Laurie Penny, you've lost me

A much-revered excerpt from Laurie Penny’s most-recent book, “Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution,” is published over at Salon. The headline reads: “Mainstream feminism is tepid and cowardly: Work, sex, race, ‘having it all’ and true liberation.”

Tips for newcomers: the hot and trendy thing to do in feminism these days is shit on it. Everyone is simultaneously too radical or not radical enough and no one’s really sure what radical means anyway. Since we aren’t quite sure what it is we are talking about and who “everyone” is, you can pretty much pick from a grab bag of labels, toss them around vaguely at no one in particular, and folks will pretend as though they know exactly what you are talking about and congratulate you for saying the same nonsensical thing a hundred other newbie/lazy people already said this year. It’s like how I play darts: just huck it as hard as you can and hope it sticks somewhere on the board. “Is that points? Yay.”

But Penny is no newbie. She’s a smart, brave, feminist and a strong writer. What gives?

In this particular excerpt she derides “mainstream feminism,” “public feminism,” “career feminists,” and, in not so many words, radical feminists, older feminists, and abolitionists. Who are we talking about here, exactly? Who is a “mainstream feminist?” Is it the almost universally hated Sheryl Sandberg, who feminism agreed would be the go-to example of doing it wrong? Is it the women who write for Salon? Is it all white women? Liberal feminists who are only focused on “getting more women into ‘boardrooms’?” Heterosexual women? Middle-class women? All feminists who are trying to make it as writers and journalists (i.e. women who are making feminism part of their “career?” Also potentially known as “career feminists?”)? Feminists who fight the appallingly racist, misogynist, capitalist, violent porn industry? The old, prudish, sex-hating, second wavers? Who?

Is anyone else willing to admit that the targets are both nobody and everybody? This all feels a little emperor-has-no-clotheseque, I have to say…

But here. I’ll start: Laurie Penny, you lost me. I literally have no clue what this essay is arguing. It feels like you stepped into the ring and threw a bunch of cheap shots without hitting any targets.

Well, no. You landed a few punches with some easy ageism and sexism… Classic move. The internet loves that shit.

“Just when it should be most radical, ‘public feminism’ has become increasingly concerned with a species of thin-lipped censoriousness that posits sex, rather than sexism, as the real problem. The feminist campaigns that attract the most attention and funding are those concerned with stamping out pornography, ending prostitution and preventing the sale of suggestive T-shirts.

This is a discourse that treats women as victims not just of our admittedly hugely fucked-up erotic culture, but of sex itself, without properly understanding the nature of commercial sexuality or of objectification. Sexism is apparently not the problem: the problem is sex, the nature of it, the amount of it that’s being had away from moralising eyes, sometimes for money.”

So, I don’t know what this “public feminism” means because, well, aren’t you public? Aren’t all of us who write or campaign or organize “public feminists?” In any case, were there to be such a thing as a cohesive “public feminism,” should it not be concerned with the ever-expanding, ever-exploitative, billion dollar sex industry? No? Stupid, right? I mean, why bother with silly things like the objectification of women? Or the rape and abuse and murder and degradation of prostituted women — selling sex because they have no other way to survive? Ugh. Focus on something that matters amirite? “Tepid.” “Cowardly.” Fight the man, you guys. Oh wait… We are.

And OH! The “thin-lipped” freedom-haters! Censoring “sex” with their cob-webbed vaginas and gavels! Bang! YOUR PORN IS CENSORED. Bang! See ya later prostitution! Bang! No more rapey t-shirts for you, boys!

Remember that time? That time we plucked out the eyeballs of all males, preventing them from looking at boobs on their computers? I’ll never forget those rows of bloody eye sockets. And then there was that other time — the time we stopped “sex” in its tracks. That was a good day. Let the good times of a rape-free, harassment-free, throat-fucking-free society roll. I just wear my chastity belt as a fashion accessory these days.

Sigh. I could write an entire essay about just those two paragraphs. In fact, I think I will.

Laurie Penny. You know better than this. You must know that feminism’s fight against pornography and prostitution is about opposing sexism — not about opposing sex. This is the game that anti-feminist men play. “Oh you hate watching gang-bangs? You must hate sex you ugly prude!” “Oh you think prostitution exists because of patriarchy and colonialism and exploits the most marginalized members of our society? WHY DO YOU HATE BONERS? Put your bible away, Jesus!”

Penny, a supposedly radical feminist, has essentially called feminists who fight misogyny dowdy, bitter, prudes who are invested, not in creating an egalitarian society free from violence and oppression, but censorship.

Why is this happening??

We understand “the nature of commercial sexuality [and] objectification.” We really do. Do you, Laurie? Do you truly believe that the feminist fight against the commodification and objectification of female bodies and sexuality is a fight against “sex?” Because I don’t believe that you believe that. Have you ever heard me complain about “sex” and the “amount” people are having? I never did publish those op-eds, “Get your dick out of my vag!” or “KAO (Kill All Orgasms)” after all. In fact, I feel like I published a number of other over-sharey articles about the intimate details of my sex life and the nature of my orgasms wherein not once did I express concern about how much sex I or other people are having. I also feel like a bunch of women have argued that porn provides a horrible sex education and teaches men that women’s pleasure doesn’t matter and, in fact, that women like to be hurt and that hurting and degrading women is sexy… I feel like it’s pretty clear that those arguments are not “anti-sex” so much as they are “pro-real-sex-that-is-pleasurable-for-everyone-involved-and-doesn’t-turn-women-into-fuck-toys.”

And as for our “moralizing,” well, I don’t know. I’ve come to the conclusion that having “morals” isn’t such bad thing. I feel like, in a society, we tend to like to agree that certain behaviours are acceptable and that others are not. Murder is wrong, for example (or wait, am I censoring murder now?). So is violence, abuse, incest, pedophilia, etc. Too much moralizing? Well, sorrynotsorry. Other things I am not sorry for: opposing that situation wherein men pay to fuck and abuse and degrade and sometimes murder women who are repulsed by them because we live in a world wherein men think women and girls were born so men have something to stick their dicks into.

I don’t know which one I am — the “mainstream feminist,” the “public feminist,” the “career feminist,” or the “thin-lipped censorius” feminist. I don’t care. These labels are meaningless and yet are tossed back and forth with zeal online, in an effort to win at the game of “step on someone else’s neck to make yourself taller/gain Twitter followers” that internet feminism seems so fond of. Why are you playing that game, Laurie? It’s a bad game. The ones who lose are women.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • C.K. Egbert

    I think it’s telling when those who disagree with radical feminist end up doing one of two things:
    1) straw person/gross misinterpretation/ad hominem
    2) Use the magic of the words agency, choice, autonomy, or consent as a rejoinder to stop all criticism (usually without even having a definition of what those are even supposed to mean)

    The idea that we have no idea about objectification or the commercial sex industry is more than a slap in the face. Radical feminists are the ones who talk to prostituted and trafficked women, the ones who listen to their stories, who listen to women who have been sexually abused by their boyfriends coercing them into acts depicted in porn, those who gave us the whole idea of sexual objectification in the first place (I’d like to see them define that one too, without making the term meaningless or reverting back to technique (b)).

