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Shortlisted for the Green Carnation Prize 2014 Smart, clear-eyed, and irreverent, Unspeakable Things is a fresh look at gender and power in the twenty-first century, which asks difficult questions about dissent and desire, money and masculinity, sexual violence, menial work, mental health, queer politics, and the Internet. Celebrated journalist and activist Laurie Penny draw Shortlisted for the Green Carnation Prize 2014 Smart, clear-eyed, and irreverent, Unspeakable Things is a fresh look at gender and power in the twenty-first century, which asks difficult questions about dissent and desire, money and masculinity, sexual violence, menial work, mental health, queer politics, and the Internet. Celebrated journalist and activist Laurie Penny draws on a broad history of feminist thought and her own experience in radical subcultures in America and Britain to take on cultural phenomena from the Occupy movement to online dating, give her unique spin on economic justice and freedom of speech, and provide candid personal insight to rally the defensive against eating disorders, sexual assault, and internet trolls. Unspeakable Things is a book that is eye-opening not only in the critique it provides, but also in the revolutionary alternatives it imagines.


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Shortlisted for the Green Carnation Prize 2014 Smart, clear-eyed, and irreverent, Unspeakable Things is a fresh look at gender and power in the twenty-first century, which asks difficult questions about dissent and desire, money and masculinity, sexual violence, menial work, mental health, queer politics, and the Internet. Celebrated journalist and activist Laurie Penny draw Shortlisted for the Green Carnation Prize 2014 Smart, clear-eyed, and irreverent, Unspeakable Things is a fresh look at gender and power in the twenty-first century, which asks difficult questions about dissent and desire, money and masculinity, sexual violence, menial work, mental health, queer politics, and the Internet. Celebrated journalist and activist Laurie Penny draws on a broad history of feminist thought and her own experience in radical subcultures in America and Britain to take on cultural phenomena from the Occupy movement to online dating, give her unique spin on economic justice and freedom of speech, and provide candid personal insight to rally the defensive against eating disorders, sexual assault, and internet trolls. Unspeakable Things is a book that is eye-opening not only in the critique it provides, but also in the revolutionary alternatives it imagines.

30 review for Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kara Babcock

    As with The Speed of Dark , this was a birthday gift for my friend Rebecca. I like my original review, so here’s just a few new thoughts from this second reading. Second review: Finished on February 6, 2018 This time around, I read Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution with a slightly more critical eye. I was trying to imagine how Rebecca might see it, curious about the things that will jump out at her. I underlined and annotated and asked questions, part of our ongoing conversations abo As with The Speed of Dark , this was a birthday gift for my friend Rebecca. I like my original review, so here’s just a few new thoughts from this second reading. Second review: Finished on February 6, 2018 This time around, I read Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution with a slightly more critical eye. I was trying to imagine how Rebecca might see it, curious about the things that will jump out at her. I underlined and annotated and asked questions, part of our ongoing conversations about feminism and gender and society. I still really like the second chapter, “Lost Boys”, detailing Penny’s thoughts on how patriarchy sets men against women to obscure the fact that most men have very little power in society beyond their power over women. Over the past three years, as I’ve continued my journey of learning about feminism, my understanding and positionality has evolved from, “What is privilege?” to “How do I have privilege?” to “How can I use my privilege to dismantle patriarchy?” So lately I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my place, as a cis man, within feminism. And I pinpoint this chapter as the origin of some of my first thoughts along these lines. I have to think about how I can use my voice to help other men understand the privilege from which they benefit and create more space within mainstream society for other genders to speak and function without fear of reprisal. Penny’s writing remains as unapologetic, incisive, and acerbic as ever. She has a great way with words. I can understand, though, some of the critiques others have levelled at this book. It definitely emphasizes the experiences of young, white, and often middle-class women; moreover, Penny’s style sometimes leads to generalizations made more for dramatic than rhetorical effect. As a result, I can see why some readers are going to look at parts of this book and think, “No, that’s not my experience with things.” Owing to my personal amount of privilege, however, it’s really hard for me to unpack and examine and critique that on my own—so I’ll leave that to others. I’m still really fascinated by the empathy and compassion within this book. That isn’t to say that feminists need to be nice to men. But I think it’s worthwhile examining the ways in which intersectionality and other forces, like capitalism, affects everyone’s lives. Penny concludes that feminism has always been about liberating all genders from the straitjacket that rigid gender roles and expectations put on us—and I agree with that sentiment. Unspeakable Things is an imperfect polemic. It’s gripping and biting in places, general in some, but overall I like the way Penny grapples with these issues. First review: Finished on July 13, 2014 This book made me angry, and definitely a little uncomfortable. However, I’m not angry with the book or with Laurie Penny. I’m angry in the sense that she outlines in chapter 2, “Lost Boys,” when she says, “Anger is an entirely appropriate response to learning that you’re implicated in a system that oppresses women but the solution isn’t to direct that anger back at women.” I’m angry at the abuse and suffering women undergo in our society; I’m angry that as a man I’m expected to act in ways that, directly or indirectly, facilitate such suffering. And I’m uncomfortable because Penny discusses painful and, as the title promises, Unspeakable Things. This book is part-catharsis, part–rallying cry, and it’s entirely polemical and political in a brilliant way. “This is a feminist book. It is not a cheery instruction manual for how to negotiate modern patriarchy, with a sassy wink and a thumbs-up.” From the very first page of the introduction, Penny lays her cards on the table and is absolutely clear about what to expect from Unspeakable Things. And so, from that first page, I found myself nodding along in agreement. I’ve taken a more active interest in gender issues for years now, so I’m relatively familiar with the concepts, the ideas, the jargon. Hence, I’m not going to claim that the average reader will have the same reaction to page one as I did. But that doesn’t matter, because the point of the book is that it gradually and carefully lays out an argument for why all of us—men, women, and other genders—need to talk about these things. It’s all there in the title: Penny’s concern is that there are people on both sides of these issues of sex and gender who are trying to shut the discussion down. There are certain things too sensitive, too sacred, that we just shouldn’t talk about them. We need to shut them away, maybe so we can “protect the children.” This silencing is implicit, codified in the way we socialize men and women through upbringing and schooling and media, as well as explicit, waged as attacks, physical and verbal, against women and their allies in print and digital media. In many ways, Unspeakable Things isn’t about defining or recapitulating particular notions of feminism so much as it is an exponent of free speech in a feminist way. This is a powerful and, for some people, scary idea. But Penny’s writing is more than equal to the challenge of being accessible while still avoiding the pitfalls of popular non-fiction. As she promises in the introduction, this is not one of those cheeky books written and published under the banner of new feminist success stories, guides and tell-alls about how to “have it all” in the world of work and childrearing. Rather, this is a frank polemic. As I said at the beginning, it is painful and discomfiting, and if it doesn’t stir you to anger, then you’re reading it wrong. It would be ironic if I tried to describe what every reader, including women readers, would get from this book. I can’t even claim to speak for all men. But let me describe my reaction, as someone whose external appearance and performance of gender means I receive a great deal of privilege in this society. One reason that this book just works so well for me is how Penny seems to have made a conscious effort to address as diverse an audience as possible. In my case, I of course identified with that second chapter, in which she chronicles the detrimental effects of patriarchy on men. Penny systematically dismantles the argument that feminism is something that benefits only women. This is perhaps one of the most pernicious and pervasive myths about feminism that make many people, men and women, balk at discussing it or embracing it. But once again, Penny states it loudly and clearly for all to hear: Feminism has never just been about liberating women from men, but about freeing every human being from the straitjacket of gender oppression. For the first time, men and boys as a whole are starting to realise how profoundly messed up masculinity is—and to ask how they might make it different. In particular, Penny argues that patriarchy does not actually benefit many men, just those at the top. The oppression of women is, in part, a sop to men who actually have very little power otherwise—their power over women and children essentially there to compensate their relative powerlessness in other spheres of society. And she highlights the way media often portray men in hyper-masculine ways. It’s not just women who suffer at the hands of commercials, music, film, television. Men too find expectations thrust upon them as a consequence of their gender. Men, just like women, were bound by certain rituals of etiquette and unspoken codes of conduct (the difference being that men, unlike women, experienced more perks under this system) and were punished unduly for deviating. This has started to change recently—but the fact remains that some people seem terrified by the idea that some men don’t want to pursue women, don’t want to view them as objects, don’t want to act in macho and masculine ways. These same people are terrified by the idea that women are more than bodies, that they want autonomy over their lives, that they might want to act more like men—or, indeed, cleave to a very feminine identity without the baggage of the male gaze attached to such expression. This is where my anger enters the picture again: I’m normally an easygoing person, but the concept that some people would seek to circumscribe the rights and privileges of the rest of us in order to satisfy their own fucked up idea of “normality” is more than just messed up. It’s actually sickening, the extent to which people will hurt one another simply because they don’t conform to certain ideas about gender. So in this way, I can empathise with the first chapter, “Fucked-Up Girls,” as well as the second one. I can’t know exactly what it’s like for women to experience the abuse and oppression, the pressure they endure in the face of countless signals from society about how they should behave around each other and around men. Yet I have some very good reasons for wanting to make the world a more equitable place, one where people of any gender have more equal privileges. There is a small but nonzero probability that one day I will reproduce, and that the child I have will identify as a woman. And though this merely possible future, I’m human enough to feel twinges of anger and sorrow that this child could find her life difficult and painful merely because she doesn’t conform to the allowable parameters of womanhood. On a more immediate note, I have a fair number of women friends. I care for them. So the idea that this is what they experience, whether it’s daily or occasionally or almost never at all, is unconscionable. You have to be a pretty lousy person to want to perpetuate a system that actively harms half of humanity and subtly oppresses the other half. So throughout the book, there was this undercurrent of anger mixed with genuine distress as I read. Penny has come much closer than many other feminist writers in helping me understand how some women feminists do call for more radical actions and imagine futures without men. Thanks to the Internet, women have so many ways of expressing this anger and sharing the stories of their oppression. And this anger is legitimate and painful, as it should be, and the proper response is not to shut it down or attempting to speak over it but instead to step back and acknowledge it. However, what makes Unspeakable Things all the more impressive is the way Penny balances this anger with a resilient empathy. As bleak as it might get, she always insists that there is a way forward in which all actors, women as well as allies, can benefit and work together for a better future. Amidst what is otherwise a somewhat stark view of the current state of women online and in the developed world, this hopeful message is a welcome beacon of light. I’m not going to break this book down chapter-by-chapter, as much as I’d like to—this review is already getting long enough. But I do want to talk about the major themes of the last chapters. In particular, in “Cybersexism” Penny looks at how the Internet is influencing attitudes towards sex and sexuality. I spend a great deal of time online and am very invested in the Internet’s role in our world, so I found this fascinating. And in many ways, our attitudes towards sex and sexuality—and how and when we are permitted to discuss those things—are major artifacts of our gendered society. Penny reviews how the Internet has been a boon and a bane for women’s self-expression, offering new spaces for speech while also throwing up the potential for anonymous trolls to come along and shame, silence, and threaten. She also mentions porn, and the conflicted and complicated relationship sex work in general has with feminism. Canada is currently in the process of attempting to recodify our criminal laws regarding sex work, and it’s difficult. It’s not something I know enough about to comment on in more detail, but I really enjoyed reading Penny’s thoughts on the subject. Above all else, these chapters on love in the age of cyberspace showcase Penny’s anticapitalist approach to feminism. The Internet makes it that much easier for corporations to sell certain visions of sex and sexuality to people. They do this not because these visions are natural, normal, or just; they do this because they want to make money. Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” became a sensation last year, and like many songs, it’s catchy until you look at the lyrics. So it attracted a fair amount of criticism and no shortage of defenders, male and female. In response to accusations of sexism, these defenders asserted that Thicke’s song actually promotes the “liberation” of women’s sexuality, that he’s encouraging her to express herself in ways that are not necessarily traditional. Alas, this counterargument misses the point. It doesn’t matter that a man is singing a song about women being more proactive in their sexuality. This is still a song about a man telling a woman what type of sexual expression he wants to see from her, what behaviour on her part gratifies him. This is the trap into which we too often fall when discussing sex and media: even so-called “sex positive” campaigns are still pressing upon us a specific model of sexuality that we are expected to follow. We haven’t won as long as media continue to sell us specific versions of permissible sexual expression; we will have won when media acknowledges that any expression is as good as the next, that there is no one true way to act in order to be happy or successful. And of course, this is not compatible with capitalism, which relies on the propagation of uncertainty and materialistic desire in order to create profits. This thread of anticapitalist sentiment is present throughout the entire book. As with her declaration that Unspeakable Things is a feminist book, Penny makes not apologies for this stance (nor should she). She recognizes, rather, that for feminism to succeed it must be political and radical and that we won’t have gender equity until we dismantle this system. I think feminists who fail to view intersectionality as crucial to their endeavour are shortsighted. Penny acknowledges the importance of race but doesn’t spend too much time speaking about it; from her personal experiences she declares herself more able to discuss the class-based inequities that reinforce gender inequity. And this, in turn, links back to what I said earlier about that resilient empathy. While Penny does not mince words as she chronicles the hurts of sexism and misogyny, she also offers hope. In addition to her call for more frank discussions about these things that we would rather sweep under the carpet, Penny calls for a more permissive society, one in which we are not so constrained in our actions by our sex, gender, race, class, or any other label we are saddled with. This single element, among all the other reasons I like this book, is its best feature. I won’t hesitate to say that Unspeakable Things is one of the best books I’ve read this year and one of the best feminist books I’ve ever read. I’ve followed Penny on Twitter for a while now and enjoy her New Statesman posts, but it’s good to have a tangible object I can recommend or give as a gift. And I do recommend it. This is a book everyone should read. Hopefully it will make you thoughtful, and if it also makes you a little angry, then that’s a good thing too. Anger can stir one to action, and it’s through action that we can help dismantle the system that oppresses us and build a better world. Or, you know, not. More likely we’ll fail in the process of trying. But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying. Sexism and misogyny might be the way the world is, but it is not the way the world should be.

