Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Laurie Penny's "Unspeakable Things"



There are two reasons it’s taken me longer than it should have to write out my thoughts on Laurie Penny’s newest book, Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies, and Revolution. The first is technical: I’ve been ostriching from pretty much everything for the past couple of months while working on other projects, and am only now coming back to things like blogging and social media and leaving the house. 

The second is personal: It made me mad.

At this point, for readers who—we’ve all done it—prefer not to voyage beyond the first two paragraphs of a piece, allow me to assure you that Penny’s book is excellent. But it might make you mad, and not only at the patriarchy. If you’re a good girl, it might make you a little mad at that very fact.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Instead, let’s begin where Penny begins in chapter 1: a treatment ward for women with severe eating disorders. Much of what has been written about feminism and eating disorders frames these diseases inaccurately, linking a girl’s refusal to eat to her wish to be more like the skinny ladies in all the magazines, the takeaway being that an unrealistic beauty standard—which, yes, is a feminist concern—is to blame. As Penny puts it about the cultural puzzlings over eating disorders, “The best answer we seem to have come up with is ‘magazines.’ This says rather more about what society thinks goes on in the minds of teenage girls than it does about the cause of an epidemic…” In fact, when I went through an outpatient treatment program for my own disordered eating, I had a definite idea of the kinds of women I would find there. They would be smart overachievers, sure, but they would be caught in the tragic game of trying to be what our culture expects of women—thin, pretty, docile—and isn’t it a shame that they don’t recognize their own potential? They wouldn’t be feminists, they wouldn’t be rebels, and they sure as hell wouldn’t be politicized. And I sure as hell was proven wrong on my first day there. 

I don’t want to glamorize women with eating disorders for their rebellion any more than I want to glamorize them for thinness. But when I read one particular passage from Unspeakable Things, the chill of recognition slithered through me: 

“In Italy, there is a tradition called ‘sciopero bianco’—the white strike. In English-speaking countries, it is known as work-to-rule. Workers who are not permitted to strike fight their bosses by doing only what is required of them—to the letter. Nurses refuse to answer phones that ring at 17:01. Transport workers make safety checks so rigid that the trains run hours behind schedule. Eating disorders and other forms of dangerous self-harm are to riots in the streets what a white strike is to a factory occupation: women, precarious workers, young people and others for whom the lassitudes of modern life routinely produce acute distress and for whom the stakes of social non-conformity are high, lash out by doing only what is required of them, to the point of extremity. Work hard, eat less, consume frantically; be thin and perfect and good, conform and comply, push yourself to the point of collapse. … We all followed the rules, sufferers seem to be saying—now look what you made us do.”

Penny understands eating disorders as a form of rebellion because she’s been there, and not because she was quite literally dying to be thin. Her clear-minded thinking that cuts to the quick allowed her to regard her time in treatment as instructive in the politicization that now characterizes much of her work. And it’s important to understand that the rebellion of eating disorders is not in refusing to eat, but in its angry nod to the good girl. You want me to be a good girl? Fine, I’ll be a goddamn perfect girl. Fuck you, I’ll disappear, how’s that? It’s a warped logic, sure, but eating disorders are warped. It’s logic all the same.


So at some point around here in my reading I began to get mad. I got mad because I’ve spent years trying to understand my own eatingstuffs and my own warped logic, and had come to categorize my improper behaviors as symptomatic of my chronic good-girl-ism: rule-following to the extreme, but with compliance, not the whiff of rebellion, as the goal. Good-girl-ism had become a part of my own personal mythology to the point where I didn’t question it anymore, which means, of course, that I have an investment in protecting the good girl. For I still think of myself that way—a good girl, despite being 38 years old, which should tell us something about exactly how much power we believe the good girl can ever truly have. I do what is expected of me, and indeed, of women in general. I cooperate, I play nice, I am a member of the getalong gang. And part of this shows up in the dress-up clothes of my own politicization: I couldn’t get on board with the whole “ironic misandry” thing because so much of my energy as a feminist over the years has gone into turning cartwheels for men in an attempt to prove to them that feminism isn’t the big, bad, scary monster their bro-friends might have painted it to be. No, feminism can be friendly! Feminism is concerned about men too! Feminists give better head!

