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Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution…
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Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution (2014)

by Laurie Penny

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I ended up following Laurie Penny (@pennyred) on Twitter at some point. She’s a UK-born-and-bred white journalist who writes about feminism, class, geek culture, and all that lies in between. She covered the Occupy movement, and many other uprisings stemming from young people recognizing that they are currently getting the shit end of the stick. If any of you are familiar with Anita Sarkeesian and Feminist Frequency, you might have come across the above video, as it was the second part of a conference talk in which Ms. Sarkeesian participated.

I enjoyed this book. I thought she shared interesting ideas in a way that I hadn’t been exposed to. This book is as far away from the Sheryl Sandburg-style b.s. lean in feminism as I think you can get if you are a white woman (which I think necessarily limits one’s ability to fully understand and discuss the intersection between gender and race that black women and other women of color experience). While nearly 250 pages long, the book only has five chapters, and I think that’s a good thing. It allows Ms. Penny to focus on creating mostly well-crafted and interesting essays on topics that, if you’ve read about, you’ve probably not read about in quite this way.

I enjoyed in particular her take in “Lost Boys,” which looks at the ways in which men are angry because they aren’t getting what they think has been promised them. She discusses the real ways that the patriarchy (oh, yeah, I said it) doesn’t just fuck over women, but it fucks over the majority of men as well. “People are realizing how they have been cheated of social, financial and personal power … 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.”

But lest you worry that this is a book about feminism that just focuses on men, the other chapters are full of somewhat new and definitely interesting ways of looking at gender and sexuality from the perspective of those who are freshly out of high school or college, or making their way into their late 20s. I just barely avoided joining the Millennial generation (I’m about a year too early, and thus a Gen X-er), but they have grown up in a world that is drastically different from the one I grew up in, and it shows in many ways, including how gender and class intersect.

She talks elegantly about rape culture, including sharing her own experience confronting her rapist years after the fact. She talks about the ways in which society puts the onus and blame on women to protect themselves, as opposed to on the men to, you know, not rape. And she rightfully points out that rape culture isn’t just about men raping women, but that it’s about the culture around how women are treated, from the work they might engage in (including sex work) to the clothes they wear to the choices they make around employment (if they even have choices).

I think this is a good book to add to the list of those who value feminism and who have some understanding of its background and history. It’s not as accessible a book to use to introduce a skeptic to feminism as, say, Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti, but not every book needs to – or should – be that. ( )
  ASKelmore | Jul 9, 2017 |
Witty feminist book about the personal and the political; not new but said well. “Feminism, like wealth, does not trickle down, and while a small number of extremely privileged women worry about the glass ceiling, the cellar is filling up with water, and millions of women and girls and their children are crammed in there, looking up as the flood creeps around their ankles, closes around their knees, inches up to their necks.” I also liked “The past is a different country: people are always laying claim to it in the name of one ideology or another, with no regard for the people that actually live there.” On men suffering from patriarchy: “What we are asking men to do is hard. Let’s be perfectly clear: we have careted a society in which it is structurally difficult and existentially stressful for any male person not to behave like a complete and utter arsehole.” Also: “Teaching men self-disgust is crucial to maintaining the architecture of modern misogyny. If sex weren’t dirty and degrading, there would be less reason to loathe women for letting you do it to them, no matter how much you want to.” On nonconsensual porn: “A naked picture is never an empty boast: it is proof, proof of your power over another person, and culture still tells us that power over another person is what makes a boy into a man.” On the insufficiency of physical violence to preserve patriarchy: “The threat of violence is a fearful thing, but its injustice is clear, and there is always the risk of rebellion…. To threaten them with loss of love, however, is a violence far more profound and painful ….” On the modern condition: “Under late capitalism almost all of us are damaged goods, but it is women who end up trying to fix that damage, or at least keep the gears greased so the machine carries on functioning. I see so many bright, brilliant women pouring their energy into salving the hurt of men who cannot turn to each other for comfort. We do it as sisters, as mothers, as friends, and especially as lovers and wives, because of the sheer number of men and boys who are socialised out of intimacy with anyone they’re not fucking…. [Y]ou can’t save the world one man at a time. That doesn’t stop many of us from trying.” ( )
1 vote rivkat | Jun 4, 2017 |
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! ( )
  bound2books | Feb 12, 2017 |
I wrote a review of this book and published it here: http://wp.me/p382tY-rC
Check it out! ( )
  Calavari | Jun 7, 2016 |
I kind of skimmed the last half of this book because it is do depressing to realize how little progress women have made in social and political equality. The chapter "Lost Boys" also reflects on the hopeless lack of realistic and desirable role models for young men. Sigh.
  ritaer | Dec 20, 2014 |
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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.… (more)

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