  2. 5 out of 5

    René

    Two and a half stars. Laurie Penny is a powerful writer. Her writing is strong, clear, and opinionated and reads with a propelling force. I think she's a great young feminist and progressive voice. I also think this book is a very worthwhile read. But I'm giving it less than three stars because of Penny's weakness (not just in this book, but in many of her columns) for hyperbole. It's a flaw in her writing that comes as much from her strength as a writer, if that makes sense, from her strong sen Two and a half stars. Laurie Penny is a powerful writer. Her writing is strong, clear, and opinionated and reads with a propelling force. I think she's a great young feminist and progressive voice. I also think this book is a very worthwhile read. But I'm giving it less than three stars because of Penny's weakness (not just in this book, but in many of her columns) for hyperbole. It's a flaw in her writing that comes as much from her strength as a writer, if that makes sense, from her strong sense of conviction, enthusiasm, and opinion. These qualities work in her favor more often than not, but when they backfire on her, they do so bigtime. In past essays, Penny has made some major gaffes that have crossed the line into causing offense. She once wrote an otherwise very compelling article on the Steubenville rape case comparing its meaning to the public to the Abu Ghraib torture case. In another essay, she compared the recent (non-fatal) rape case of the white American teenager Daisy Coleman to the murder of the black American teenager Emmett Till. Both these comparisons (and others, but especially her very misguided and historically and emotionally tone deaf referencing of the Till murder) offended people who really didn’t need to be offended, people who are otherwise likely on Penny’s side politically. And if her writing sometimes has that habit of alienating or offending other progressive folks, imagine how her gaffes can be used to dismiss her points by conservatives and the right-wing. I bring this up while reviewing this book because she makes the same kind of mistake, resorts to the same sometimes offensive, sometimes laughable hyperbole, in this book as in some of her essays. For example, at one point while writing about sexism in the Occupy movement, she refers to the Occupy protest camps in various cities as “temporary refugee camps.” I hope I don’t have to explain to anyone what’s wrong here. But just in case…No. No, Laurie Penny, protesters and their sit-in sites are NOT comparable to the camps of refugees, not by a longshot, not unless the protesters are themselves refugees protesting their position and status. You can commend the people who protested and organized in the full flush of the Occupy movement as well as their commitment to protesting inasmuch as going so far to staging week- and month-long vigils and sit-ins in the name of equality and justice. But they are NOT in the same boat as those people who are running from extremely dangerous and impoverished conditions in their home countries and who have essentially no status or rights whatsoever in the countries they’ve run to. It’s “slips” like this, which I think Penny employs to jolt the reader into recognizing the seriousness of a situation (and her own commitment to and solidarity with a cause), that consistently undermine her otherwise very valid points and necessary reporting. Sometimes her tendency to hyperbole isn’t so seriously tone-deaf, but just silly, as in the last (and weakest) chapter in this book when she writes things like “New York is the holy city of industrial romance” or “New York is the coliseum of competitive dating”—whatever the hell any of that means—while discussing (far too seriously and reverently) the world of modern love as represented in the TV show Sex and the City. I can’t be the only American who reads statements like this and thinks “What the hell?” before bursting into laughter. I can only imagine how a reader from New York would react. Though Penny has traveled quite a bit in her career as a reporter, it seems she could benefit from spending a little more time talking to the ordinary, po-dunk, flyover folks and to people of color while she’s in the U.S. and less time talking to New York hipsters and London Occupy dudes. But here’s the thing: I’m on Penny’s side, especially when it comes to exposing misogyny and sexism (something she bravely does in figures and movements of the left as well as the right). I think she’s a compelling voice and a courageous writer, and I recognize that maybe my expectations were just too high in reading this book. Penny is also quite young, only in her late 20s, and her writing flaws are very much the flaws of a young writer. I suspect in time she’ll write with a little more wisdom and care and a lot less hyperbole and cultural tone-deafness. At least, I hope so. Her voice is definitely needed. She is at her best when she writes about cybersexism and the new challenges that the Internet and social media present to women and other marginalized people who insist on speaking out or even on just trying to be themselves. She also has a fair and clear view of the prevalence of sexism in all political and social circles. Too many feminists and progressives I think suffer the delusion that sexism is only a problem among conservatives or the right wing, that only conservative men (and women) hold misogynistic views or work to keep women down. If only things were that simple and one-sided. Penny isn’t afraid to call folks on the left out on their sexism—in fact she’s actually a bit of a lone wolf on that. I’ve said it before in this review and I’ll say it again: hers is a very necessary voice. I will definitely look out for future books from her and will be interested in seeing how her thinking evolves and writing improves.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Colleen

