I’ll irritate most of my friends for saying this, but I’ve always found feminist writer Laurie Penny immensely enjoyable, in person and in writing.
What a thoroughly odd way to start a book review.
I say that as someone who is – or at least was – appalled by practically everything she says. Why “was”? Because I’ve just finished her pamphlet Cybersexism: Sex, Gender and Power on the Internet, and it’s… well, it’s terrific.
Oh I see, it was necessary to qualify that you don’t hate Laurie Penny personally while pandering to your friends who are ready to kneejerk at the very mention of her name, but also make it clear that you are normally “appalled” by her work. Glad we got that cleared up. Carry on.
Yes, all of the old problems are there. There’s a bit too much sodding hysteria, too much is taken for granted and too often
“Hysteria”. Gendered word choice #1. Keep your eyes out, there are a lot of these! Hysteria is a state of uncontrollable or excessive emotion and also an outdated psychological term for a disorder that exclusively afflicted women, because it was caused by disturbances in the uterus (similar to disturbances in the Force, I suppose.) So just to be clear, Penny is not angry, she’s not impassioned and she’s not vehement. She’s hysterical. And not just hysterical, but “sodding” hysterical, because Milo has had to endure this emotional lady nonsense in the past. Moving on.
Or rather, we need to stop talking about them. But let me explain.
Back in the early days of the Internet, when I was desperately waiting to turn thirteen so I could join Elfwood, the word “troll” meant something specific. It meant an anonymous person who deliberately posts false, inflammatory or outright stupid things for the sake of getting a reaction.
This traditional form of trolling is not harmless. As this article on the figure of the troll points out, trolls usually rely on being as abusive or offensive as possible. However, trolling used to come with a layer of self-awareness at the very least, and functioned as a powerful form of disruptive satire at its best. The troll made an art out of being as infuriating as possible while remaining believable. Their goal was to make people angry, mostly for perverse personal amusement but also sometimes to challenge entrenched views within a certain community. And so the prevalent wisdom was not to “feed the trolls” because that’s exactly what the trolls want.
Nowadays, troll seems to mean literally any asshole with an Internet connection and trolling means any incident of online abuse. The goal of Twitter users who are frequently branded as trolls may be to make people angry but it is also in a large part intended to shut people up and specifically to shut women up, which is why the brief #twittersilence response to events of the past weeks was somewhat misguided.
Susan Venker has a lot of ideas about what women need to do to be happy. Most of them involve marrying young and giving up their jobs and their income to raise children and do housework. She likes writing articles about how all the successful driven women out there are going to be sooooooo sorry that they pursued careers instead of focusing on settling down with Mr. Right and how they are going to be sooooooo lonely when they realise that all the “good” men out there actually want submissive little housewives because BIOLOGY OR SOMETHING.
Her entire outlook on life is stupid for a variety of reasons.
She lives in a heteronormative bubble. She is going to be shocked when she discovers that gay and queer and trans* women are a thing now.
Marriage is no longer the pinnacle of female achievement.
Very few of these bright successful women she’s so worried about are going find marital bliss with a man who wants a glorified servant/fuck toy combo.