    • derrington

      What makes me furious with Penny’s defence of liberal feminism’s attitude that filming women and children having sex/being made to have sex whilst being spat on, spunked on and verbally vomited on with hate speech is actually empowering. Recently in the UK we have had a harrowing case of 1400 underage girls being raped, given drugs and otherwise ‘befriended’ by adult males where the police and social services actually knew about these crimes against female children and stood back and let it happen, defending their decision to allow child rape and murder by saying it was the children’s choice (agency) to get drunk at the age of 11, and have sex with 5 adult men at the same time. Some enjoyed the lifestyle so much they were murdered for trying to leave it and their sisters threatened with being set on fire if they reported their enjoyment of said rapes. The police and social workers actually called the victims by the same language of hatred that the rapists did, which interesting is the same language sexual media uses to illustrate/simulate/promote child rape. The neo feminists are brainwashed into standing everything the media industry knows about the effects of media on mass consciousness and attitudes on its head just because its sexual media. Quite frankly their stupidity and self identification is sickening and saddening in equal measure. I am working with the UK branch of Stop Porn Culture which is called Resist Porn Culture to try and reclassify porn as sexual media in an effort to get it to abide by the laws that all other media has to with regard to not villify groups of people by colour, sexual orientation, gender or another other natural and non changeable state. Porn is hate propoganda hidden behind nudity and its must be exposed as such and made to conform to responsible media regulations or we are in for a really frightening future.

      • gera

        great comment. YES.

  • Be for justice for women, get accused of “moralizing.” Old, old story. Only sexual politics gets the old heave-ho dismissal. Great, great column, and love your satirizing — it is so on target — of the same old platitudes directed against feminists. Once by male anti-feminists, but now in an in-house civil war, with feminists attacking other feminists with those same weapons.

    • Kim

      Yes, it’s striking how she plays the ”you’re against sex” ”you consider women VICTIMS” cards, usually played by anti-feminists. Telling.

  • bella_cose

    Holy shit! Awesome post, Meghan!

    I tried to read the article at Salon, and I couldn’t get past the first few paragraphs. I have to say, what I did read was utterly nonsensical. And to think, this is the woman who wrote Meat Market: Female Flesh Under Capitalism. I mean, it’s unbelievable.

    • Ash

      I know! I have Meat Market and thought it was pretty good, too. Very surprised.

  • Great post.

  • aladywrites

    I’m curious, when was Laurie Penny’s writing good? I’ve been aware of her work for I guess a couple of years and any piece that I’ve looked at has been terrible. She’s quite intellectually lazy and just says the sort of right-on stuff that Guardian readers eat up.

    Her article on the campaign opposing forced sex-segregated public events at universities was atrocious – she claimed it was an Islamophobic plot by right-wing white men, when in fact it was mostly led by women of colour from Muslim backgrounds. Many people pointed out the error, so she slightly amended the article to make a vague reference to WOC’s complaints being hijacked by Islamophobic white males, which if anything made it even worse than the original. She was in fact delegitimising a campaign by minority women, who felt that campus segregation was a serious issue, by claiming that it was just right wing Islamophobia.

    This is part of a serious problem in the UK in which cultural/religious rights routinely trump women’s rights and many leftists (and respectable centrists) refuse to acknowledge the minority women activists who are trying to improve the situation. Many leftist WOC, particularly those who are progressive Muslims or ex-Muslims, feel terribly betrayed by much of the left, who in this case are siding with the oppressor. There are some signs that the situation has perhaps been improving recently, as for example when the Guardian came out against FGM.

    • Her response to the anti-sex-segregation campaign perfectly illustrates on of the problems with cultural relativism that I discussed on my blog recent (shameless plug.) Cultural relativists think non-whites are so dumb-dumb and culturally homogeneous that they can’t possibly be criticising their own culture and therefore all criticisms of non-Western cultural practices must come from Westerners, who are trying to impose their “Western” notion of Enlightment and women’s equality.

      In reality, women who promoted these “Western notions” have been viciously stigmatised, in the West, from the beginning of the second wave. Learn your history or “herstory” or whatever you want to call it, liberals. Real feminism has never been popular.

      There’s another problem I have with cultural relativism that I forgot to mention on my blog. When academics preach it, they assume that their audience is totally made up of Westerners, who have embraced “Western culture”. Please, stop telling me that I shouldn’t try to impose my “Western” culture onto everyone. My culture (if I even have one) is not Western and there were no doubt plenty of other people in the class who either do not adhere to or did not grow up with Western culture. I certainly did not grow up being told that “fashion is a language”, that’s so Western and capitalistic it probably came from an advertisement. Somehow every liberal attempt at “inclusivity” makes me (and probably others as well) feel left out.

    • andeväsen

      Completely agree with this. LP is a professional anti-feminist. I don’t agree with Meghan that LP knows what she is talking about, and is currently being knowingly disingenuous about radical feminism. It rather seems as though she truly does believe her own words, not just about feminism, but also about classism and leftism in relation to the UK. Her arguments appear poorly thought out and inconsistent because they genuinely are. She is an insidious enemy of feminism as well as of Marxism because she uses both for self-interest while being unable to comprehend either.

  • Bridget Robertson

    As a 55 year old feminst I love your ability to clear the path. It was a totally confusing mess of an article.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Thanks Bridget!

  • Lizor

    This is awesome. You are awesome. And funny as hell. It’s just a perfect reply to that depressing garbled column.

    Seriously, someone who writes for Salon and The Guardian complaining about “public feminists”??? What the living fuck?

    It may be true that this is an Alien abduction, but either way THANK YOU for this response.

  • Kim

    Wow, she’s just so unbelievably wrong. Actually mainstream feminism is saturated with sexual liberals, so-called sex positive people who have just decided male misogynistic sexual attitudes towards women are empowering if women just accept them and rationalize them through some impressive amount of cognitive dissonance. Being pro-Nordic Model is definitely controversial and you will be branded a ”whorephobe”, ”sex worker exclusive” and ”prude”. Being anti-porn will yield the same result: so-called feminists who are supposed to dismantle the virgin/whore dichotomy will call you a prude and a virgin.

    Despite plenty of evidence that prostitution exploits women, that most sex workers are abused and want out of the industry, and that total decriminalization and legalization increase human trafficking, we get told we need to accept this and our refusal to be complicit in women’s pain and suffering is branded as ”sex-shaming”.
    Despite plenty of evidence that the porn industry is abusive, that it overwhelmingly portrays sexualized violence against women and despite the solid evidence that it leads to increased acceptance of rape myths and misogyny, we get told we need to find it empowering, and our refusal to perpetuate the glorification of sexualized abuse and of the rape culture that we vowed to destroy is branded as being anti-sex.

