Sunday, September 17, 2017

Bitch Doctrine: Essays for Dissenting Adults by Laurie Penny

Hardcover, 288 pages Pub August 1st 2017 by Bloomsbury USA ISBN13: 9781632867537

British journalist and opinion writer Laurie Penny is eminently quotable. She has enormous facility with a phrase, but also goes for big ideas. She is therefore doubly dangerous. If words are power, watch out for this keg of dynamite. It is only difficult to see where her experience and confidence comes from. She is thirty years old but sounds like a scarred and ancient sage in some kind of time warp.

This book is a collection of essays reworked as themed chapters in a discussion of gender, economic, and social equality. Both she and I are amazed we are back at this place, talking about gender discrimination in the workplace.
“Women make up over 50 per cent of graduates, and tend to match or outperform men in any test where intellect and aptitude are the only measures of success—school examinations, for example. But whenever large numbers of men are involved in the hiring or selection process, women fall behind.”
I actually have no idea whether this is objective fact, especially in math and the sciences, but close enough. You get the point. It would be laughable, and used to be, behind closed doors, or behind hands if men were present. But now we don’t feel like laughing anymore and are tired of this argument about “objective merit.” I like Penny’s phrase, “When you’re used to privilege, equality feels like prejudice.” Welcome to the melting pot, white men.

Penny is hilarious on 'The Tragedy of James Bond:'
“The experience was like having your forebrain slowly and laboriously beaten to death by a wilting erection wrapped in a copy of the Patriot Act: savage and silly and just a little bit pathetic.”
But before you roar your displeasure over her attack, she freely admits watching the films are a guilty pleasure. And she adores Daniel Craig, “who appears to be about as unsexist as anyone who has worked in Hollywood for twenty years can be.”

She talks of how Lena Dunham in “Girls” never was and never could be the voice for all women, and how men’s experiences and performances are not expected to speak for all men. She speaks of trigger warnings, which even friends of mine have decried as excessive:
“Trigger warnings are fundamentally about empathy. They are a polite plea for more openness, not less; for more truth, not less. They allow taboo topics and the experience of hurt and pain, often by marginalized people, to be spoken frankly. They are the opposite of censorship.”
I could quote this woman all day long. She writes extremely cogently, answering ideas that have been floating about your head and your world and have never been adequately articulated. Even if you don’t agree, her point of view has an inexorable logic that in her snarky tone has a bell-like clarity.

Penny had her struggles with gender identity, and comes out on the side of a spectrum of sexuality: “I consider ‘woman’ to be a made-up category, an intangible, constantly changing idea with as many different definitions as there are cultures on Earth….Gender is something I perform.” She’s way ahead of me here. I have not faced her struggles and had not considered her dilemmas, but I have heard of them now and I must consider that for a certain portion of the human race, gender is not as clear cut as it seems.

She speaks of violence, and the rape culture, and the Liberal Limit—the exhaustion of liberals with the speed and constant drumbeat of change. A ten-point 5-page discussion of Free Speech—what it is and what it isn’t—doesn’t really address hate speech. If she considers it at all it is under point 5: “Freedom of speech does not mean that all views are of equal worth.” This almost casual dismissal of one of the hardest things to reconcile about when free speech works for all of us and when it doesn’t weakens her argument and makes her seem the young upstart she appears to be, rather than the old soul she will become. Not completely finished cooking yet, then. We have more to look forward to.

Laurie Penny is a very impressive writer and likable. When she added an Introduction published after the election of Donald Trump to the American presidency, she speaks of her impressions:
“..the lacquered, lying sack of personality disorders...made no attempt to hide his vision of the entire damn world as the next acquisition in his dodgy property portfolio.”
We need this woman. She amuses us, commiserates with us, and leads us. Her work is on a level of language virtuosity with Matt Taibbi, much-vaunted American political journalist whose snark reaches the level of art.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

1 comment:

  1. Actually while girls outperform boys high school in STEM course grades boys slightly outdo girls in SAT Math scores, thereby getting more Merit scholarships than girls. The Office of Civil Rights sued over this but nothing changed. Also, even with higher grades STEM-achieving girls in High School rarely, still, take up STEM majors in college (showing, as the famous Catherine McKinnon wondered, it wasn't a matter of "adding women and stir" with STEM courses.) Asia doesn't have the disparity, but in the US less than 20% of PhDs in the hard sciences go to women, still.