And, you know, all of this is true (ahem). But the ring of recognition I felt upon reading Penny’s idea of eating disorders as a “white strike” against the constraints placed upon women’s social roles was too true to ignore. If a beating heart of anger and rebellion—not, as I’d construed it, good-girl-ism—was underneath my own disordered eating all along, then what did that say for the good-girl ways I’d championed feminism for years?

What Laurie Penny calls for in this book is mutiny. Mutiny against the mythology of “falling apart elegantly,” as we’ve constructed eating disorders to be; mutiny against the careful persona curation of social media, which so many women have mastered because we’re so used to being thought of as commodities. Mutiny for sex workers and men who are tired of the patriarchy too and for women who question the institutionalization of “love,” and all of the other people whom Penny addresses in the bulk of the book—which is about far more than eating disorders and good girls, and functions much as a primer on where feminism could go if we want it to. Mutiny against the idea that for queer youth, “It Gets Better” should be sufficient protection in a world where it should be better now. Mutiny against feminism as a show pony strictly for women who have the time, money, and social platform to be the public face of feminism.

I’m a believer in the idea that it takes all types to create lasting social change. It takes palatable feminism, it takes unpalatable feminism. It takes radical feminism, it takes theft of the master’s tools, it takes the servants living in the master’s house who realize how nice it is once their quarters are dismantled. It takes “bro feminists” and humanists and sassy little girls, and the quiet ones too. It takes mutiny. Reading Unspeakable Things didn’t make me think otherwise, not exactly. What it did do was make me question the connection between “good girl feminism” and “good girl”-ism itself. Specifically, what our love of the good girl means for those moments when feminism becomes hip enough to, say, be a focal point of something like the MTV Video Music Awards. I’ll always be glad to see pretty much anyone call themselves a feminist, and as Penny writes in a section that serves as a treatise on The Slut, I’m wary of drawing distinctions between “good” and “bad” women, feminists included. 

But when you immerse yourself in the possibility of mutiny—even if only for as long as it takes you to read Unspeakable Things—it makes you a bit testy at the limits of what face of feminism is likely to be beamed onto the main stage. And it might even make you a little bit testy at the ways you’ve been complicit in those limits, without ever having intended to do so.

78 comments:

  1. Sounds like I need to read this. I've been on a mission in recent years to root out all of the good girl-ness that was instilled in me as a result of my LDS upbringing - because seriously, fat lot of good it's done me in my life - and it sounds like this might help me on that mission.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is a very interesting theory. I hadn't thought of eating disorders as a form of cultural comment and protest. It sounds to me like a self-sacrificing variation on imminent critique where an individual embodies in the extreme what she perceives to be an unhealthy cultural value so that others need only to look at her to understand that certain values and pressures can be harmful. It's extra interesting that she applies this theory specifically to "good girls." I wonder how she would explain eating disorders in girls who do not self-identify as "good girls."

    ReplyDelete
  3. I've always agreed with your point that we need everyone to join the fight, whether they wear lipstick or not, are female or not, are enlightened or not. Society forces us to conform so harshly that its influence cannot be exaggerated. Your review has perked my interest in reading this book. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hey-- I haven't read this post yet but I just wanted to really quick say that I found this blog after reading Green Girl, and I'm so intrigued by what you have to say. I'm glad you updated so I can read more! It's a really great title for a website, and totally encapsulates the themes you have intelligently written on. I can relate.

    ReplyDelete
  5. The article you have shared here very awesome. I really like and appreciated your work. I read deeply your article, the points you have mentioned in this article are useful. I must try to follow these points and also share others.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thanks for this article. I am fascinated with what you got from this particular book and with framing certain women's actions as silent protests against good-girl-ism. I feel that I have personally used sex in a similar way, which is pretty troubling itself.

    In any case, I am working on a project on self-objectification and find your insights valuable and your recommended reading helpful. If I end up accidentally incorporating any of your original insights for my project, I will ask swift and specific permission to use your words as a source. I'm not a huge voice, just a curious senior undergrad at UMass, but just wanted to express how seriously this kind of writing you do here needs to be taken.