    I don’t see how Laurie Penny isn’t doing what she’s supposedly calling out:her problem is sex, not sexism, specifically that sex and sexism must be two separate entities, and we’re never allowed to voice criticism of how misogyny and sexism are prevalent in sexual attitudes and industries.

  • Ash

    I can’t even believe her assertions. As if anti-porn and anti-sexual exploitation campaigns get ANY fucking attention, EVER. All we see are the women from FEMEN and read stories about how celebrities objectifying themselves is super empowerfulizing and awesome. What fucking planet is she living on? Also, the ageism is disgusting but I have been finding this more and more common, unfortunately.

    • CD


      I know so many young women who say that they are feminist, but who think that stripping/porn/prostitution is just “women expressing their sexuality” and making legit career choices with complete agency. Pole dancing, burlesque, etc.? Super fun hobbies! (Oh, and Beyonce is the embodiment of feminism on Earth, despite apparently not having known what the word even meant until recently, and having a career that is based mostly on her sex appeal.)

      I don’t think that they’ve *ever* been exposed to any radical feminist thought! Certainly not in popular media or in literature. Maybe they’ve heard anti-porn and anti-prostitution stuff from conservative religious people? But I don’t know what Laurie Penny is whining about; her school of “feminist” thought is the only school of thought on the subject that is widely represented in pop culture, literature, academia, etc.

      • Meh

        Exactly. Sometimes I don’t know whether to be flattered or offended by this shit. Clearly she thinks we’re way more powerful than we really are. I don’t know where she’s getting this impression from, but she’s quite confident enough to be loud and proud about it.

    • Meh


      I often wonder this, too. Where the fuck is she getting her information from? All I ever see is ass and how fucking amazingly empowering it is to show your ass! YAY ASS!

  • Kim

    Also, ”feminism is tepid and cowardly”…Funny. That’s how I felt when I started posting testimonies and studies about human trafficking, prostitution, abuse within the porn industry on my tumblr, seeing my (nearly all, back then) liberal feminists followers either remaining silent or massively unfollowing. There’s actually nothing as tepid and cowardly as sweeping women’s abuse,trauma and exploitation under the carpet because it conflicts with your contemporary YAASS SEX YASS PORN YASS ORGAZMS!!1! glittery feminism.

  • The Real Cie

    Well said. Personally, it isn’t that I want to “rid the world of porn,” it’s that I’d like it to be inclusive of more kinds of people rather than focusing only on titillating the dudebros.
    Being close to fifty, I suppose I’m an “older feminist?” I try to be something of an intersectional feminist. My privileges are white and heterosexual, my disadvantages are multiple: working class, fat, and mentally ill.
    So, being an old fat broad who has to work crappy hours at a job that leaves me exhausted, maybe I’m kind of out of touch. But my knee-jerk reaction is this: I’m tired of seeing women attacking other women because it’s “trendy.” That seems to be what’s going on in Ms. Penny’s case.
    I guess if it makes me a cobweb-vagina’d, thin-lipped pearl-clutcher to dislike seeing women objectified at every turn, so be it. Truth is, I’ve been celibate for 15 years by choice and my lips actually are kind of thin. Not sure why that’s such a bad thing. However, I’ve never thought to discourage other people from having sex. It would just be nice if the female partners in the sex act could be seen as human beings rather than submissive Fembots to be humiliated and used in any way the Dudebros out there see fit.

  • Missfit

    She truly equates sexuality with pornography/prostitution. Critiquing porn equals critiquing ‘sex itself’. Sex and prostitution are the same thing. Funny though how many people like sex but still would abhor being prostituted…

    ‘This is a discourse that treats women as victims not just of our admittedly hugely fucked-up erotic culture, but of sex itself, without properly understanding the nature of commercial sexuality or of objectification.’ Is she saying that commercial sex and objectification is not tied up to our ‘admittedly hugely fucked-up erotic culture’? That prostitution and objectification is ‘sex itself’? Truly, she can’t think outside the patriarchal box.

    I didn’t read the whole article, I already know what is behind this kind of thinking. Penny, a supposedly radical feminist? I may not know what ‘public feminism’ is, but I know what radical feminism is and she is not.

  • corvid

    Amazing Meghan, thank you.

    The porn and prostitution industries profit handsomely from this enduring “virgin/whore”, “prude/slut” dichotomy that they promote with one hand, and pin on feminists with the other. It is their foundational mythology. At a pace so repetitive as to be hypnotic, the debate is framed and re-framed as being about sex. The reality of sexual exploitation is glossed-over with terms like “commercial sexuality” and “consenting adults.” They don’t even have to try, because it’s exactly what men want to hear.

  • hi hello

    Let’s just pretend for a moment that Laurie Penny is right that feminists are against not just sexism, but also against sex, because it hurts women. If that were true, why would feminists me wrong? If something hurts women, we care. I have no problem with saying that. If ANY cultural practices or institutions– involving sex or not– hurt women, I care. I oppose those practices and institutions. Those (like Laurie Penny) who DON’T oppose things that hurt women have no ethical ground to stand on, so I really don’t care what they think. They are ethically/morally bankrupt.

    By the way, I actually do think that some feminists– namely radical feminists a la the 2nd wave– think that sex, not just sexism, hurts women. So it isn’t a straw man. It’s just a gross misrepresentation of actual radical feminist analysis that Penny is presenting.

  • Laurie Penny never was a radical feminist, so I am not sure how anyone could get that idea. She was also Penny Red, a marxist I assume, is pro-prostitution, pro-trans, etc etc, so pretty much the opposite of a radical feminist really. Her grovelling to trans, the shiny new ‘women’ on the block, rather pathetic actually.

    Life goes smoother if you ignore everything she says. It has a 99% nonsense component.

    • C.K. Egbert

      Meghan actually said “supposedly” radical (I’m assuming with a note of sarcasm) because Laurie Penny might promote herself as such. It sounds like some of her work might have had a good analysis or at least been sympathetic to the radical feminist analysis prior to this snafu, but of course that isn’t sufficient for it to be “feminism unmodified” (as MacKinnon says).

      I’m in grad school and I’ve been encouraged to “rebrand” my work (based on MacKinnon/Dworkin) as something like “oppression politics” (yes, because I’m concerned about ending oppression…not sure what everyone else is doing), because the term “radical” has been appropriated by the so-called “third wave” or post-modernist people. Sad but true.

      • It is somewhat immaterial whether Penny herself claims to be, or whether others deem her to be ‘radical’, it is all part of the same undermining of radical feminist politics which seeks to deliberately confuse what is and is not radical feminist politics. This already happened to ‘feminist-lite’ (aka liberal feminist politics) in which anti-feminist rhetoric and the notion of individualistic choosy-choice clouded and obscured any fragments left of feminism. Critics were silenced during this period by claiming that one could not ‘criticise’ another woman’s ‘feminism’. Bollocks to that.