    “You can’t win. If you choose to devote less of your time to grooming as a political statement, you’re a ‘hairy bra-burning feminist’ and nobody has any obligation to listen to anything you have to say, but if you embrace conventional beauty standards, or appear to enjoy them for their own sake, you are presumed to be a shallow and manipulative slut.” OK... (1) How about you stop using grooming habits as a means of making a political statement and just do whatever the hell you like? Making your “You can’t win. If you choose to devote less of your time to grooming as a political statement, you’re a ‘hairy bra-burning feminist’ and nobody has any obligation to listen to anything you have to say, but if you embrace conventional beauty standards, or appear to enjoy them for their own sake, you are presumed to be a shallow and manipulative slut.” OK... (1) How about you stop using grooming habits as a means of making a political statement and just do whatever the hell you like? Making your appearance a political statement invites (instructs) people to pay attention to it (even more than they normally would) and indicates that it’s something that really matters. How is it not obvious how counterproductive that is?! The whole point being made is that women’s appearances matter too much. (2) I’m pretty sure that no one has ever noticed that I shave my legs and thought “wow, what a shallow manipulative slut”. So, yeah… ugh. The part that I managed to get through sounds like a diary written by a 20-something who just finished a women’s studies course and needs to get some shit off her chest. She uses outrage and an angry-as-hell revolutionary tone as a tool but doesn’t offer any more than the outrage itself. I suspect pieces of this showed up at some open-mic poetry nights, so I started reading it in a slam-poetry cadence to try to find some humor, but I still threw it down in disgust after the intro. I tried it again, but only made it to p. 50. There was no one nearby for me to yell to about it at the time, so I’ve got some thoughts below. The TLDR: this book is written for teenage girls who are just realizing that things are kind of fucked up (Oooh, she says ‘fuck’! How anti-establishment!) and need validation for their irritation. The most disappointing thing is that the issues are legitimate, but she makes herself dismissible with the approach she takes. For example, one of her main goals is to be more inclusive than traditional feminism has been, but she seems to speak to a young, middle-class, mostly-white audience. For most readers: if you’re interested enough in feminism to even check out this title (or if you thought “Sex, Lies, and Revolution” might be about something else), you are probably already familiar with her main points, and you can move along. I’ve quit this one and will spend my time on Bad Feminist and The Birth of the Pill instead. But first… let me explain why the first 50 pages of this one were so annoying. This is a 20-something white British woman who uses “neoliberalism colonisation” to mean brainwashing by a capitalist society, without showing a hint of irony or understanding that she’s a white Britain talking about colonization. She’s allowed to use the word, of course. But by about the 3rd mention I really wondered if she understood the history and baggage of the word. It feels too soon. One of her goals is to widen the fold; as she notes, traditional feminism excluded women of color, lesbians, bisexuals, non-identifiers, trans women, sex workers, and probably more. The feminism we’ve been left with is primarily for middle- and upper-class white women and the focus tends to be on how many women are in the board room rather than on issues like getting birth control options to poor women. (Both seem pretty important.) p. 21 “The social revolution that’s been choking and stumbling down a gauntlet of a century and more, the feminist fight back, the sexual re-scripting, the tearing up of old norms of race and class and gender, it has to start again, with all this time, not just the rich white kids who needed it least.” Great idea! But the people who have been excluded seem unlikely to be her main audience; it seems like her main audience is the rich white kids. In general, it just sounds like she’s screaming at the choir or she's whitesplaining. There is a caveat though: I’m white, so maybe I’m not a good judge. Maybe some people who are not white, gay, and/or trans would feel like she is speaking to them. Also, if she’s only speaking to the rich white kids, maybe it’s because they need this shit explained to them. But it seems like she’s calling for a gender mutiny from a Kardashian-soaked crowd. I doubt her anger is enough to achieve that. Finally, in the part I got through, she doesn’t address the need for grassroots work in the excluded communities (which should be welcomed with open arms from the traditional group). Instead it feels a bit like she’s advocating a ‘hearts and minds’ campaign by a group of wannabe liberators. Maybe she gets to that stuff later on. She’s upset about gender norms, which is completely reasonable. But it’s not reasonable to suggest that gender norms are solely a social construct. I agree that they are fucked up in a lot of ways, and specifically in a lot of ways that are due to social constructs, but gender norms are a biopsychosocial thing. You can’t eliminate the bio and psycho parts just because it suites your argument. “The young women of today know far better than their slightly older sisters who came of age in the listless 1990s how much work is still to be done, and how unglamorous it is.” Excuse me? Where the hell did all that inclusivity go? How is pitting generations against each other helpful? How about a sense of history? Honestly, she sounds like a teenager telling her parents that she knows more about the world than they do because things have changed since they were kids; she sounds like a fucking brat. p. 13 “Gender is a straightjacket for the human soul.” Oookaaay. (I have a friend who used to have button on her bag that said “gender is a sex toy.” Isn’t that a better take?) p. 28 She implies that young women (and some men) who don’t meet their norms are being diagnosed with adjustment disorder. Adjustment disorder was, by definition, a temporary thing, but this diagnosis doesn’t exist anymore. Although inaccurate diagnoses still happen too often, young women deemed strange are not being thrown into mental institutions in droves; we actually have made progress in both gender norms and mental health since the Victorian era. p.39 With respect to anorexia and disordered eating: “The reason young women and increasing numbers of young men behave like this, the logic goes, is because they’re scared and angry about the gender roles that they are being forced into. The notion that they might have damn good reasons for being scared and angry has not yet occurred to the psychiatric profession.” Where is she exactly, the 1950s? There’s a ton of research on gender, race, ethnicity, identity, sexuality, and class and how it influences various mental health issues like disordered eating. She hasn’t looked at any of that apparently. On being institutionalized for an eating disorder: “In that place, if you wanted to go out the front door and not in a box, you had to play by the rules.” Yes, it’s a mental health institution. They do have rules for behavior, since behavior is what they are trying to fix. Not all the rules in all institutions are great, but c’mon. “You had to smile and eat your meals.” Yep. That’s recovery for an eating disorder, learning how to eat normally. “You had to be a good girl. That meant no more trousers, no more going out with short hair and no make-up, finding a boyfriend as soon as possible, and learning to style your hair and do your eyeliner. It meant buying different dresses for different occasions, fitting yourself out to have men look at you with lust, learning manners, learning to dip your head and say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ and ‘No cake for me, I’ve been naughty this week’.” Was she in the worst eating disorder clinic in the world?? It’s just really unlikely that she’d end up in a place (in the 90s or 00s) that pushed an uber-traditional idea of femininity (on people with distorted body images!), and even less likely to be in a place that encourages people to decline cake when the whole point is to get people to accept that it’s OK to eat cake (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W7fLa..., for example). All of which is to say, either she really did end up in a very bad place or she’s exaggerating a tad. Regarding the beauty myth (i.e., if you’re beautiful everything will be ok) she says, “It turns out they lied to us. The magazines lied to us, the movies lied to us, our mothers lied.” *gasp* The magazines lied?! Seriously, her audience must be in cults that worship the patriarchy to need this much explanation and hand holding. p. 49 “It’s what your boyfriend wants. He has not been raised to expect a relationship with a real human being, but a sidekick, a helpmeet, a wank-fantasy made only-just-flesh.” DUDE. What kind of men is she hanging around? Bro-dawg frat boys? MMA fighting fan clubs? Sure, these guys exist. But when we are not pointing and laughing at them, they should be thoroughly ignored.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ami

    This is such a fantastic fucking book. Laurie Penny writes about feminism is such a vibrant and powerful way. She's a manifesto writer. I found myself wanting to talk about the ideas she raises with everyone around me. I emailed passages to my friends... okay, I emailed a *number* of passages to my friends. There's something about Penny's youth--she's 28--that makes this book feel so alive and of the moment. Her chapter on the Internet's continued issues with women comes from the place of someon This is such a fantastic fucking book. Laurie Penny writes about feminism is such a vibrant and powerful way. She's a manifesto writer. I found myself wanting to talk about the ideas she raises with everyone around me. I emailed passages to my friends... okay, I emailed a *number* of passages to my friends. There's something about Penny's youth--she's 28--that makes this book feel so alive and of the moment. Her chapter on the Internet's continued issues with women comes from the place of someone who has grown up with it and wants to correct the issues there because she genuinely loves it. That's also the case with her chapter on Occupy Wall Street, and the feminist issues that seem to plague many movements. She's a passionate and empathetic writer in all of these chapters, but those strengths are especially on display in her chapter about men and feminism, which I hope becomes required reading in all schools. Her youth sometimes works against her, especially in the more personal stories, but that's a small thing in a book filled with so much.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Alis Franklin

