The Female Thing: Dirt, Sex, Envy, Vulnerability

Book review

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The Female Thing: Dirt, Sex, Envy, Vulnerability
By Laura Kipmis
Pantheon Books. $23.95.

With Caitlin Flanagan badgering women to stay home with their kids and Linda Hirshman urging them to get back to work, the argument over women’s choices has grown increasingly shrill. Laura Kipnis’ contribution to the debate may not change anyone’s mind, but her alternately sardonic, insightful, and flip meditation on the embattled female psyche is a provocative salvo.

Kipnis, the author of Against Love: A Polemic, notes that the mass entry of women into the workforce has failed to transform social institutions as feminists once predicted. She’s equally skeptical about what the future holds for stay-at-home moms. Her main point is that persistent gender inequities are linked to “the myriad impasses of the female condition.” The problem isn’t an antifeminist backlash, she claims, but rather women’s ambivalence—about the prerogatives of men, their own sexuality, and the lure of housework. In her view, feminism has met its most formidable foe in femininity itself.

At issue, in part, is women’s troubled relationship with their bodies, including “unconscious filth convictions” that are symbiotic with a consumer culture “bludgeoning housewives with a steady stream of overanxious cleaning advice.” Kipnis is also wonderfully acerbic about the female orgasm, noting how biology and proscriptions against sexual assertiveness have contributed to “a nature-culture one-two punch, right to the female pleasure principle.”

Kipnis admits that her perspective is most valid for “white middle-class and upper-middle-class chicks,” and heterosexual ones at that. And while she deliberately courts paradox on the question of how large a role culture plays in hampering full equality, she seems to want to have it both ways, belittling genetic determinism while arguing that “female anatomy…dictates the female condition.” In the end, The Female Thing is most effective simply as what Kipnis hints it may be: a cleverly convoluted map of her own mental terrain.

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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