THE FEMALE THING by Laura Kipnis


Dirt, Sex, Envy, Vulnerability
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A clever, sarcastic, slender jeremiad on the self-defeating forces that still ail women in the aftermath of second-wave feminism.

In the name of progress toward gender equality—and she admits there have been tremendous achievements over the last few decades—Kipnis (Media Studies/Northwestern Univ.; Against Love: A Polemic, 2003) wonders why emancipated women continue to be blocked from getting what they want: namely, what men have. She blames women’s “ambivalence” (toward feminism, and whether to reject or embrace femininity) with forcing them to collide continually against their “unanticipated opponent: the inner woman.” Kipnis examines here in discrete chapters four familiar self-imposed fetters that keep women from achieving total social progress: envy (the Freudian desire for what men have, because women lack something); sex, in terms of a “sexual-pleasure gap” currently reigning between men and women; dirt, the projected anxiety that women’s bodies are unclean; and vulnerability, women’s universal fear of rape. All four areas, indeed, have to do in some way with how women relate to the female body. In her chapter on envy, the author addresses consumer culture (what she calls “the girlfriend industry”) and the aggressive media reinforcement that women are inadequate and need improving. In the minefield of sex, she finds that women’s more complicated apparatus eludes easy orgasm, and women can’t decide how they want their orgasm—or whether just to lie about having one. In “Dirt,” she often refers to godmother Betty Friedan and her classic book on housewives, and explores why women (unlike men) have to care so much about keeping the house clean anyway. Finally, in “Vulnerability,” she debunks the reality of the fear of rape, when, in fact, men are far more likely than women to be crime victims. Despite digressing somewhat toward the end in discussing Andrea Dworkin’s rape claims, Kipnis offers some sound fodder for talking heads.

A reasoned, intelligent, even elegant study, when its author isn’t smartly smirking.

Pub Date: Oct. 17th, 2006
ISBN: 0-375-42417-2
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2006


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