        The entire episode of the takeover of liberal feminism left the few libfems who did at least have half a clue about feminist analysis, with nowhere to go, so some of those (still quite liberal) now claim to be ‘radical feminists’, because the taint now on mainstream (lib) feminist politics is far too poisoned.

        Those of use who are actual radical feminists saw what happened to ‘feminist-lite’, know that if we do not maintain clear boundaries, the same contamination will happen to radical feminism.

        Laurie Penny has always been on an opposing side to radical feminism, in the past with her views on prostitution and pornography, and later with her pro-transgenderism stance. So anyone, including Penny herself, imagining that Penny could be ‘mistaken’ for a radical feminist, is either an idiot, or is hell-bent on making radical feminism a meaningless term. Either way, it will incite many ‘stern words’ from myself.

        To be clear, I am not saying radical feminism is some kind of exclusive club. It is not. Quite simply, either you are onboard with radical feminism analysis 100% (and therefore a radical feminist) or you are not. There is no picking and choosing which bits you like, declaring yourself ‘radical feminist’, and trying to change the rest to your own liberal view. That shit is not going to fly.

        The deliberate undermining of radical feminism also comes from trans quarters, with their invention of the TERF slur. The concept of TERF implies a branch of radical feminism that is warm and fuzzy with transgenderism, no such beast exists. Penny herself even promotes the anti-radfem slur/undermining of TERF. I really have little time for this woman.

        • C.K. Egbert

          I agree with you that if people don’t agree with the basic tenants and analysis of radical feminism they can’t claim to be radical feminists (I’ve been lurking your blog and that of Gender Trender for awhile, by the way, and it’s been very enlightening). I haven’t read any Laurie Penny myself except the excerpts here, so I didn’t know about her previous work.

          The point of my anecdote (and I think the point of Meghan saying Penny was “supposedly” radical) was precisely that we see that the word “radical”–and the word “feminist” in general–is being appropriated as a means of subverting and destroying the feminist movement. (And definitely, the idea that we cannot criticize another woman’s “feminism” is absurd. Patriarchy is an objective social phenomenon, therefore what attacks patriarchy is also objective and not a subjective declaration using the word “feminist.”)

          Re: your link: It’s rather funny that someone said that we can’t police feminism–and then promptly says that radical feminism is “shit” (doing exactly what they said they shouldn’t be doing in the first part of their tweet).

        • gera

          I get where you’re coming from, but let’s not take it too far. There is room for disagreement and critical, constructive debate within radical feminism. There is no such thing as a political movement that consists only of people who are “100% on board” (and if there is, it is teeming with True Believers [cf., which is obviously not a good thing).

          The question of course becomes who decides what is “truly” radical feminist, or what “100% on board” looks like? Who gets to decide who is in and who is out? There is a tradition and a history, and that is definitely a guide and an important one. However there is a certain attitude that I have encountered among certain radfem communities, which feels that there is no room for change, evolution, or debate within radical feminism, and if you dont agree you are considered not worth engaging with at all. The 2nd wave is not seen as a crucial stage in radical feminism, it is seen as the only true expression of it.

          That’s the sort of thing that is alienating to me, especially when interacting with white feminists means having them view it as me (a poc) needing to or attempting to “join” “their” movement, and thus totally assimilate into their view of radical feminism and be “100% on board.” Everyone has something to learn from other radfems. That doesn’t mean accepting libfem bullshit. It just means recognizing that radical feminism is not served or defined by total lock-step “unity” in ideas, values, and perspectives.

          Maybe for some out there I seem to be arguing with a straw man or derailing, but for me when this happens I feel very disheartened. I would hate for radical feminists to overcompensate for the scrutiny and attack we are under now (because of the recent developments of trans and libfem bs intensifying) by moving “backwards” and becoming less open to the views of woc, or any views that are “new” and haven’t really been noticed by most feminists before.

          • Hear, hear! “There is room for disagreement and critical, constructive debate within radical feminism. There is no such thing as a political movement that consists only of people who are “100% on board” And in fact there are disagreements within radical feminism. There is no party line, only opposition to male domination and all structures of domination. Thanks for making this comment, i wanted to say this before but have limited web access right now.

          • Missfit

            I don’t agree 100% with every radical feminist. There has to be room for disagreements and respectful, inclusive discussions. But there has to be core tenets on which we agree. Like, you can’t be pro-sex industry or pro-capitalism or pro-gender and be a radical feminist. That is for me what would be ‘taking it too far’. In that everything that holds the theory together would crumble and radical feminism would become meaningless (which seems to be the point, a tactic for some, as others have highlighted – there are some also who seem to only want to appropriate the label because they find the word ‘radical’ edgy, at the same time that they feel trendy by cheering porn…).

            That being said, I’m always open for new views. I haven’t finished to learn. Since I’ve been into radical feminism (almost 3 years), I feel like every time I peel a layer, there is another one underneath. It takes time to unravel all the lies the patriarchy fed us, to unlearn and learn anew.

          • “I get where you’re coming from, but let’s not take it too far. There is room for disagreement and critical, constructive debate within radical feminism.”

            So ok, which parts do you want to negotiate off the radfem menu then? For radical feminism to drop or soften the position on prostitution? Maybe exclude Nice Porn from pornography criticism? To embrace and promote (generally harmful) beauty practises as choosey-choice beyond criticism? To say ok to femininity or sexual objectification? To turn a blind eye to (many unnecessary) plastic surgeries? To abandon female-only spaces because it might piss off menz/tranz? Should we promote heterosexuality and marriage as healthy lifestyles for females? To say that “light spanking” within BDSM is ok? Give a free pass to male violence, and excuse rape?

            Tell me exactly, which parts of those are up for ‘constructive debate’ as you call it? Because adopting those changes is just liberalising radical feminism, the exact thing that has been trying to happen for the last few years. BTW, I have seen most, if not all, on that list attempted – ie to modify radical feminism so it’s all “a bit nicer and less challenging”. FTN

            The primary disagreements that I have either seen or been a part of, have been either the liberalisation attempts on radical feminism (the co-option to make radical feminism both meaningless and ineffective), or disagreements about the logistics of activism, but NOT about the tenets upon which radical feminism is founded (between actual radical feminists). Because disagreement with those tenets would be liberal feminism! Of course we adapt to the ever-changing backlash, but not by changing the principles of radical feminism, but by exposing how the newer manifestations of the backlash is working. And one of those would be to defang and liberalise radical feminism(!)

            A few years back I stated: “You will not change radical feminism, radical feminism will change you”.

            The bottom line, if you cannot handle ‘some’ of radical feminism, then you just are not ready for it (and maybe will never be ready for it).