    I think I just have to cop to the fact I'm straight-up too old for this book. Penny's problem isn't that she's wrong, exactly, when she talks about things like rape culture and the commodification of female social connections for the profit of Silicon Valley VCs. It's just that she neither adds much new insight nor gives any particular clarity to this grab-bag of 21st Century Feminism 101. Not to mention that, for all she insists very deeply she's not speaking for "all feminists"--defined specifi I think I just have to cop to the fact I'm straight-up too old for this book. Penny's problem isn't that she's wrong, exactly, when she talks about things like rape culture and the commodification of female social connections for the profit of Silicon Valley VCs. It's just that she neither adds much new insight nor gives any particular clarity to this grab-bag of 21st Century Feminism 101. Not to mention that, for all she insists very deeply she's not speaking for "all feminists"--defined specifically as "poor feminists", "feminists of colour", and so on--she does seem to very much fancy herself as speaking on behalf of middle-class white (queer) Western feminists. And, I gotta be honest; as a middle-class white (queer) Western feminist I don't think I've ever felt as much alienation from a feminist polemic as I have from Penny's. If she's speaking for someone, it's certainly not me. (Admittedly, a non-zero portion of this is probably due to Penny's Marxist leanings. As someone whose family still bears the scars caused by the Really Real World depravities of Marx's successors, let's just say my tolerance for pseudo-Communist affect in comfortably-Western bourgeoisie 20-somethings is, er, not high, as it were.) Ultimately, Unspeakable Things is the kind of book I'd've loved if I'd found it somewhere in my mid-to-late teens; as an introduction to female-slash-feminist anger it's a decent primer. I guess if the book does nothing else bar inspire the next generation, that's a worthy effort in-and-of itself.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    Disclaimer: ARC read via Netgalley. Laurie Penny’s Unspeakable Things is, in short, a rant. It is a feminist. It is entertaining. It still is, however, a rant. In her introduction Penny refers to her book as a polemic. In some ways, it is a call to arms. In others, it is a cry for awareness. In many ways, it is a challenge. To society. To women. To men. To government. To other feminists. It is difficult not to like Penny’s writing. For instance in discussing how people respond negatively to wome Disclaimer: ARC read via Netgalley. Laurie Penny’s Unspeakable Things is, in short, a rant. It is a feminist. It is entertaining. It still is, however, a rant. In her introduction Penny refers to her book as a polemic. In some ways, it is a call to arms. In others, it is a cry for awareness. In many ways, it is a challenge. To society. To women. To men. To government. To other feminists. It is difficult not to like Penny’s writing. For instance in discussing how people respond negatively to women in power, she writes, “the sole regular exceptions is the Queen of England, in whose case it doesn’t matter how much Botox you haven’t had if you own half of Antarctica and look scary on a stamp” (Location 497). Try to argue when she writes, “one sure test of social privilege is how much anger you get to express without the threat of expulsion” (Location 39) or “the best way to stop girls achieving everything is to force them to achieve everything” (Location 539). Another plus is that Penny does not try to speak for everyone. She correctly points out that her view is just as valid as another and she is not going to apologize because she is not whatever she isn’t. She also is more reactionary than many mass market published feminists. This seems to because her politics, as expressed in this book, are a mixture of feminism and social change. There is, for instance, the sentence, “Public ‘career feminists’ have been more concerned with getting more into ‘boardrooms,’ when the problem is that there are altogether too many boardrooms, and none of them are on fire” (Location 86). Penny is refreshing because this take no prisoners approach. She doesn’t try to be polite, she is upfront, in your face, and doesn’t care if she makes you uncomfortable. One might think that such an approach would be too narrow, too anger, but it is not. She presents at times, a more inclusion view. In her discussion about rape culture, for instance, she also focuses on what it does to men, something not many feminists do. Yet, for all the good, there is still the feeling of been there, and someone else said it first. If the reader has been paying attention to the world at large and to feminism in particular, much of what Penny writes is, if not old hat, something the reader already knows or has already read about. There are some exceptions – the brief discussion about lipstick feminism, for instance, but not many. When Penny discusses rape culture, the abortion wars (debate, whatever you want to call it), or the demonization of the single mother, there is nothing new in her comments. It doesn’t quite feel “I just discover this and am pissed off” but it is close. Her analysis in many cases isn’t deep – for instance, a comparison between abortion controls in Western Cultures vs. those in places like Iran, an argument that it is about biological control more than anything else. The book is also somewhat startling in what isn’t mentioned. It is true, as Penny says, that she is writing from a middle-class, white, heterosexual point of view and that she is relying on mostly firsthand experience. Okay fine, but if you are discussing abortion in the United States, which considering Penny is British, she most likely does not have experience with, why can’t you address the violence against women that occur in places like India, Brazil, or Egypt? Why when writing about protests does Penny mention Occupy but totally neglects the Arab Spring and the treatment of female protestors there? Because she didn’t personally experience it? Does that it make it less real or less vital to proving her thesis? And that’s the problem. Penny is right –it is important to acknowledge a variety of views and one should not be afraid to speak up. Personal experience is important and are more powerful than statistics (which Penny mentions but does not cite, interestingly enough), but keeping an argument solely on the terms of personal experience makes it weak and in some ways too general. This was also a problem with her kindle single about Cypersexism, which is adapted and included in this book.

  7. 4 out of 5

    ~Jo~

    This book is exactly what I needed. This book was just "made" for me, in so many different ways. Laurie Penny doesn't speak in riddles and bullshit in this book, she doesn't put a cherry on top either. She tells it exactly how it is, and speaks freely and confidently about these "Unspeakable things" that society today, all shrink away from openly discussing. Laurie Penny is angry. She's angry about so many things, but all boiling down to women and the way they are treated in society, the everyda This book is exactly what I needed. This book was just "made" for me, in so many different ways. Laurie Penny doesn't speak in riddles and bullshit in this book, she doesn't put a cherry on top either. She tells it exactly how it is, and speaks freely and confidently about these "Unspeakable things" that society today, all shrink away from openly discussing. Laurie Penny is angry. She's angry about so many things, but all boiling down to women and the way they are treated in society, the everyday prejudice they suffer, the ridiculous pressures that are put on women to be the ideal weight and look nothing less than beautiful. I felt my blood boiling reading parts of this book. I have a rather good perspective about what occurs daily to women, but when it's written so damn clearly in front of you, it makes it all the more infuriating. "Feminism has never just been about liberating women from men. but about freeing every human being from the straitjacket of gender oppression." It is made perfectly clear that the author is not a "man hater" So this book is ideally for male and females alike. Difficult questions that nobody wants to ask are usually the most important ones. They are the ones that ultimately matter. They are the ones that when answered honestly, can have a significant impact. The book contains chapters that cover various subjects. The author then breaks everything down and takes everything piece by piece to tell us why we need to see change. My favourite chapter was "Fucked-up girls" Honestly, I laughed and cried reading this chapter, and, when I'd finished it, I wanted to fist bump with Laurie Penny. She has put words in my mind, that I previously have struggled to find when it comes to unspeakable things. This was such a powerful book, and I'd recommend it to anyone who considers the selves a feminist, or, anyone who is simply not sure. It's definitely worth a read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Yomna Asar

    This book changed my perspective on a lot of things. trigger warning: Massive Identity Crisis!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ruby

    3.5 vague notes: would definitely definitely give this to my cousin who is getting into feminism - it's unflinching and brave and a ruthless introductory text. as for me, this was good and was a way to get back to the basics of feminism through a very contemporary text. however, the introduction stresses the importance of intersectionality but the text itself is a bit of let down in that regard from time to time (especially re: racism). it's not that penny's insensitive to these issues, but I'd r 3.5 vague notes: would definitely definitely give this to my cousin who is getting into feminism - it's unflinching and brave and a ruthless introductory text. as for me, this was good and was a way to get back to the basics of feminism through a very contemporary text. however, the introduction stresses the importance of intersectionality but the text itself is a bit of let down in that regard from time to time (especially re: racism). it's not that penny's insensitive to these issues, but I'd rather have seen them discussed a bit more in detail. but anyway, worth reading, important, angry, exciting. very quotable.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Tommy Collison

    If you're looking for a well-articulated, nuanced, and fearlessly compelling look at feminist activism, look no further. Far and away one of the best activism books I've read this year, and convincing in its intimacy and rigour. This is a book that will galvanize you, that will move you, and that, ultimately, will change you. If you're looking for a well-articulated, nuanced, and fearlessly compelling look at feminist activism, look no further. Far and away one of the best activism books I've read this year, and convincing in its intimacy and rigour. This is a book that will galvanize you, that will move you, and that, ultimately, will change you.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    Laurie Penny is angry. Oh my goodness, is she angry. She's mainly angry at the way women are treated. How their behaviour is policed, and how they suffer violence and prejudice. How their desire to live out their lives as they want, and not how society expects, is thwarted at every turn and how even the Internet, which promised such freedom, can now be a place of hostility and fear for them. But that's not all. She's also angry at modern neoliberal capitalism, the way it robs people of their asp Laurie Penny is angry. Oh my goodness, is she angry. She's mainly angry at the way women are treated. How their behaviour is policed, and how they suffer violence and prejudice. How their desire to live out their lives as they want, and not how society expects, is thwarted at every turn and how even the Internet, which promised such freedom, can now be a place of hostility and fear for them. But that's not all. She's also angry at modern neoliberal capitalism, the way it robs people of their aspirations and, except for the lucky few, squeezes every last bit of effort out of them in return for a begrudged wage. And she's even a little bit angry at modern feminism. You won't find a cool, reasoned examination of these issues in 'Unspeakable Things'. Instead it's a full frontal assault on everything Penny thinks is wrong with our society. Her anger is all too plain, but expressed so clearly and eloquently that it does not obscure what she is angry about and why. I not sure I agree with everything she's written in this book. Heck, I'm not even sure I understand some of it. But I certainly enjoyed reading what's she's got to say. (Note that one of the chapters of this book has already been published as 'Cybersexism'.)

  12. 4 out of 5

    Susana

    3.5 stars Arc provided by Bloomsbury USA through Netgalley TW's: Mentions of Rape and Cutting Ironically enough, despite the fact of considering myself a fervent feminist, this is the first actual book I've read on the subject . Growing up in our society it is difficult not to be aware of all the obstacles and sexism that women are subjected to. So, it's not as if most of what is discussed here, is something earth shattering. What is different for me _at least _ is seeing some of those things 3.5 stars Arc provided by Bloomsbury USA through Netgalley TW's: Mentions of Rape and Cutting Ironically enough, despite the fact of considering myself a fervent feminist, this is the first actual book I've read on the subject . Growing up in our society it is difficult not to be aware of all the obstacles and sexism that women are subjected to. So, it's not as if most of what is discussed here, is something earth shattering. What is different for me _at least _ is seeing some of those things written on paper, and the connections that the author establishes with the neoliberal market. One thing that one gets after reading this book, is that for the author, feminism is not gender exclusive. On the contrary. The author defends a very inclusive definition of feminism: Feminism has never just been about liberating women from men. but about freeing every human being from the straitjacket of gender oppression. The author lets it be perfectly clear that she doesn't hate men, lol, so for all you guys reading this, let it be known that you can read a feminist book and not feel as if you're the bad buy. Ah, it's always hard to comment on someone's else writing. It is different when you're reading a fiction work. There's things bound to be analysed: the writing style, the narrative, the flow of the story, the stupidity of the characters... When we get a non fiction book, it's the convictions and ideas of a very real person that are on the pages.... This mean I'll try not to put my foot on my mouth... Things that I can say....you can feel the author's enthusiasm and passion for her calling. If it was up to her, the world would be a different place. Would everyone be happy with it, and in it? Probably not. Some of us don't have the courage to colour outside the lines, and guidelines are needed. Then, and this is me analysing something that I probably shouldn't, but the author talks a lot about lost boys. Lately I have been reading quite a few books on the Peter Pan "myth", and I don't know, but I couldn't help feeling that the author feels a little like a Wendy to all this lost boys. I couldn't help feeling as if the author romanticizes the boys of our world . Al least the nerds, the queers _as she puts it _ the misunderstood. The girls of our world, who most see as fucked up, aren't in such a bad place, since we're used to being exploited, and used to put up with things, this means that the current world crises haven't affected us all that much. Because we're more used to bad things than the good ones, unlike most boys. Hmm. She has a bold approach to life, and the roles we play in her...but at the same time, I can't help feeling that Laurie Penny's idea of a new society, is based in nothing more than an utopia. She romanticizes the outcast and non conformity groups into something that one day will bring about the changes we need. I would love to believe in that, but like she mentions in a previous chapter, even in this type of movements there's abuses and rapes. Would we be better if there was to be a change in the powers that rules us? Maybe in certain things...but after awhile all governments need money to govern, and talking change is all very well, but in the end someone needs to take charge of things. Bottom line: I liked reading it, and while I was doing it I was interested in it, but as a day passed, I found myself finding the book even more utopia like, than I already did. But maybe that's because I fit so neatly in my small box... Author's Official Site Buy "Unspeakable Things" @Bookdepository.com