    -Molly

    ReplyDelete
  7. Before the determination was made to try out virtually any unconventionally physical exercise system, It's a good idea to do a very little homework 1st. The purpose of the subsequent review is usually to offer a number of methods frequently asked questions concerning the well-liked cheap trx Headgear Coach workout method.
    The concept regarding TRX Revocation Coaching was a idea of the past You Deep blue Close off and his teammates. Most of these significant athletes needed a moveable, flexible and effective strategy for residing in ideal trx australia wherever the adventures could be.
    Fitness at any place, designer along with owner with the TRX, warranties it truly is goods with regard to one-year protecting any disorders around supplies as well as skillfullness. Also, TRX Australia items have a very 30-day satisfaction ensure if you're the item isn't for you.
    The particular TRX insides coach is a adaptable as well as easy exercising procedure for convenient efficient exercises for strength training, main steadiness, flexibility, in addition to metabolic teaching. This TRX Straps is very easily transportable and so now you may exercise anywhere: at your house, on a trip, for the store, or even at the gym.

    ReplyDelete
  8. One of the first louis vuitton replica visionaries to predict test-tube meat, you'll be surprised to learn, was Winston Churchill. Back replica shoes in 1931, before he became Prime Minister, chanel replica Churchill wrote a magazine article about technological progress in which he predicted that by 1981, "we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken louis vuitton replica in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium hermes replica" [source: Churchill].

    ReplyDelete
  9. Superb post! I measured your many of the points on the content and l you’ve held the equal standard than most.

    Batman Jacket

    ReplyDelete
  10. nice post, i cannot stop reading thi good article...it's written very well, i'm gonna read another good article from you if you don't mind.. thx for your hard work..
    SBOBET

    ReplyDelete
  11. nice post, i cannot stop reading this good article...it's written very well, i'm gonna read another good article from you if you don't mind.. thx for your hard work..
    SBOBET

    ReplyDelete
  12. nice post, i cannot stop reading this good article...it's written very well, i'm gonna read another good article from you if you don't mind.. thx for your hard work..
    SBOBET

    ReplyDelete
  13. this post is nice. thanks for share. Keep post
    Play kids games online the best free online games for kids. Fun games, disney games, cartoon games, and more only for kids

    ReplyDelete
  14. Thanks for sharing this quality information with us. I really enjoyed reading.!

    judi bola

    agen bola

    poker online

    ReplyDelete
  15. Thanks for sharing this quality information with us. I really enjoyed reading.!

    judi bola

    agen bola

    poker online

    ReplyDelete
  16. I just read the regularly one particular subject material. Beautiful articles or reviews, thank you to sharing an article content with all of us.


    sarana303

    ReplyDelete
  17. Thank for sharing!
    Visit to friv 4 than play Strike Force Heroes and play game Jelly Escape or game friv ! have fun!

    ReplyDelete
  18. ray ban outlet online Coldly looked outlet, ray ban outlet online sale suddenly raised his head, followed by a burst ray ban outlet online of ray ban outlet online harsh voice, sale suddenly toss of his head, a purulent sputum accurate ray ban outlet online landed a foot surface outlet. Yellow sputum do not know how much cheap ray ban sunglasses online stronger, even fell motionless foot, which .

    ReplyDelete
  19. [url=http://www.trxaustraliax.com/]TRX Australia[/url] are nothing but pendants that you can attach to any form of jewelry you like.
    A revolutionary online retail store with a difference, yes I am talking about the [url=http://www.trxaustraliax.com/trx-straps.html]trx workouts[/url].
    Be it gifts or [url=http://www.trxautraining.com/]trx australia[/url] it provides the essence of style and quality that can't be justified by words.
    [url=http://www.trxautraining.com/]Trx Workouts[/url] offers you a wide variety of charms.
    Let's just have a look into some of the [url=http://www.trxaustraliaonline.com/]trx workouts[/url] that may interest you.
    These are only a few, there is whole host of [url=http://www.trxaustraliaonline.com/cheap-trx-xmount.html]trx Australia[/url] that are available and can easily ship them for you at very nominal rates, as per order.
    Most of the [url=http://www.trxausale.com/]TRX workouts[/url] present here are actual collectible jewellery items.
    Possessing a [url=http://www.trxausale.com/]TRX Australia[/url] is a matter of pride and a matter of envy for the onlookers.

