Polemical writing at its thoughtful best.

BITCH DOCTRINE

ESSAYS FOR DISSENTING ADULTS

A noted British feminist writer tackles gender, sexism, identity, and power issues in a world being laid waste by “kamikaze capitalism.”

Pointing to the 2016 American presidential election and the rise of far-right movements across Europe, New Statesman contributing editor Penny (Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies, and Revolution, 2014) begins with the convincing premise that “toxic masculinity is killing the world.” White, working-class men who feel “cheated of their birthright” are taking aim at, among others, “Muslims, migrants and uppity women” and seeking refuge in extreme nationalism and chauvinism. But as the author argues, these men are “dangerously wrong about who pulled the con.” Starting from Donald Trump’s election, which she calls “the sick recrimination of a society shriveled by anger and anxiety,” Penny calls for a resistance in which men and women refuse normalization and take care of themselves and others. The malignant capitalist patriarchy Trump represents hurts women in particular because it entrenches ideas about monogamous heterosexual romance and suggests that women, unlike men, must do it all. Moreover, it pits women, even those who identify as feminist, against each other. By holding women to impossible standards, capitalist patriarchy becomes the taskmaster that shames women and keeps them in their place. At the same time, the “New Chauvinists…want to protect women from violence, as long as they are the right sort of woman.” Penny suggests how the much-misunderstood and -reviled trans movement is important to feminism because it helps challenge the extreme binary nature of toxic masculinity by deconstructing “every social stereotype about men and women and their roles in society.” Thought at times self-righteous, the author wears the trademark fearlessness that has earned her the name of “bitch” with an admirable lack of apology. Intelligent and defiant, Penny probes the current anti-feminist backlash while exploring zones of social discomfort, all in the name of “imagining a society beyond patriarchy.”

Polemical writing at its thoughtful best.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-63286-753-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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