  13. 4 out of 5

    Nigeyb

    Important and provocative, but also rambling and repetitive. A missed opportunity. This book contains some important insights and powerful personal anecdotes about equality, sexual politics, misogyny and freedom. Laurie highlights numerous important issues, however every great insight gets repeated and expanded and so, rather annoyingly, this book is also frustrating, rambling and incoherent. I have seen "Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution” described as a manifesto. A manifesto is a p Important and provocative, but also rambling and repetitive. A missed opportunity. This book contains some important insights and powerful personal anecdotes about equality, sexual politics, misogyny and freedom. Laurie highlights numerous important issues, however every great insight gets repeated and expanded and so, rather annoyingly, this book is also frustrating, rambling and incoherent. I have seen "Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution” described as a manifesto. A manifesto is a public declaration of policy and aims - something this book conspicuously lacks. It’s actually a selection of articles by a clever and gifted writer who highlights some important, sometimes shocking, things about our world. But that’s all it is. I read "Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution” for my book group and came to it unaware of Laurie Penny. Once I’d finished listening to it, I discovered this is Laura’s fifth book in about four years and that lots of these chapters had already been published as articles and blogs. It explains a lot: the repetition and incoherence, the lack of structure, and any real conclusions. It’s a shame as this could, and probably should, have amounted to so much more. 2/5 (Insights and content: 4 out of 5 / Structure and readability: 1 out of 5)

  14. 4 out of 5

    Danica

    Fucking awesome book. That is all.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Vanessa

    I don't disagree with a lot of what Laurie Penny says in this book, I really don't. But this made it so much more frustrating of a read for me, because I just couldn't deal with the wide sweeping generalizations she makes. Granted, this book was published in 2014, so it's definitely not anything fantastically fresh and new to me on the subject of feminism, but I expected her to go into a little more detail and not just focus on the one box for men and one box for women approach. Which, if you th I don't disagree with a lot of what Laurie Penny says in this book, I really don't. But this made it so much more frustrating of a read for me, because I just couldn't deal with the wide sweeping generalizations she makes. Granted, this book was published in 2014, so it's definitely not anything fantastically fresh and new to me on the subject of feminism, but I expected her to go into a little more detail and not just focus on the one box for men and one box for women approach. Which, if you think about it, is frustrating because that specification of gender roles is exactly what Penny rails against (and rightly so). I also found this really lacking in the diversity department - not as a check box incident, but if you're going to talk about intersectional feminism, you really need to do more than just drop a comment here and there about minorities, whether it's race or sexual orientation. Maybe it's just Penny's writing style not working for me though - her many good points just felt overshadowed with hyperbole and an annoying overuse of the word 'fucking' to describe any and all sexual activity. It read more like a casual blog post at times than a piece of feminist discourse. Having said all that, one chapter that did still work for me even in 2020 was the Cybersexism chapter (one I think quite a few other people reviewing this book have highlighted). Despite knowing a lot about internet sexism and how it is to be a woman on the internet, she definitely brought some still fresh takes on the idea of the internet as a predominantly male arena, and I hadn't really thought about that in much depth before. Her discussion of the subject was well reasoned and made me feel even more frustrated than I already am about how women are treated when expressing opinions online. So kudos to her for that one. But other than that chapter, I think you can probably skip this book (unless of course you love Penny's writing and haven't got around to it yet). I think it's definitely a bit dated, and doesn't really bring much new to the table reading it these days.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Becci Fobbe

    eye-opening read that more than just captures what being a young woman or man in todays world is really about

  17. 5 out of 5

    Malcolm

    A few weeks ago I found I was tangled up in a conversation with a friend about a young woman’s virulent rejection of the label ‘feminist’, even though in the conversation we were discussing the F-word had not been explicitly used before the moment of its rejection, and I was struck by the apparent irony of a couple of middle aged men lamenting the decline of a label many of our peers (and we) had carried/still carry proudly (despite the, at times huge, wobbles along the way). This lamentation is A few weeks ago I found I was tangled up in a conversation with a friend about a young woman’s virulent rejection of the label ‘feminist’, even though in the conversation we were discussing the F-word had not been explicitly used before the moment of its rejection, and I was struck by the apparent irony of a couple of middle aged men lamenting the decline of a label many of our peers (and we) had carried/still carry proudly (despite the, at times huge, wobbles along the way). This lamentation is even more pronounced because so few of the campaigns of the 2nd or 3rd wave feminist movements have resulted in significant change, and in many cases the advances made are now being defended, often unsuccessfully. We don’t need to look far to see the winding back of feminism’s successes – the regular discussions in the mainstream media of women’s absence from the boardroom, the continuing denigration of women athletes, the growing pay gap between men and women, the disproportionate impact of ‘austerity’-driven state service cuts on women, the dismal conviction rates in cases brought from the very small number of rapes that are reported, the limitations on access to contraception and abortion services, and the continuing cultural rejection of the equal (or even respectful) treatment of women. One of the things that has really thrown me in recent years has been the seeming revival in lefty circles of c*** as a derogatory term; I hear it in my extended social circle; the anarchist inflected newspaper (which I generally like) Strike issued a poster and sticker recently describing the Metropolitan Police as ‘Total C***s’ (as well as slimey and oppressive and arrogant and corrupt and a host of other descriptors, but it was Total C***s that was the largest text and at the bottom of the poster) – now the Met is no friend of the people, but using slang for vagina as term of derogation was once something beyond the pale for feminists and their friends (a couple of issues later Strike produced a pretty good ‘feminist’ issue but the paradox seems potent [I’m not picking out Strike to diss it, it is a good magazine on the whole, but to show the extent of thoughtlessness: the word may have shock value but it also grants legitimacy to misogyny of the kind seen in a social media posting on a relative’s page that the former Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, needed a ‘kick in the c***’: Strike like to shock but at a big price.]). The alarming thing is the banality of the backlash. This, then, is the context that feminist activists and writers such as Laurie Penny work. It is the banality and ferociousness of this backlash that makes her argument that 1) the current gender order inflicts violence on women and men, 2) that we have the ability to end this violence but we have systematically chosen not to do so and 3) the neo-liberal social order in the cyborg worlds we live in has made the situation worse rather than better seem so dangerous, thereby provoking such hostile responses – usually because she and other feminist activists and writers (and a whole bunch of women generally) have had the temerity to use their voices in public. The voice that Laurie Penny has had this temerity to raise in this fantastic book is sharp, incisive [which may be synonyms in this case], funny, tragic, personal and collective, she seems to me (as a middle aged man) to speak of the circumstances of young women and men who, for whatever reasons, do not fit the prescribed social and cultural codes, who refuse to or cannot measure up to requirements of contemporary hegemonic masculinity and its complicit femininities and masculinities. She build the case in five stages – in chapters exploring the condition of young women (here, ‘Fucked Up Girls’) and young men (here, Lost Boys’) in a dialogue and dialectic based in the relational notion of gender (there is nothing here that I see as essentialist or essentialising gender) while also focussing on all those men and women (that vast majority of us) who do not fit the ideals and the smaller number of us who reject them. There is a sense in these two chapters that she is adding new flesh to the analytical bones of analyses based in models of capitalist patriarchy, of the material conditions of life for women and men as based in both their productive and reproductive expectations in the current socio-economic order: I reminded throughout of work by both Shulamith Firestone and Hester Eisenstein, extended and adapted to the new neo-liberal order. Penny’s evidence is powerful, her case compelling and her theoretical basis sound but well established. It is the next three chapters, however, that mount a challenge to conventional models of capitalist patriarchy. In the first she turns her attention to sex – to pornography, prostitution and fantasies of domination, the problem not of sex but of transactional sex, to constraints and limits on erotic freedom, to objectification and gendered hierarchies and rape and sexual abuse. As with the rest of her case she weaves together issues, problems and ideas that, in conventional political discussions, are isolated into policy concerns rather than an interlinked system of hierarchy, control and power based in a systemic order: if the world – its institutions and rules of power, its families and social relations – need to change to improve the position of those held back by this gender order, then we need to change, she says, it not by focussing on sex in a puritanical manner but by looking at its power dynamics and the character of the transactions it involves. She then turns her attention to cyber-sexism (much of this chapter appeared in a different form as an e-book in 2013, if I’ve got my dates right). This is not only about the thuggish bullying of and violence directed at women who speak out (there have been many high profile cases and a very small number of convictions related to this), but also to shape and structure of the industry, to the use of concerns about on-line sexual violence as a mechanism for states to introduce new forms of surveillance and the desperation of geeks to hang on to whatever limited social power they have. As with the problem of transactional sex, this chapter explores and makes a strong case for us to understand that the distance between virtual- and meat-worlds is less than many of us who are over 30 might recognise. Finally, she turns to love: the justification for the material act that provides one of the foundations of capitalist patriarchy – but it is not love she deals with but LOVE™, the socially approved fantasy commodity of fairy tale romance which she sees as the capitalist patriarchal counter-point to SEX™ as seen the pornogrification and transactional character of so much that passes itself off as contemporary sex. This is the love of Sex and the City and popular culture’s Manic Pixie Dream Girls as an essential plot device, it is about the way that many of popular culture’s texts that seem to be about women, even when they are the main characters, have men as their heroes, it is about the constrains and limitations approved of versions of commodified love, of LOVE™, rather than messy, limiting, scary, multiple person focussed thing that love/sex/romance often is… and how all of this is part of a system that keeps us prisoner. One of things I really like about Penny’s work is the verve with which she writes – an orthodoxy of rhetoric teachers is that each point should be made three times, which has become a rule to invoke three instances, but Penny may list six or eight or ten or more and by the time we get to the last two or three it seems as if the list has gone to the absurdly amusing extreme until it hits that it may be an extreme but it is neither absurd nor amusing but a sign of the depth of the tendrils of this misogynistic gender order being exposed. She is also deeply personal in places, but never in a gratuitous manner – these are intensely personal stories that make a general political point (this is the general in the specific). She is also up front about what this book is: not a how to negotiate the patriarchal world but polemic of life within it and a marker of the beginning of pathways to change it for the better. Some will find this a problem – they will marginalise its power and importance by labelling it a rant which has the effect of making it seem a self-indulgent catharsis or they will call her feisty (notice the way it is only women who are feisty) or demand specific policy proposals….. and these are the people who claim to be friends and supporters; see the Cybersexism chapter for the way misogynist opponents are likely to respond. Others will lament the focus on sex as an act and a relation: Penny occupies a specific place in some of the ‘sex-kind-of-positive or not’ debates currently running in feminist politics. I think, however, she undersells herself by calling this a polemic. The final three chapters in particular challenge the conventions of some interpretations of capitalist patriarchy but more importantly shift the material basis of the order to partly collapse the distinction between on-line and physical existence and to make clear some of the newer ways we need to be thinking about sex, gender and power. They are not presented in the constrained language of theory we often expect to see but show a sophisticated grasp of theory, a rich body of evidence both from the scholarly literature and from activism and struggle: the language/rhetorical form must not be allowed to undermine the vital conceptual contribution of this book. Read it, be prepared to be unsettled, shocked, maybe a little offended – but recognise the truth of its arguments and engage with them for what they are: an essential demand that we look at the power of gender in a more systematic way than many current forms of feminism seem to. Read it, go out and do something and make redundant the lamentations of those two middle aged men at the top of this page…….