    ReplyDelete
  20. I don’t want to glamorize women with eating disorders for their rebellion any more than. I want to glamorize them for thinness
    ----
    camera giá tốt good price
    camera trọn bộCheap, cheaper when purchase
    lắp đặt camera vantech
    phụ kiện camera

    ReplyDelete
  21. This is a great web site. Good sparkling user interface and very informative blogs. I will be coming back in a bit, thanks for the great article. I have found it enormously useful..
    unblocked games
    friv
    unblocked games
    tetris | tetris games
    | monster high | play monster high games

    ReplyDelete
  22. This is a great web site. Good sparkling user interface and very informative blogs. I will be coming back in a bit, thanks for the great article. I have found it enormously useful..
    unblocked games |
    unblockedgames |
    unblocked game |
    friv4school |
    unblocked games | unblockedgames
    tetris | tetris games | top tetris games
    monster high games | monster high | play monster high games

    ReplyDelete
  23. We stumbled over here from a different web page and thought I might check things out.
    Testimoni CORDYCEPS PLUS CAPSULE
    We’ve always promised to protect the things that are the most important to them: their assets, their peace of mind and even their dreams, La sélection alternative de la semaine #23? : en français, le symbole pour « numéro » est « N° ». Pourquoi ne pas l’utiliser, au lieu du croisillon anglosaxon ?
    C’est trop moche ? we i me andriana
    ===========================================================================
    http://bit.ly/1FqZsIV
    ===========================================================================
    http://bit.ly/1GbZEdb
    ===========================================================================
    http://bit.ly/1AL8KsI
    ===========================================================================
    http://bit.ly/1ETz8YI

    ReplyDelete
  24. I am happy to find this post very useful for me. I loved this article. It was practical. Keep on posting!
    ---
    Signature: i like play games jogosfriv | jogo de friv | jogos friv

    ReplyDelete
  25. We stumbled over here from a different web page and thought I might check things out.
    Vig Power Capsule
    We’ve always promised to protect the things that are the most important to them: their assets, their peace of mind and even their dreams, La sélection alternative de la semaine #23? : en français, le symbole pour « numéro » est « N° ». Pourquoi ne pas l’utiliser, au lieu du croisillon anglosaxon ?
    C’est trop moche ? we i me andriana
    ===========================================================================
    http://bit.ly/1FqZsIV
    ===========================================================================
    http://bit.ly/1GbZEdb
    ===========================================================================
    http://bit.ly/1AL8KsI
    ===========================================================================
    http://bit.ly/1ETz8YI

    ReplyDelete
  26. Great post. i like it. feeling great when reading your post .
    -----
    i like play game clickjogos ; play game click jogos online free and apply baixar facebook movel online free

    ReplyDelete
  27. We stumbled over here from a different web page and thought I might check things out.
    Testimoni Diasis Care Capsule We’ve always promised to protect the things that are the most important to them: their assets, their peace of mind and even their dreams, La sélection alternative de la semaine #23? : en français, le symbole pour « numéro » est « N° ». Pourquoi ne pas l’utiliser, au lieu du croisillon anglosaxon ?
    C’est trop moche ? we i me andriana
    ===========================================================================
    http://bit.ly/1FqZsIV
    ===========================================================================
    http://bit.ly/1GbZEdb
    ===========================================================================
    http://bit.ly/1AL8KsI
    ===========================================================================
    http://bit.ly/1ETz8YI

    ReplyDelete
  28. You’ve written nice post, I am gonna bookmark this page, thanks for info. I actually appreciate your own position and I will be sure to come back here.
    kizi
    coolmath4kids
    juegos de los simpson
    baixar whatsapp plus

    ReplyDelete
  29. This article is really fantastic and thanks for sharing the valuable post.
    ----
    play game jogos do friv online and play game jogos friv | jogos do friv

    ReplyDelete
  30. We stumbled over here from a different web page and thought I might check things out.
    Obat Varikokel Tanpa operasi We’ve always promised to protect the things that are the most important to them: their assets, their peace of mind and even their dreams, La sélection alternative de la semaine #23? : en français, le symbole pour « numéro » est « N° ». Pourquoi ne pas l’utiliser, au lieu du croisillon anglosaxon ?
    C’est trop moche ? we i me andriana
    ===========================================================================
    Ace Maxs

    ReplyDelete
  31. We stumbled over here from a different web page and thought I might check things out.
    obat jantung koroner We’ve always promised to protect the things that are the most important to them: their assets, their peace of mind and even their dreams, La sélection alternative de la semaine #23? : en français, le symbole pour « numéro » est « N° ». Pourquoi ne pas l’utiliser, au lieu du croisillon anglosaxon ?
    C’est trop moche ? we i me andriana
    ===========================================================================
    Ace Maxs