            Over the years, scores of women have contacted me on how they eventually ‘saw’ and agreed with radical feminism and our views on key issues, and some of those just a few months before were actively arguing against us (true stories!). In the words of Catharine MacKinnon, Radical Feminism is feminism unmodified.

            So no, radical feminism is not really up for “debate” or negotiation. Either you are onboard or not. Pretty darned simple really. Anything else is anti radical feminism. I am sure you don’t go to a Jewish picnic demanding they put on a pork spit roast for you? What you propose with “debate” within radical feminism is just as insulting to our beliefs. Take it or leave it is the deal.

          • Donkey Skin

            I call myself a radical feminist because I agree with radical feminist analysis. When I first starting reading radical feminist writers, I felt like these women had puzzled out the fullest and most accurate explanation of both the mechanisms and the root cause of the worldwide and millenia-long oppression of women by men.

            From this analysis springs the common positions radical feminists hold: against the sex industry, against marriage, against capitalism and ‘gender identity’ beliefs, and I agree that if you think you can support these things, or some imagined ‘reformed’ version of them, you aren’t a radical feminist because you haven’t understood the analysis. The other common position that sets us apart from other feminists is a willingness to acknowledge that yes, men ARE the enemy: they are the active agents behind and beneficiaries of women’s oppression, and they will never give up their power willingly.

            However, I disagree that radfem theory is or should be static, or that it is comparable to religious dogma (as your analogy with Jewish food laws suggests). To me it is an intellectual and activist tradition that women can and should build on. That means leaving room for women to feel free to challenge certain received ideas within it, from a radical not liberal (i.e., framework of agency/individual choice) perspective. I especially recognise that as most radical feminist theorists have been white, white radical feminists need to make room for the perspectives of women of colour, which will necessarily be different in many crucial respects.

            I see radical feminism as a bold, female-centred movement that enables women to (to use a radfem phrase) go to the ends of their thoughts. Liberal feminism puts so many restrictions on what women are allowed to say or even think: it runs on thought-terminating cliches and shaming women for not holding the correct views/being nice enough. The intellectual honesty in radical feminism marks it out as an utterly different tradition in both its power and potential and I suppose that’s why I’m uncomfortable with women being told: ‘This is what we believe, take it or leave it’, as if every question has been settled. On the contrary, I hope radical feminism is not a ‘take it or leave it’ thing so much as ‘take it and run with it’.

          • andeväsen

            “Because adopting those changes is just liberalising radical feminism”

            Not so. Movements develop and grow when people take the core values and contribute to them. Core values are the key drivers and define the movement and without them there is no movement, but by themselves alone cannot comprise the whole movement.

            Radical feminism needs women’s ideas to build upon its core values. Conflicting ideas are inevitable, but the action and output of debate have the potential to be consciousness-raising.

        • Ellesar

          I am interested to know your opinion on this:

          In Woman Hating: A Radical Look at Sexuality, Andrea Dworkin called for the support of transsexuals, whom she viewed as “in a state of primary emergency” due to “the culture of male-female discreteness.” Dworkin asserted that “every transsexual has the right to survival on his/her own terms. That means every transsexual is entitled to a sex-change operation, and it should be provided by the community as one of its functions.” She further opined that the phenomenon of transsexuality might disappear in a free society, giving way to entirely new identities.
          “We are, clearly, a multi-sexed species which has its sexuality spread along a vast fluid continuum where the elements called male and female are not discrete.”

          Am I right in calling Andrea Dworkin a radical feminist? If so is there a place for trans-acceptance within radical feminism now?

          • Opone

            Janice Raymond made a similar prognostication about freedom from gender constraints eliminating the social practice of transexuality, “I contend that the problem of transsexualism would best be served by morally mandating it out of existence.”

            Both Janice Raymond and Andrea Dworkin are radical feminists.

          • Lizor

            “Dworkin asserted that “every transsexual has the right to survival on his/her own terms. That means every transsexual is entitled to a sex-change operation, and it should be provided by the community as one of its functions.””

            What about this part of the comment? Does this cohere or conflict wirh Raymond/the tenets of RF?

          • Why would Raymond be considered any more a radical feminist than Dworkin?

          • Ellesar

            Thanks for your answer – I know little of Raymond, other than she has been called ‘transphobic’. Is it fair to say that Dworkin and Raymond are opposed to the constraints of gender, as it stands as a SOCIAL construct?

            But if Dworkin accepted that surgery was a viable choice she was saying that society *as it stands* is nowhere near accommodating fludity of gender, and that surgery was an intermediary necessity?

            I am not trying to derail the discussion away from a critique of LP, but this is an area of interest for me.

          • C.K. Egbert

            Depends upon what you mean by “trans acceptance”. Technically, what Dworkin said was that sexuality/sex was fluid and non-binary–not gender. Dworkin, like other radical feminists, are gender abolitionists.

            If you are interested in these issues, I’d recommend looking at the following blogs: and

          • Ellesar

            Thanks – very helpful

          • Ash

            absolutely. many radical feminists support transpeople and their rights. i know that i do. there are trans folks who are gender-critical, too. being gender critical doesn’t mean you have to stop supporting people and their struggles.

          • Ellesar

            Absolutely agree.

  • Kate

    Interesting that in both this article and the Huffington post one from yesterday fail to cite any concrete evidence of what they’re arguing. Seems like if Penny is so convinced that second wave feminists just hate sex and blowjobs she could provide some quotes, right?

    • gera

      don’t confuse registers, though– feministst can hate sex without personally hating having sex.

      2nd wave feminism was very much about hating sex in the former sense, but it would in my opinion be misrepresentation to say that it was about hating sex in the latter sense.

      • Lizor

        “feminists can hate sex without personally hating having sex.”

        Can you explain what you mean by this? I don’t follow.

        • C.K. Egbert

          Here’s what I think is going on. There can be two different definitions of sex:
          (a) Sex = current sexual norms and practices, compulsory heterosexuality, compulsory intercourse, coercion, sexualization of domination, and sexual objectification, what we consider to be “sex” (violating/hurting women) and “sexy”
          (b) Having sex = having pleasurable (mutual, egalitarian, and respectful) sexual experiences

          So feminist can be in favor of “having sex” while hating “sex” (which is what most sexual experiences consist of and what is considered “sexy”).

          • gera

            well put. Thanks, C.K. 🙂

          • Right. And it’s this kind of vague use of semantics – “sex” being used as a signifier for those particulars of our current culture that you name and the production of sexuality under patriarchy (that turns the negotiation between sexual partners into a predatory practice where once a woman has been shot/ejaculated into, she’s a dead trophy or just a discardable receptacle) that leads to feminist critiques of everything you and I listed being misrepresented as “feminists hate connected bodily pleasure, and they are lobbing for you to not ever have any good sexual experiences.”

            That’s why I think it’s important to be clear with our words. Calling prostitution and stripping “sex” – i.e. not differentiating that from enjoying a pleasurable and respectful sexual encounter – does not help us to be heard by people who might agree with our actual opinion.

