The reader waits in vain

Rachel Cooke reviews Laurie Penny’s new “feminist” book:

If the tone of this book is almost comically relentless – if Penny, whose pronouns are they/them, says something once, they say it 54 times – it’s also oddly reminiscent of a superannuated self-help manual, its assumptions seemingly based mostly on the experiences of its author and their friends, a focus group to whom every possible Bad Thing has happened at least once (so handy).

For the reader, especially the reader who has never read a book or a newspaper, never watched any television or seen a film, Penny has all sorts of revelations.

Ouch! That does sound so exactly like LP – forever pointing out the obvious as if she’d only just noticed it.

But don’t be disheartened. Penny has good news, too. Like them, we may eventually be able to overcome our addiction to “predators with pretty eyes and a vacancy for a secret side-piece”. We may even wind up loving ourselves instead of just waiting around “for a man” to find us lovable (for someone who identifies as gender-queer, and who therefore has some trouble with the word woman, which does not reflect her “lived experience”, Penny uses “man” with an abandon that is quite dizzying).

Well you see men don’t have cis privilege, so it’s fine to talk about them, but women oppress trans women just by existing, so they have to be deleted from the discourse at all times.

Most crucially of all, something is now – out in the world, I mean – fighting to break out, as if from a shell: something “wet and angry”, with “claws”. By this, I think Penny is referring to the ongoing activism that was stirred by #MeToo, but I suppose it is possible – I’m troubled by the word “wet” – that I’ve got this entirely wrong.

If only Laurie Penny could write as well as Rachel Cooke.

(For a second I thought “But she would still be Laurie Penny,” but then I realized no, she wouldn’t. You have to be able to think well in order to write well, and a Laurie Penny who could think well would be a very different Laurie Penny indeed.)

But the reader waits in vain for Penny to offer solutions to the injustice she describes, for serious analysis of any kind. The best they can do is to suggest that affordable childcare might be of help. No shit, Sherlock.

The chapter devoted to sex work is utterly enraging, and not only because Penny clearly knows so little about it (where are the interviews, the statistics, the thoughts of experts in this field?). Having painstakingly explained that many women enjoy sex – that they do not, contrary to the old myths, only endure it, the better to keep their men happy – Penny then accuses those women, feminists and others, who are critical of the sex industry of, yes, a sort of twisted envy, because why should some women get paid for what others have to do for free? I’m afraid I clutched my own pearls (inherited, I should say, from a grandmother who left school at 13) at this point.

Having spent half of my life hoping for feminism’s revival – for it to be, if not fashionable, then proudly worn and meaningfully directed – it is lowering beyond words to see a serious publisher describe this ill-edited, ill-considered drivel as a manifesto for the cause. This isn’t feminism. This is a swizz.

But if it identifies as feminism…?

7 Responses to “The reader waits in vain”