Bitch doctrine -- Laurie Penny on feminism and being an activist

In her new book, Bitch Doctrine: Essays for Dissenting Adults, Laurie Penny explains why entitlement thinking leads to sexual violence. And why her patience with men as a "social phenomenon" is slowly running out.

Christine Tragler
Christine Tragler Der Standard, Austria
Source: Der Standard
Bitch doctrine -- Laurie Penny on feminism and
being an activist - NewsMavens
Laurie Penny. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

British writer Laurie Penny is one of the most popular modern feminists. Her language is radical, as she analyzes a broad spectrum of feminist topics, such as violence, beauty standards, caregiving, abortion or sex work. In her texts, she links them with economic and ethnic issues. Der Standard editor Beate Hausbichler met with Penny to discuss Bitch Doctrine: Essays for Dissenting Adults, her new book that starts with a diary of the 2016 US Election.

"I have no hopeful messages to convey, like ‘Go home and chill out. Everything will work out,’ because nothing works out on its own. There is a lot of effort awaiting us,” she claims.

Penny confesses that she is gradually losing patience with "men as a social phenomenon”: "Although patriarchy is a structural problem, a lot of people believe it is about many individual incidents that have nothing to do with each other. To me, living in this world as a woman means experiencing all instances of violence or sexism in ways that are always interlinked.”

To illustrate this idea, Penny recounts a short text she shared on Twitter: "A woman is on her way to work, when all of a sudden she realizes that men are throwing little stones at her, just for fun. When she arrives at work, she is bleeding so she asks for help. Her colleagues, the ones that were throwing the stones, are a little concerned but quickly begin to rationalize the situation by saying: ‘Not my fault, I just threw one tiny stone.’ The problem is there were 200 stones all together. That is the reality of everyday sexism,” Penny concludes.

The #metoo campaign and the Weinstein case have encouraged women to talk not only about the big stones but also the small ones. And that's great. Yet, according to Penny, it is too early to assess how the current debate will influence the problem of sexual violence against women.

In her political books, she claims that feminism needs to be accompanied by a critique of capitalism. "When we think about what work means, we also have to consider how it is related to identity. What foundations can we build our self-confidence on other than working for someone else's profit? This is a gender-specific argument but also an anti-capitalist one."

Is she tired of the same debates repeating themselves all over again? Not at all. What’s more, it is her duty as an activist to participate in them:

"In every city I visit I answer questions about feminism, mostly very similar ones. It's part of my job to keep those topics fresh. Like a cabaret artist I sing the same songs, a bit differently each time, but always in the same key.”

Details from the story:

  • Laurie Penny was born in 1986 in London.
  • She studied English Literature at Oxford and Harvard.
  • Penny works as a journalist and author in the UK, writing for The Guardian and The New York Times.
  • She is considered to be one of the most important contemporary feminist authors and activists.
  • Her new book, Bitch Doctrine: Essays for Dissenting Adults, has recently been published in German.
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