            Not to belabour the point, but I was in an argument with a group of people recently about a sexist pin-up style poster for a public event. One guy went to the “c’mon – sex sells” place. I answered that I had been having sex for a few decades and was a big fan of it and that serving up young naked women like so many o’dourves to be sampled or left on the tray was not sex. I was pleasantly surprised that so many people in the discussion actually agreed.

    • I do happen to hate blowjobs, in a political sense. I don’t claim to represent radical feminism (so please don’t use this quote as an example of what those horrible “sex-negative” feminists think), but I think we can all agree that radical feminists believe that sex should be egalitarian. I fail to see how one person “pleasing” (I’ve have heard that word used often in relation to oral sex) another person constitutes egalitarian sex, especially when one is required to hold their mouth open for an extended period of time (I’ve been to the dentist enough times to know that that’s not a comfortable feeling) and is unable to say anything to their partner during that time, while their partner can say whatever he wants. Oral sex literally silences women. It’s no better than BDSM dominants sticking gags in women’s mouths (and to all you liberals who think being sexually dominated by a man is “empowering” within the conext of BDSM, I’m not talking to you.)

      Feel free to disagree with me, but please don’t imply that opposing oral sex is such an absurd position that not even the most “sex-negative” feminist actually holds it. Endorsing oral sex was not even a popular position until the emergence of hard core pornography in the 1970s and some non-conservative women today still find it degrading (though they are socially forbidden from making a moral/political critique of it.)

      It may sound like I want to limit everyone to vaginal intercourse, since only vaginal, oral and anal intercourse are considered “real sex”, but I think we need to get over the idea that there is such a thing as “real sex”. Just because there is no penetration going on does not mean that the act will not be enjoyable and cannot be used to express love and that’s what sex ought to be about, right? The idea that “real sex” requires penetration and anything else is not “real sex” just reinforces the notion that sex is about conquest, a thoroughly anti-feminist idea.

      If a couple genuinely experiences more pleasure from (egalitarian) vaginal intercourse than from sexual activities that do not involve intercourse, then that’s fine, but vaginal intercourse is not something people should need to have, ever, in order for their relationships to be real. There are a lot of alternative ways to experience sexual pleasure besides intercourse, of any kind. People don’t have to do the same thing over and over again just because they don’t want to imitate early pornography films, practice BDSM or introduce some other kind of anti-egaltarian element into their sexual activities. Feel free to experiment with different sexual activites, but for once I’d like to see people experiment in the direct of more equality, rather than the other way.

      • Dee

        To be fair, one could argue having a man’s most sensitive parts in between your teeth is not quite silencing. I don’t feel like giving my boyfriend oral is an inherently degrading act. I’m no sexual liberal, but being against oral sex is a little extreme even for me.

        Also, just for the sake of conversation, you might say sex can never truly be equal. Men have greater strength and body mass. Women generally sexualize these attributes and their own physical weakness in comparison.

        • C.K. Egbert

          The fact that women sexualize that has nothing to do with whether it SHOULD be sexualized; sexualizing men’s physical strength is another way of eroticizing dominance and eroticizing men’s ability to hurt women. I don’t find my physical vulnerability the least bit sexy; I find it frightening and frustrating.

          Also, from my casual observation, I’ve rarely heard women say they enjoy oral sex but feel that they have to “take one for the team” (and yes, they’ve described it in those heartbreaking terms). In fact many women don’t particularly enjoy vaginal sex, and it can be painful or uncomfortable (not to mention it is very unlikely to give women orgasms, so it ends up being non-mutual). As a radical feminist, I’d say that anytime a woman is doing anything she does not enjoy, or that makes her uncomfortable physically or emotionally, is not acceptable sex and oral sex often does qualify.

          I think that’s a really interesting analysis of oral sex, though, I had never thought of it as silencing in that way (although that could also be informed by the pornographied version of oral sex involving actual oral penetration, rather than something more akin to oral sex on women).

          • Dee

            I agree. In my little utopia, women are just as strong as men, ready to fend for themselves with the same force.

      • Meghan Murphy

        I don’t think oral sex is inherently degrading… I mean, do men enjoy giving women oral sex any more than women enjoy giving men blow jobs? The politics and power dynamics are different, sure, but I don’t think there is necessarily anything wrong with doing something for another person that is more pleasurable for them than it is for you… It’s very dependent on the relationship too.. Like if a man expects that or you feel degraded, then for sure don’t… But just the act in and of itself isn’t necessarily “bad” for women, imo…

        I mean, I would never give someone a blow job ever if I didn’t feel like it, though (and, not to get too personal, but it’s only something I would do with someone I was quite familiar and comfortable with and who I cared about and felt respected by — I would never do it for someone who I’m only casually sleeping with or on a one-night-stand or something) so it hasn’t ever made me feel degraded or silenced…

        • “I don’t think oral sex is inherently degrading”
          I agree Meghan. Going a bit TMI here so feel free to skip over the rest of this comment:
          I can derive pleasure in sensing the way my partner’s body energy changes from oral stimulation and I do not ever (anymore) give oral stimulation beyond the point where I am actually enjoying doing what I’m doing – or trying to “perform” it – if you know what I mean. Also I really love receiving oral stimulation from a partner so…

      • gera

        I’m not sure that it is accurate or useful to think of feminist positions on sex as being about classifying specific sexual acts as “good/empowering/feminist” or not. It’s not like creating a checklist:
        blowjobs: bad
        kissing: good
        anal: bad
        vaginal sex: bad
        intracrural sex: good
        That’s NOT what radical feminist analysis of sex is about and to represent it that way is reducing it. I understand that at times people want to talk about individual types of acts, but we need to be careful.

        Of course some acts are clearly bad/unempowering/degrading or dangerous for women in the current social and political context (BDSM comes to mind), or in individual contexts. But ultimately there is going to be a fairly large grey area, and that doesn’t mean we can’t make arguments about things that fall in there, but there will be ambiguity. I’m not very pleasantly disposed in general to women giving blow jobs at all, but I don’t believe that it is necessarily about silencing women. In some cases it is, others not. I’m just saying it isn’t “inherent,” I guess. Just as one can’t really say, if one wanted to decide “objectively,” whether the “sucker” or “suckee” in that scenario is the “active” or “passive” one… in some cultures it is considered obvious that the suckee is the active partner, and in others that the “sucker” is the active one. It’s fascinating to me, actually, how that works… and because ‘active’ and ‘passive’ are obviously highly gendered, this is a crucial question…

        For the record, I do consider myself “sex negative,” and I agree that it is good for ALL radical feminists to remember that throwing “sex negative” feminists under the bus (as “extreme” or crazy) in order to make their own views seem more acceptable is un-sisterly and not ok.

        I also agree that the default model in which sex is about ‘pleasing’ your partner– no matter whether you are a man pleasing a woman, a woman pleasing a man, or all other permutations– is patriarchal.