  18. 4 out of 5

    Allie Oosta

    A lot of the topics didn't feel revolutionary compared to other feminist literature, though I'm okay with that. What did feel new was the idea of the "lost boys"--all the young men who feel disjointed and dislodged and unsupported and forgotten and the impact that's having on our society. Absolute must-read. A lot of the topics didn't feel revolutionary compared to other feminist literature, though I'm okay with that. What did feel new was the idea of the "lost boys"--all the young men who feel disjointed and dislodged and unsupported and forgotten and the impact that's having on our society. Absolute must-read.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ann Marie

    I finally finished this book today. It took me a few weeks, not because it's not good, but because its topic (anti-capitalist feminism) is heavy. I loved most of the book (Penny's thoughts on toxic masculinity, ethical non-monogamy, and queerness were all amazing), although I definitely would've liked it to include more discussion on WOC & other POC (it was sorely lacking this). Even with that said, this should be on every feminist's bookshelf, if only to begin great & important discussion. I finally finished this book today. It took me a few weeks, not because it's not good, but because its topic (anti-capitalist feminism) is heavy. I loved most of the book (Penny's thoughts on toxic masculinity, ethical non-monogamy, and queerness were all amazing), although I definitely would've liked it to include more discussion on WOC & other POC (it was sorely lacking this). Even with that said, this should be on every feminist's bookshelf, if only to begin great & important discussion.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    I found ‘Unspeakable Things’ thought-provoking in ways that I did not expect. It is a forceful and lucid polemic about the structural sexism of neoliberal capitalism. Laurie Penny talks about a number of her own experiences, which are powerful and at times uncomfortable to read (notably on the subject of anorexia). Her main topics are how the patriarchy negatively impacts on teenage girls, men, sex, the internet, and love. Of these, I found the standouts to be the chapter on men and that on cybe I found ‘Unspeakable Things’ thought-provoking in ways that I did not expect. It is a forceful and lucid polemic about the structural sexism of neoliberal capitalism. Laurie Penny talks about a number of her own experiences, which are powerful and at times uncomfortable to read (notably on the subject of anorexia). Her main topics are how the patriarchy negatively impacts on teenage girls, men, sex, the internet, and love. Of these, I found the standouts to be the chapter on men and that on cybersexism. The former points out very effectively that patriarchy has always involved a few rich, powerful men imposing their will, leaving the remainder of men with only power over women and children. The intersection between sexism and other inequalities is neatly exposed in her writing. On cybersexism, she describes the depressing trend of women who express opinions online receiving hyperbolic threats of rape and other violence. I hadn’t come across such detailed analysis of this horrible phenomenon before. A quote that struck me: Patriarchal surveillance was a daily feature of the lives of women and girls for centuries before the computer in every workplace and the camera in every pocket made it that much easier. The emotional logic of state and corporate surveillance works very much the same way: the police, our employers, even our parents with network connections may be watching only one in a thousand of our tweets, one in ten thousand of our indiscreet facebook messages, they may only be watching one in a hundred CCTV cameras of the tens of thousands deployed around every major city, but we must always act as if we are observed and curb our behaviour accordingly. What really threw the book into focus for me was the afterword, though. It begins as follows: ‘People wanted me to sum up this book, to tie it up neatly with a set of answers. What programme, what policy would make life under neoliberalism less demeaning for women, queer people, and their allies?’ Indeed, that’s what I was expecting! It’s the standard model for such books, as well as something I particularly like in anything I read critiquing the status quo. Proposed solutions don’t have to be costed, watertight, and detailed, but I enjoy novel suggestions for making the world a better place. Laurie Penny takes an interesting stance on this: that engaging on such a level isn’t helpful as there are ‘no easy answers’. Her hope for the future comes from marginal, alternative communities finding different ways to love and relate to one another. I suppose that stance seems odd to me as I have a mindset mired in academia. I want to understand the flaws in a series of systems (within the system-of-systems that is capitalism), in order to propose ways to change those systems for the better. This book has thus caused me to contemplate in more depth the range of ways to mentally approach the notion of ‘changing the world’, balancing lived experience and analysis. It also reminded me of the importance of speaking up for non-normative female lives. I am a woman who has never wanted to get married or have children, and that’s just fine.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Nikiverse

    Book is really ideal towards people who have already subscribed and are ingrained in the feminism mentality. There's a lot of "we need to riot" (like, dont bother going through the proper means and channels) to make things better. I personally didnt find any compelling examples or facts in this book that would influence anyone with a strong "opinion" of women's rights to change their current viewpoint. Nor did I find any meaningful, feminist philosophy discussions in this book. Or interesting an Book is really ideal towards people who have already subscribed and are ingrained in the feminism mentality. There's a lot of "we need to riot" (like, dont bother going through the proper means and channels) to make things better. I personally didnt find any compelling examples or facts in this book that would influence anyone with a strong "opinion" of women's rights to change their current viewpoint. Nor did I find any meaningful, feminist philosophy discussions in this book. Or interesting anecdotes. It was just a long rant. I wasn't mad that I read the book, because Laurie Penny is very evocative writer. Here's just one of the many examples: A pretty young woman is a paradox: at once a figure of desire and disgust. Hers is the power that all women are supposed to want, the only power we're really allowed to have, the power to please and to play up to male sexual attention - and so it is vital that her power be put in its place. Anyone succeeding at the pretty girl game, however briefly, has to face the suspicion and hostility of other women as well as the worshipful contempt of men. She is assumed to be without consequence, to be intellectually void, to exist only for the pleasure of others; at best, she is a muse, a fascinating enigma. She is permitted hidden depths as long as they stay that way - hidden. A lot of the content seemed more blog-worthy. And because of the lack of facts, philosophy, and intelligent conversation I can't give this book a 3.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Hope

    This was an amazing book. It is really something special and something that both men and women should read. If you are looking to learn more about feminism and what it is and how it fits into our society today, then this really is a great starting point. It's written in an easy and accessible way, which for me is what makes it so powerful. Penny discusses issues that affect women and men and how gender roles and gender stereotypes can stifle progress and understanding. Many people have called Pen This was an amazing book. It is really something special and something that both men and women should read. If you are looking to learn more about feminism and what it is and how it fits into our society today, then this really is a great starting point. It's written in an easy and accessible way, which for me is what makes it so powerful. Penny discusses issues that affect women and men and how gender roles and gender stereotypes can stifle progress and understanding. Many people have called Penny angry. Her proses are unapologetic and her arguments are clear. Penny's anger is justified - everyone should be angry about inequality and harm gender roles can inflict on men and women. Although, Penny's writing is more than just angry. It is hopeful and encouraging. It is comforting and challenging. You need to get this book and read it. And then buy a copy for everyone you know and give it to them at birthdays and Christmas or just because it's a Tuesday. No seriously. Go, buy this book!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    Out of all the books on feminism I've read so far this is definitely the best. Penny addresses every aspect of feminism and how it can help everybody, not just women, but men, children and society as a whole. And she does so with a candidness and bluntness that shows she does not shy away from the difficult subjects but embraces them as an excellent starting point. Each chapter addresses a different point or arguement that has been used to argue against feminism, which Penny takes apart bit by b Out of all the books on feminism I've read so far this is definitely the best. Penny addresses every aspect of feminism and how it can help everybody, not just women, but men, children and society as a whole. And she does so with a candidness and bluntness that shows she does not shy away from the difficult subjects but embraces them as an excellent starting point. Each chapter addresses a different point or arguement that has been used to argue against feminism, which Penny takes apart bit by bit showing that these are often based in fear and misunderstanding of what the true aims of feminism are. It's not about making women superior to men (or anyone else superior to anyone else for that matter) but about real equality where such things are actually truely irrelevent. This book will stir a lot of emotions and responses both positive and negatives but it shows that even though progress has been made there is a long way to go. And we all need to get involved to make it happen.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Laila

