Without bothering to reflect

Natalya Lusty (a cultural studies academic) reviews Laurie Penny’s new book in the Sydney Morning Herald:

Disappointingly, we never get a clear sense of why “fascism” is the best term to describe the enemy of feminism’s protracted and diffuse battles. In spite of this incoherency, the stark choice presented at the beginning of the book is between feminism and fascism. There are no shades of grey.

Many of the topics Penny covers (heterosexual love, consent, unpaid domestic labour, reproductive rights, extreme misogyny, male abuse of power and privilege) are critical if not new issues but their intractability warrants renewed attention if not outrage. But fused with anecdotes (many about Penny’s or their friend’s own experiences of bad sex and relationships) and one-size-fits-all polemical solutions, there is little sustained attention or intellectual care here to make the personal political or even evocative.

That does sound like her – “start with me and then expand outwards…but there’s so much to say about me that we never actually get to the expand outwards part.”

Instead, the book gives us plenty of rhetorical outrage (265 pages), the kind that has become all too familiar on our social media feeds. On the first page alone we have “the crisis of white masculinity”, “a crisis of democracy”, “a crisis of care and of reproduction”, to be finally told that “sex and gender are [also] in crisis”.

Well if you don’t keep saying “crisis” people won’t understand that there’s a crisis. Or several thousand of them.

To further frustrate the reader, the book is littered with editorial errors, undigested ideas, and passages that are perplexing if not comical…Like bad sex, the book feels at once overly perfunctory and incessantly monotonous. And like a lot of meme-driven political culture, if not institutional diversity initiatives, it tends to flatten the various constituencies for which it otherwise advocates. For example, the repeated shorthand phrase “women and queer people” and occasionally “women and queer people and people of colour” nods to intersectionality without bothering to reflect on how the issues at hand have very different consequences for disparate minority or subordinated groups.

It sounds exactly like the Laurie Penny we know from Twitter. She doesn’t seem to bother to reflect on much of anything.

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