        • Meghan Murphy

          Great points, @gera. Thanks.

          Re: “pleasing your partner” — I don’t know, I guess I feel like there is a lot of foreplay that I/lots of women need that isn’t necessarily “pleasurable” for men, but that they engage in for my benefit (and I guess, in the end, for mutual benefit). I don’t know, is that necessarily a patriarchal model? (I’m asking you, genuinely… I’ve never thought about in that way before…)

          • C.K. Egbert

            I think it all comes down to reciprocity. If the activity is occurring where there is an understanding that it will be reciprocated and the activity is not unpleasant for the person doing the pleasing (that doesn’t include being inured/desensitized to it) then I think it’s perfectly acceptable. I sort of see it like petting a cat: the cat probably experiences it as more physically pleasurable, but I enjoy doing it because it increases my emotional well-being.

            I think there’s something very wrong if the woman feels that what they are doing is a chore, something to be endured, unpleasant, feeling like she is being used or she has to do it for his sake, etc. That is the sort of attitude toward sex I want to guard against.

            Also Meghan, I wouldn’t consider pleasuring a woman to be “foreplay.” That is actually “sex”, since that might be all a woman wants rather than just being prepared for intercourse (which often doesn’t lead to orgasm, and can also be painful/uncomfortable or violating).

            Good points gera about sex negativity (or separatist feminism, for that matter)–it’s important to support our sisters who take a different approach but are nonetheless committed to the radical feminist project.

          • Meghan Murphy

            “Also Meghan, I wouldn’t consider pleasuring a woman to be “foreplay.” That is actually “sex”, since that might be all a woman wants rather than just being prepared for intercourse (which often doesn’t lead to orgasm, and can also be painful/uncomfortable or violating).”

            Yes definitely true. (Though in my case it is just foreplay…)

        • ” it is good for ALL radical feminists to remember that throwing “sex negative” feminists under the bus”

          FTR, I completely agree, although my previous comments might not indicate that. I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to derive pleasure from sex. Like I was only raped once, for example, and I had the advantages and resources to do years of healing work. Sex is a minefield that I approach with extreme caution and it often amazes/saddens me that so many women are having sex without pleasure. A sex-negative position has tonnes of weight. There are a million reasons to not want to go near it before you’ve even attempted an exchange with someone. Just turn on the TV or walk through a shopping mall. That alone is enough to turn any woman off sex (and why I don’t have TV and stay away from commercial spaces as much as possible).

  • Lee

    Laurie Penny wants to keep moving up, that’s all. She has to make clear that she knows exactly what area is off-limits for “mainstream feminists” to talk about.

  • Spot on. Thank you for being a voice that won’t be afraid to speak up to the liberal crap. My blog is radical feminist and I’ve been called all sorts of things and know that my brand of feminism ain’t fun. If it was, well, it would be called canoeing up the Yalu River or something.

    Anywho,when some ‘sex positive’ liberal woman starts the standard PC line I tell her ‘you see lady, I’m fighting not for the happy hooker. I’m fighting for the many unhappy ones you seem to be forgetting about.’

    Yeah. Put it right there on the line. It’s critical to do so.

    Thanks MM

  • polarcontrol

    “without properly understanding the nature of commercial sexuality or of objectification” she says.

    But what then is HER proper understanding of the nature of commercial sexuality and objectification? I’ve read quite a bit of Laurie Penny’s work. There seems to be no argument or actual analysis concerning objectification/commercial sex beyond the sort of vague “women do what they must to survive/get through college/whatever, and are free to use their bodies, so don’t moralise”.

    Whereas many radical feminists (of whom I don’t think anyone “moralises” women for making whatever choices) analyse, theorize, critique and yes, judge, the social structures and environment in which those choices are made, in which women are subordinated.

    Seriously Laurie, what gives?

    Thanks Meghan for this (amazing, as per usual) piece.

    • Bingo, but under current conditions, women who blast radical feminists do not feel that they have to offer any examples or evidence whatsoever. They just denounce in broad-spectrum terms. Gotta go get those bad witches! and anyone who defends them must be one too.

    • Funny how those people who go immediately to the “I choose my choice” place cannot extend that philosophy to include women who CHOOSE to name things like coercion, degradation, rape and so on. How about respecting our “choices”?

  • feministfirstgothsecond

    For all her courage, Laurie Penny now wastes a substantial part of her time signaling that she’s one of the Cool Girls (TM) which I find unforgivably cowardly. My disappointment is only outweighed by my anger at the insidiousness of some of her arguments, and how utterly marginalizing to those sex workers who weren’t born with a silver spoon and a twitter account, to those who actually criticize what the relentless forces of patriarchy and capitalism do to their working conditions. Or to those who speak out about their traumas in it.

    She’s buddies with a particular empowerful online Cool Girl clique including Molly Crabapple that literally shush dissenting survivors as if they are invisible. It takes a half a second to brush someone aside and make them feel like shit for cool girl cookies, but believe me, we remember. A shame bc she did some amazing work on sexism in organized labor, I was nearly brought to tears by it.
    Is it awful that bc I’m using my “real name” I am actually afraid of being outcast/bullied by them. Well, but fuck their behavior and fuck these deeply disappointing weak ass arguments.

    If it makes anyone feel better, they’re all friends with and protect a rapey internet celebrity that feeds them publicity and page views, and who they would quickly ditch their “feminism” for and start circling the wagons around if his rapey behavior came to light. Hypocrisy! It’s the greatest.

    Just because I wear black and hang w/a certain crowd doesn’t mean I signed an NDA….

    • feministfirstgothsecond

      sorry, correction, not using my real name here, to hell with that.

  • pisaquari

    ” ‘It’s like how I play darts: just huck it as hard as you can and hope it sticks somewhere on the board. “Is that points? Yay.’ ”

    Genuine LOL, and a perfect summation of a most obnoxious, libfem trend.

  • Donkey Skin

    To put understand why Penny makes so little sense from a feminist (or indeed any) point of view, it’s important to bear in mind that third-wave liberal fun feminism aka ‘sex-positive’ feminism was, and is, primarily a media-driven phenomenon that was part of the backlash to second-wave feminism, which was a grassroots movement that largely proceeded through activism and independent publishing.

    The effect on the integrity of feminism of having feminist dialogue carried out primarily through the media has been devastating. It has meant feminism for the past 30 years has been defined by women whose primary interest is not solidarity with other women but their own media careers, and who are aware (either consciously or subconsciously) that this depends very much on the approval of the men who control these outlets. All forms of media, both mainstream and leftist/alternative, are overwhelmingly male-controlled and they have every interest in co-opting and distorting the feminist movement and what feminism is. This means that what mostly gets published is not feminism but counter-feminism: which I define as a bullshit pseudo-feminism that appropriates the language and concerns articulated by radical feminists in order to attack radical feminism, strips feminist analysis of its explanatory power, and deploys a mangled version of it that ultimately serves to prop up male supremacy, as much by its sheer incoherence as its explicit defences of woman-hating institutions like the sex industry.