    Laurie Penny made me laugh, she made me cry (she made me cry a LOT), she made me whoop and she gave me that warm, smiling feeling where you suddenly feel intensely understood on a level unreached by any stranger. She finds words and connections, reasons and explanations for all those feelings and thoughts that I've always tried to puzzle together in just that way. She writes the song of my soul that my mouth is just a little too quiet, a little too timid to sing. Laurie Penny made me laugh, she made me cry (she made me cry a LOT), she made me whoop and she gave me that warm, smiling feeling where you suddenly feel intensely understood on a level unreached by any stranger. She finds words and connections, reasons and explanations for all those feelings and thoughts that I've always tried to puzzle together in just that way. She writes the song of my soul that my mouth is just a little too quiet, a little too timid to sing.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kellie Morrissey

    Everything the author writes is totally right, totally true (for me) - politically, this is spot on for me and in fact it could be more radical. However it's hampered by two main things: 1) It's horribly navel-gazing with only the most cursory of attempts to acknowledge her own privilege and look beyond her experience; 2) It's outdated and feminist discourse in the public sphere has moved on since 2014 Everything the author writes is totally right, totally true (for me) - politically, this is spot on for me and in fact it could be more radical. However it's hampered by two main things: 1) It's horribly navel-gazing with only the most cursory of attempts to acknowledge her own privilege and look beyond her experience; 2) It's outdated and feminist discourse in the public sphere has moved on since 2014

  26. 4 out of 5

    LiA

    Yesterday's feminism in new clothes. Overrated and boring, but apparently very generational. Not sure whether this rather private version of "feminism" will have an effect as intense and profound as the famous first generation women had, who started to fight for our rights first of all. The subject matter is still pertinent, though. Yesterday's feminism in new clothes. Overrated and boring, but apparently very generational. Not sure whether this rather private version of "feminism" will have an effect as intense and profound as the famous first generation women had, who started to fight for our rights first of all. The subject matter is still pertinent, though.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Katrina Sark

    1 – Fucked-Up Girls p.44 – Worrying about not having enough is still coded masculine, although poverty is still, overwhelmingly, a feminine experience. Men want objects; women are object. Men’s first desire is to have enough things and do enough things; women simply want to be enough. Men want; women are wanted. And for women, to be undesirable is still a real existential threat. Women who are not stereotypically attractive, young and able-bodied often speak of feeling ‘invisible’ – as if they do 1 – Fucked-Up Girls p.44 – Worrying about not having enough is still coded masculine, although poverty is still, overwhelmingly, a feminine experience. Men want objects; women are object. Men’s first desire is to have enough things and do enough things; women simply want to be enough. Men want; women are wanted. And for women, to be undesirable is still a real existential threat. Women who are not stereotypically attractive, young and able-bodied often speak of feeling ‘invisible’ – as if they don’t exist. p.45 – The more powerful women become, the more we are taught that our bodies are unacceptable. p.49 – [Your family] want you to be pretty and pleasing and no trouble at all. It’s not because they hate you and want to keep you down, but because they want what’s best for you, and objective observation of the world suggests that girls who are ugly and troublesome tend to have problems, or become problems, and nobody wants you to be a problem. It’s what your boyfriend wants. He has not been raised to expect a relationship with a real human being, but a sidekick, a helpmeet, a wank-fantasy made only-just flesh. And it’s what your boss wants. He – or she – wants you to play the game. Be a good girl. Smile and make people feel comfortable; accept low pay, long hours, the occasional grope in the corridor, compete with other young women to be the prettiest and most compliant, the hardest-working, the girl everyone loves. Just don’t ever aspire to be more than that. 2 – Lost Boys p.60 – Feminism has never just been about liberating women from men, but about freeing every human being from the straightjacket of gender oppression. For the first time, men and boys as a whole are starting to realize how profoundly messed up masculinity is – and to ask how they might make it different. p.65 – The great obstacle to women’s progress is not men’s hate, but their fear. The “Men’s Rights Activists” who organize to drown out and silence women on the Internet are usually fearful, lonely creatures who are desperate to speak about gender, but only able to do so as a way of shutting women down. That expression of fear comes from a profoundly childish place, a posture which is as fascistic in its policing of gender roles as a playground bully, and which uses words like “Feminazi” which apparent seriousness. Because fighting for equality was what the Nazis were really known for. It is as if by talking about the hurt women experience, often because we are women, we are somehow preventing men from speaking about the painful pressures of masculinity, Interestingly, for many men, the only time they do feel able to talk about their own suffering is when they are trying to stop women talking about theirs. In every other context, men and boys are discouraged from talking about their pain. Thinking in a new way about sex, gender, and power – call it feminism or “masculism” or whatever the hell you like as long as you do it – can help men to process that pain. But it’s far easier to just blame women. p.68 – Somehow, it is still hard to talk to men about sexism without meeting a wall of defensiveness that shades into outright hostility, even violence. Anger is an entirely appropriate response to learning that you’re implicated in a system that oppresses women but the solution isn’t to direct that anger back at women. The solution isn’t to shut down debate by accusing us of “reverse sexism,” as if that will somehow balance out the problem and stop you feeling so uncomfortable. Sexism should be uncomfortable. It is painful and enraging to be on the receiving end of misogynistic stacks, and it is also painful to watch them happen and to know that you’re implicated, even though you never chose to be. You’re supposed to react when you’re told that a group you are a member of is actively fucking over other human beings, in the same way that you’re supposed to react when a doctor hammers your knee to test your nerves. If it doesn’t hurt, something is horribly wrong. p.69 – You can choose, as a man, to help create a fairer world for women, and for men, too. You can choose to challenge misogyny and sexual violence whenever you see them. You can choose to take risks and spend energy supporting women, promoting women, treating women in your life as true equals. You can choose to stand up and say no, and every day more men and boys are making that choice. The question is – will you be one of them? p.70 – Patriarchy, throughout most of human history, is what has oppressed and constrained men and boys as well as women. Patriarchy is a top-down system of male dominance that is established with violence or with the threat of violence. When feminists say “patriarchy hurts men too,” this is what we really mean. Patriarchy is painful, and violent, and hard for men to opt out of, and bound up with the economic and class system of capitalism. I’ve found that when I speak to men about gender and violence, the word “patriarchy” is one of the hardest for them to bear. Modern economics creates few winners, so a lot of men are left feeling like losers – and a loser is the last thing a man ought to be. Women don’t want to be with losers. Losers aren’t real men, desirable men, strong men, and if neoliberalism is creating more losers, it must be because men aren’t being properly appreciated, and it’s probably the fault of feminism, not fiscal mismanagement. Neoliberalism may have set up vast swathes of people to fail, but the real problem cannot be a crisis of capitalism, so it must be a crisis of gender. p.71 – Across the global north and south, people are realizing how they have been cheated of social, financial and personal power by their elected representatives and unelected elites – but young men still learn that their identity and virility depends on being powerful. What I hear most from the men and boys who contact me is that they feel less powerful than they had hoped to be, and they don’t know who to blame. p.75 – The first big secret is this: most men have never really been powerful. Throughout human history, the vast majority of men have had almost no structural power, except over women and children. In fact, power over women and children – technical and physical dominance within the sphere of one’s own home – has been the sop offered to men who had almost no power outside of it. One of the saddest things about modern society is that it has made us understand masculinity as something toxic and violent, associated with domination, control and savagery, being hungry for power and money and acquisitive, abusive sex. Part of the project of feminism is to free men as well as women from repressive stereotypes. p.76 – It is difficult for men not to grow up with the expectation of power over women – even when that power is supposed to be benign, loving power, strong power, the power to protect and dominate. Almost every story boys get to read casts them as the hero and women and girls as supporting characters, mothers and wives and girlfriends. Culture has not yet adjusted to stop promising men the beautiful sidekick, the lovely princess, the silent, smiling companion as a reward for whatever trials life throws their way. Women, by contrast, although we still cast ourselves in that supporting role all too often, are no longer mandated into it by law and lack of medical technology. p.78 – Desire is socially constructed: what the heart and groin and stomach want is brokered by the basic desire to fit in and not make a fuss. p.87 – At Occupy, women were raped in their tents and sexually assaulted at sit-ins. In Baltimore, in Dallas, in Cleveland, in Glasgow. At Occupy London a prominent activist who was tried and acquitted for the rape of two female comrades kept a list of sexual conquests on the wall of his tent. The list began, according to his defense, “as a joke with other men” at the camp. p.88 – Socialism without feminism is no socialism worth having, and men and boys are beginning to learn, slowly and painfully, that they cannot liberate themselves alone. Too many social movements have treated women, queer people and people of colour as collateral damage, telling us to swallow our suffering until the revolution is over – but somehow, that time never comes. This time is different. We are refusing to wait any longer, and we are taking the boys along, too. The precious core of modern male privilege is time. It’s the time to decide where your life is going before certain people start telling you it’s effectively over. It’s the time to make money, build a career, travel the world or just learn to play the trumpet really damn well before you even have to think about finding a partner and starting a family. It’s the time to be young, to fuck up, to fail and start again. It’s the time to get distinguished, rather than grow old. It’s time. p.89 – By the time we hit our late twenties, women and girls are expected to have their shit more or less together. We are expected to have chosen the people around whom our life’s work will revolve, to have made a plan and begun to put it into practice. The word “young” stops being a prefix to “woman” when we are spoken about in the third person. The women we see in the public eye, the women who are celebrated and held up as role models, are overwhelmingly very young, sometimes barely out of school. I’m twenty-seven years old right now, and I’m barely a functional adult. p.90 – Women fear that we will become invisible. We know that, like Cinderella, our time is running out. Men are told that there is time enough. Those ten extra years make all the difference. They are the ten years in which we get to fuck up, be young, damage ourselves and heal again, if we’re lucky, try to build something out of the debris of lust and dreams we accrete like limpets clinging to the underside of time. Men don’t get told that the best years are over just as they’re starting to get the hang of being here. When I think of the lost young men I have known and loved, the ones who made it and the ones who didn’t, a fist of rage and sadness clenches and unclenches under my ribcage. When I think of all the brilliant, passionate, scared young men, mostly poor, many queer an of colour, who didn’t get a chance to make something out of the great gift of those years, I want to shake them in frustration. The tragedy of male privilege is that it is no longer a guarantee of health and happiness, if it ever was. p.94 – More than one in five men report “becoming so sexually aroused that they could not stop themselves from having sex, even though the woman did not consent.” Rape and sexual violence are routine. Ritualized misogyny is so normalized that we need a radical redefinition of how men and women relate, and the traumatic beginnings of that redefinition are causing causalities on both sides. When rape is raised in the press, the concern is always for the man’s reputation – which is considered of more value than a woman’s autonomy. p.113 – Aristotle, who was the sort of vicious misogynist that people have paid attention to for two thousand years, believed that women were incapable of higher reasoning because we are more animalistic than men, more bound to our bodies – women were bodies first before they were whole beings, and those bodies needed to be kept in line by men with muscle. Two thousand years later, the same logic is at play at the highest levels of government. It is at play whenever lawmakers suggest that women should be forced to go to counselling before they have an abortion.it is at play whenever the state decides it knows better than women wat our sexual autonomy should look like. it is at play when one in five women will be raped in her lifetime, and the public conversation is stuck on how many of those women are liars. p.121 – Men have sex; women are sex. Being a woman, and being a woman whose role in life is to sexually attract, please and coddle men is still phrased as the primary occupation of every female, although some of us are still on strike. p.125 – The great genius of commercial sexuality has been to give the impression that this society is one of unprecedented erotic freedom while maintaining the impression that sex is almost always something violent and disgusting that men do to women. Hence the ubiquity of that pernicious little word “sexualisation,” which us used to describe everything from teeny push-up bras to music videos where the latest teen starlet to come off the Disney channel prances about in hotpants. Women should never be sexual: sex is something that is done to us, preferably as late and as infrequently as possible. p.148 – Rape and abuse are the only crimes where, in the words of the seventeenth-century legal scholar Lord Matthew Hale, “it is the victim, not the defendant, who is on trial.” They are crimes that are hard to prove “beyond reasonable doubt” in a court of law, because it’s a case of “he said, she said.” Nobody can really know, and so naturally we must assume that he is innocent and she is lying, because that’s what women do. The trouble is that in this society, “he said” is almost always more credible than “she said,” unless she is white and he is not. The rule of law cannot be relied upon when it routinely fails victims of abuse. p.178 – Germaine Greer once wrote that women had no idea how much men hate them. Well, now we do. The Internet has a way of making hidden things visible, of collapsing contexts so that the type of banter that might once have been appropriate at a frat party exists on the same Twitter feeds where fifteen-year-olds are starting feminist campaigns. Combine that with the disinhibition provided by time-delay and anonymity and you have a recipe for the sort of gynophobic, racist and homophobic rage that women and men who are its targets often find incredibly frightening. Parts of the Internet still behave like men-only spaces, even though they almost never are. p.179 – Right now, the beginning of a backlash against online misogyny us under way. Women and girls and their allies are coming together to expose gender violence online and combat structural sexism and racism offline, collecting stories on hashtags like the #everydaysexism and #aufschrei and #solidarityisforwhitewomen. Projects like this turn sexism and racism from something you have to sit and experience alone into something that can be turned back on your attackers, forcing men who really aren’t as ignorant as they’d like to be to understand women’s experience in a new way, to understand that the stories they grew up hearing about how the world worked might not be the only stories out there. When bigotry is forced to see itself through the eyes of another, the reaction can be grotesque. p.190 – One of the most important things to understand about cybersexism is that it comes from a place of pain, a place of fear and hurt that translates into violent incomprehension in the most personal ways. It is not, of course, the responsibility of those abused to make their abusers feel better, but comparison is a useful tool for understanding as well as a way forward. For geekdudes, the Internet is a safe place. It always has been. p.191 – One of the most important ways in which boys prove their social value, prove that they are or will shortly become men, is by exerting power over women: sexual power, physical power, the power to bully and threaten and intimidate and control. Sexism is a status play. At school, the fact that geekdudes are normally lower down in the status hierarchy is part of what creates the unique flavour of rage spicing up the murky broth of nerd misogyny, and the rage is knotted up with sexual frustration. p.194 – In her excellent book, Delusions of Gender, neuroscientist Cordelia Fine meticulously debunks every cod theory attributing social sex class to hard-wired “brain differences.” The many available studies that show no practical difference whatsoever in the cognitive, reasoning or structural processing power of “male” and “female” brains tend to get far less press coverage and be less high profile than those claiming that the social mores of white, suburban 1950s America were laid down in prehistoric times – despite the fact that they are consistently more sound. p.198 – A networked society is only as good as the networks upon which it is built. A network that dehumanises women and denies them full, free access to the same channels men enjoy is simply not a network that works properly and geeks, nerds and everyone who cares about the Internet as a free and open space need to understand that their network is no longer fit for purpose. Our system is broken. It needs to be updated. p.207 – We don’t just fall for all of this romantic faff because we’re stupid, or gullible, or weak. We fall because we want to, because we need to believe that something will make the rest of our lives safe and meaningful. The posture of romance, particularly straight, married romance, allow us to reject the grim meat-hook reality of work and death even as they fashion us for it, pairing us off into little pockets of pain and passion: you and me against the world, baby. We fall in love because it’s easier than learning to swim in the stuff. p.209 – Women across the classes are taught to seek the love of men first, to assess our worth in the basis on how good we are at keeping and holding male attention. And across the classes, romantic humiliation can be used to bring women low. Every straight man I have ever spoken to about dating remains angrily convinced that women have all the power when it comes to romantic dealings, including the ultimate power: to accept or reject a man’s sexual advances, to put men in the “friend zone,” which is a mug’s game, because of course no real man would actually want to be a woman’s friend. The power to say no to sex makes women monstrous to men, feels like more than a fitting exchange for every other sort of power denied to women and girls over these long, weary generations. This is perfectly true, as long as one believes that the power to say no to sex is respected in practice. Men as a class are incensed by that process of female refusal. They rail against it, push against it, undermine it with violence. They come out in their cowardly thousands online to protest at the idea that sexual consent should be respected. But men, too, have equal power of refusal in relationships. They can refuse to give of themselves in a way that is equally humiliating to women who have grown up learning that they were failing on a basic level if they could not command the love and commitment of men. And that’s it. That’s how heterosexuality makes us all miserable. That’s the privatisation of love. p.212 – That’s how they keep you in line. I have, from time to time, been threatened with violence for walking too proud and talking too much and wearing my hair like a robot rent-boy from the future, but those threats are easy to laugh off. But deep down, I know if I choose not to play the good girl game, I might not get as many kisses as I want. And that’s so much more terrifying. This, then, is how women are kept in line. The threat of violence is a fearful thing, but its injustice is clear, and there is always the risk of rebellion. To threaten someone with a slap, a kick, with broken teeth of a split skull or rape or murder, is not always enough to keep them behaving as you would want them to behave for ever. To threaten someone with loss of love, however, is a violence far more profound and painful: there are few people who would choose a long healthy life without love over a short, painful life full of it. To tell a person that if they don’t do what they’re told they will never be loved is an existential threat akin to soul-murder. It is that fear that keeps us cowed and conformist. It is the fear that we will be unloved.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Desmond