    ReplyDelete
  32. We stumbled over here from a different web page and thought I might check things out.
    Agen Green World Tangerang We’ve always promised to protect the things that are the most important to them: their assets, their peace of mind and even their dreams, La sélection alternative de la semaine #23? : en français, le symbole pour « numéro » est « N° ». Pourquoi ne pas l’utiliser, au lieu du croisillon anglosaxon ?
    C’est trop moche ? we i me andriana
    ===========================================================================
    Ace Maxs
    ===========================================================================
    Obat Penyakit Maag

    ReplyDelete
  33. Great! Thanks for sharing the information. That is very helpful for increasing my knowledge in this field.
    pacman |happy wheels |my little pony games | unblocked games

    ReplyDelete
  34. Thank you! I have to thank you for the efforts you’ve put in penning this site.I really hope to check out the same high-grade blog posts by you later on as well. In truth, your creative writing abilities has motivated me to get my own website now !
    unblocked games| unblocked games at school| unblocked games| friv4school| friv 4 school
    call of duty| top tetris games| friv games| frivgames
    barbie games| barbiegames| monster high games| kizi2| kizi 2

    ReplyDelete
  35. No, not at all, Iwinski said. "Having said that, if they were delivery on Oct 8 and they would declare it before us, then we would look, I don't know, for Nov or something. Because there are so few RPGs that it's really a very ridiculous concept to provide them simultaneously."
    Jogos Da Frozen | Loola Games | Loola Games | Jogos De Friv

    ReplyDelete
  36. Every successful person must have a failure. Do not be afraid to fail because failure is a part of success.
    Signature:
    facebook entrar iniciar sesion gratis - Sitio Oficial iniciado sesión en Facebook lengua española. facebook entrar rápido, facebook iniciar sesion en tu cuenta de entrar facebook

    ReplyDelete
  37. Thanks for sharing. I hope it will be helpful for too many people that are searching for this topic.
    Signature:
    download baixar facebook movel, Facebook movel, baixar facebook. Facebook chat, baixar whatsapp, fazer o download baixar whatsapp gratis para Android, iPhone. Últimas Facebook

    ReplyDelete
  38. Thank you for your friendship and the time you spent. Those moments changed my day — heck, the rest of the year and then some. I appreciate your faith and perspective.
    No, not at all, Iwinski said. "Having said that, if they were delivery on Oct 8 and they would declare it before us, then we would look, I don't know, for Nov or something. Because there are so few RPGs that it's really a very ridiculous concept to provide them simultaneously."
    firv | mafa 2 | loola games | juegos gahe | 7k8x games | fryv | zoxy games

    ReplyDelete
  39. Play: Friv - top free online games for kids!

    ReplyDelete
  40. I really admire the vital concepts that you simply provide within the content. i'm wanting forward for additional vital thoughts and additional blogs.

    ReplyDelete

  41. Thank you for another wonferdul article. Where else could anyone get that kind of information in such an ideal way of writing? I have a presentation next week, and I am on the look for such information.
    http://kesehatanman.tumblr.com
    http://seputarkesehatan.abatasa.com
    http://jalankesehatan.weebly.com

    ReplyDelete

  42. Thank you for another wonferdul article. Where else could anyone get that kind of information in such an ideal way of writing? I have a presentation next week, and I am on the look for such information.
    http://kesehatanman.tumblr.com
    http://seputarkesehatan.abatasa.com
    http://jalankesehatan.weebly.com

    ReplyDelete
  43. Thank you for helping to spread useful information for all those who need
    Cara Menyembuhkan Turun Peranakan Yang Sudah Kronis

    ReplyDelete
  44. Do you have a spam problem on this website; I also am a blogger, and I was curious about your situation; many of us have created some nice practices and we are looking to swap techniques with other folks, be sure to shoot me an e-mail if interested.
    Awesome things here. I'm very happy to look your post. Thanks a lot and I am having a look ahead to touch you. Will you kindly drop me a mail?
    http://berbagaicaraterbaik.wordpress.com
    http://semuacara.tumblr.com
    http://new.caraterbaik.blogdetik.com

    ReplyDelete