    The function of counter-feminists like Laurie Penny is to point out instances of sexism while at the same time denying the structural roots of sexism and shutting down women with a radical analysis. It’s what writers for Jezebel, Salon et al do all the time. Counter-feminism is distinct from straight-up anti-feminism not because it is different in effect (ultimately it isn’t – and sometimes it isn’t much different in rhetoric either), but because it poses as actual feminism, especially in acting as a kind of safety-valve that allows women to vent about sexism and misogyny without ever actually challenging male power. It brings page hits because it appeals to women who are desperate for some acknowledgement of the sexism that blights their existence, while it simultaneously denies them any cohesive analysis of it or real solutions.

    Thus Penny can write passionately about her struggle with anorexia as a teen, and the next month publish an article claiming that push-up bras for 7-year-olds are about agency, and the mothers who object to them are just prudes who want to police their daughters’ sexuality (no really, she did). The fact that girl children are objectified as consumerable sexual goods before they even reach puberty, and then many girls then go on to develop eating disorders – well, that’s a connection that is both bleedingly obvious and yet clearly a bridge too far for Penny’s mind to travel. And her refusal to do so is rooted in self-protectiveness, a deep understanding – whether she acknowledges it to herself or not – that to challenge the actual roots of the misogyny she protests against would be fatal to her career as a darling of the male left. Whereas attacking the women who do challenge it as prudes and neo-Victorians (the term she used to use to denigrate abolitionist feminists, before switching to the trendier ‘whorephobia’) – well, that brings untold rewards. It takes breathtaking intellectual dishonesty and, frankly, a real cruelty and contempt towards women, to distort feminist analysis to the extent that she does; to pose as a champion of women while freely deploying language that implies women don’t have ideas or arguments – they have hang-ups, hysterias and phobias.

    And that’s why reading Penny and her ilk is so headache-inducing: they sometimes come across as women who get it, while at the same time they resolutely REFUSE to get it. It’s the opposite of what actual feminist analysis does, which is to wake the reader up with a shock of recognition; cut through years of obscurantist bullshit and illuminate half-formed thoughts with one sentence; help women make the connections between phenomena that seemed only distantly related. Contrast the feeling one gets from reading brilliant feminist thinkers like Greer, Dworkin and Lorde – the sharp thrill of being in the presence of an incisive, fearless and FEMALE-IDENTIFIED mind – with the confused fog that counter-feminist writers like Penny induce, proceeding as they do through vague references to actual feminist theory, disavowals of the logic of same, contradictory reasoning, false analogies and dishonest accusations, and desperate attempts to placate men.

    • Amazing, amazing post. Thank you Donkey Skin.

    • jo

      “The function of counter-feminists like Laurie Penny is to point out instances of sexism while at the same time denying the structural roots of sexism and shutting down women with a radical analysis”

      I really, really don’t get women who do this. What’s going on inside their heads? Eyes open, but only minimally and instead of getting honest and curious about the source of the problem they shut their eyes completely? I don’t get it. Whenever I go to sites such as Jezebel, it all just seems so flat and shallow and unsatisfying. What do they get out of keeping things that way?

    • Mar Iguana

      Superlative comment, Donkey Skin. A keeper. (Now, where did I put my scissors and paste?)

    • Laura mcnally

      This is an amazing comment that really deserves to be a blog piece in itself, thank you for sharing!

    • andeväsen

      This is so very true. However I don’t believe it is intellectual dishonesty from the part of Laurie Penny – she seems to genuinely, honestly believe what she does, which makes her a genuine, honest counter-feminist. She is intellectually limited rather than dishonest. Her confused fog of an analysis speaks to her dire poverty of imagination and ambition.

    • Well said Donkey Skin, all of it!

    • Michael V

      That is a brilliant analysis.

  • Passerby


    Please stop letting men dictate our agendas. Media feminists, of which LP is one, have nothing to do with feminist activism, let alone women’s liberation.

    It seems bizarre that after all these year we are letting the male media foist onto us women THAT THEY CHOOSE to be our “presentatives”. It is not only rubbish but it is time wasting and energy consuming to endlessly respond to these faux feminists.

    Just because your parents can get you a job blogging for some supposedly left paper does not make you a “fefminist”. You just happen to be a woman who through priviledge has got a job clutting up the now virtually meaningless “news” media.

    This is just about divide and rule.

    Dont feed the media promoted trolls of feminism.

    Are we so insecure about who we are and our history and achievements that we get taken in by each new publishing “phenomenon”.

    This is no different than letting the advertising industry tell us how we should look.

    Let the inhabitants of the media bubble babble to each other.

    Feminists and women’s liberationists should be using new media to help promote the ideas and analysis of those engaged, not respond to parasitic commentators.

    • “Dont feed the media promoted trolls of feminism.”

      So true Passerby, so true!

      And most of these handmaiden so-called feminists have a very short career span – if they want a longer career span, they have to become even more overtly anti-feminist.

  • mauritia

    Laurie Penny has lost me a little more literally, in that I didn’t have a damn idea what her actual argument in that piece was. She was trying to make way too many points at once and didn’t back up any of them. Seriously one of the most confusing things I’ve ever read.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Yes! I had the exact same reaction. Like, I could not make out any of her points or figure out, for the life of me, what it was she was arguing. I read it over more than once and still found it completely confusing. I feel like everyone who has been giving it positive reviews is afraid to admit they don’t understand what she’s talking about, lest they just look stupid (see: my ’emperor’s new clothes’ comment).

      • mauritia

        It’s a shame because, while I don’t agree with everything she’s said, I think she’s written some great, polished pieces for the Guardian. This seems more like a late-night rant posted on tumblr.

  • Ellesar

    ‘Professional anti-feminist’ and ‘intellectually lazy’. Is Laurie Penny the new Camille Paglia?! The ‘liberal’ press loved Paglia trashing lesbians and feminists in the 90s as it meant they could be anti lesbian and anti feminist without actually saying they were – just let a self hating lesbian do it for them!

    • Harriet

      Wonderful piece and discussion. Is she the new Paglia? Her attempt to advance Joseph L Mankiewicz’ classically patriarchal speech for Margot Channing (Bette Davis) in All About Eve

      as the ultimate in feminist wisdom* is certainly reminiscent of Paglia’s power-pleasing patriarchal-revanchist-in-a-miniskirt moves.

      [“”When Simone de Beauvoir said that ‘one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman’ she was bang on, but I prefer Bette Davis in the film All About Eve, reminding us that ‘That’s one career all females have in common, whether we like it or not – being a woman. Sooner or later we’ve got to work at it, no matter how many other careers we’ve had or wanted.’” — Unspeakable Things]