conscientious, thoughtful, and feminist son, proving that it’s not just life-changing to nurture genuine friendships, it’s life-saving

In Her ‘Decentering Men’ Era

To a large extent, Down the Drain is a book about the balancing act we women must perform for survival in a world that consistently objectifies us and a society that seldom acknowledges our full humanity. 

Fox describes being sexualized young – her first kiss occurs with a 26-year-old man when she is just 11 years old, launching a string of encounters with other men through her late teens that are abusive, exploitative, and designed to fulfill their one-dimensional desires. Towards the end of the book, she laments what she’s learned over time about the patriarchy’s molding and constraining of women, and states that she’s enjoying the peace and safety that has settled after losing her sultry curves and embracing her “weird-core” personal style – even proudly mocking the social media trolls who accuse her of “uglifying” herself. In her grown wisdom, she encourages women to resist the flattening of our identities, to prioritize ourselves, and to create a life independent of the male gaze.

I’m not going back to being objectified and used as fuel for the egos of insecure men. 

Listen, I’ll be honest. I’m still working on it. As a fellow 33-year-old woman, I’ve had my fair share of experiences with bad men (and an extension to them, their apologists), and even so, I’m still conditioned to see men as the prize and pander to their opinion of me. But, much like Fox expresses, there’s a biting, yet profoundly liberating feeling in awakening to the contradiction-by-design and futility of trying to meet their demands. I’m not supposed to fulfill them. And I don’t want to anymore. 

The ones that get it, get it

Fox’s ubiquitously viral soundbites compound her assertion in the book that she’s often underestimated and misunderstood. For many, she might be an unlikely patriarchy disruptor, and her ‘hot takes’ on and methods of dismantling male supremacy might make some feminists resistant to claiming her. But I feel particularly galvanized by her plea not to let others box us in or get lost in dichotomous thinking.

We owe it to all women to dig into nuance and the multitude of ways we choose to navigate our sexuality, and ‘even the score’ amongst our male counterparts.

I once came across a psychology tip for public speaking jitters that prompted readers to step into their confidence by channeling an alter-ego; a personal role model, admired public figure, or fictional character that inspires you and displays your desired traits. Without a doubt, Julia Fox has firmly claimed her spot on my list. Her vulnerability, her stamina for reinvention, and her vocal (albeit polarizing) critiques of capitalism and patriarchy make her a compelling source of inspiration, and I hope you, too, will be inspired.

Written by Farah Khan.
Farah Khan is a feminist storyteller and reproductive justice advocate living in Washington, D.C. Alongside being a writer, she’s a sustainable fashion enthusiast, the official pop-culture oracle of her friend group, and a certified foodie.

Illustrated by Selen Sarikaya.