    Her take on love was pretty revolutionary, but the rest echoed other mainstream feminists and didn't have too many hot takes. I did like the analysis on Marx's quote "religion is the opiate of the masses"- she explained how Marx doesn't mean it turns people into sheeple, but that it actually allows them to play out their heartbreaks and struggles through the story of religion, and acts as a balm for their worldly pain. In terms of writing style, it wasn't super academic and paraphrased a lot of Her take on love was pretty revolutionary, but the rest echoed other mainstream feminists and didn't have too many hot takes. I did like the analysis on Marx's quote "religion is the opiate of the masses"- she explained how Marx doesn't mean it turns people into sheeple, but that it actually allows them to play out their heartbreaks and struggles through the story of religion, and acts as a balm for their worldly pain. In terms of writing style, it wasn't super academic and paraphrased a lot of other texts that go into the topics a little deeper. She also spent a disproportionate amount of time focusing on the problem or describing oppression and then not enough time talking about the solution. Like- I already know and believe there's a problem, you don't have to convince me there is one. That's why I picked up this book, because I knew there was a problem.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Hannah Nagle

    "Feminism isn't an identity. Feminism is a process." I really enjoyed this! I found a lot of what Penny wrote about to be incredibly relateable. She writes with humor and can be a bit crass, but overall she dissects big issues and breaks them down into manageable pieces. I particularly enjoyed the section on toxic masculinity. I felt this accurately portrayed how feminism really is for everyone. "Feminism isn't an identity. Feminism is a process." I really enjoyed this! I found a lot of what Penny wrote about to be incredibly relateable. She writes with humor and can be a bit crass, but overall she dissects big issues and breaks them down into manageable pieces. I particularly enjoyed the section on toxic masculinity. I felt this accurately portrayed how feminism really is for everyone.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ry Herman

    A book that has a lot of important things to say, and says them in clear language laced with entirely appropriate anger. It sometimes has a tendency to go off on tangents that muddle the overall point being made, which means it occasionally isn't as strong as her shorter, more journalistic pieces. But in general, this is a good book by a profoundly thoughtful writer and activist. A book that has a lot of important things to say, and says them in clear language laced with entirely appropriate anger. It sometimes has a tendency to go off on tangents that muddle the overall point being made, which means it occasionally isn't as strong as her shorter, more journalistic pieces. But in general, this is a good book by a profoundly thoughtful writer and activist.

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