Unspeakable Things, Underlined

The following quotes and excerpts were taken from Laurie Penny’s »Unspeakable Things. Sex, Lies and Revolution«, published 2014 by Bloomsbury Publishing. It’s what I underlined while racing through the book – there are many more noteworthy thoughts in it; and as it is really very well written, the book is full of vivid images and smack-down sentences that set your mind straight. Some of them I kept here for easier reference.


One sure test of social privilege is how much anger you get to express without the threat of expulsion, arrest, or social exclusion, and so we force down our rage like rotten food until it festers and sickens us. (p. 1)

The ‚career woman‘ ist the new aspirational ideal for young girls everywhere: […] She is always beautiful, invariably white, and almost entirely fictional. Nonetheless, it is her freedom that is prioritised […]. (p 3)

When we speak of fighting sexism, whether we know it or not, we’re bringing our broken hearts to the table, all those stomach-twisting sexual rejections, our frustration, our loneliness and longing, the memory of betrayal, the pain of our childhoods. We’re also bringing the anxoius heat of our desire, our passion for our friends and partners and children, every time a lover has laid a hand softly over a part ouf your soul you didn’t know was stinging and soothed it. All of that at once, and more, and more, becuase gender politics are personal as well as political, but that doesn’t mean the political has to collapse into the personal. (p. 11)

Feminism is not a set of rules. (p. 16)

The fact that outside white suburbia women have always had to work for money does not factor into this convenient fiction.

Work itself has been repurposed as women’s liberation. (p. 17)

We have always been encouraged to understand femininity as a form of branding, albeit one burnt into our flesh at birth. (p. 19)


In Italy, there ist a tradition called ‚sciopero bianco‚ – the white strike. In English-speaking countries, it is known as work-to-rule. […] Eating disorders and other forms of dangerous self-harm are to riots in the streets what a white strike is to a factory occupation: (p. 32)

What the stereotype of the bra-burning, hairy-legged feminist is really supposed to suggest is that feminism, that politics itself, makes a woman ugly. (p. 34)

A pretty young woman is a paradox: at once a figure of desire and disgust. Hers is the power that all women are supposed to want, the only power we’re really allowed to have, the power to please and to play up to male sexual attention – and so it is vital that her power be put into place. (p. 35)

It’s interesting that ‚ugly‘ is still the insult most commonly thrown at women to dismiss their power, to get them to shut up. (p. 36)

The fall of patriarchy is unlikely to begin or end with one woman’s decision to wear fishnets or grow out her armpit hair, so relax. (p. 38)

A recent survey by shopping channel QVC claimed that the average British woman spends £2,055 per year, or 11 per cent of the median full-time female salary, on maintaining and updating the way she looks. (p. 41)

The more powerful women become, the more we are taught that our bodies are unacceptable. (p. 45)

Western womankind is collectively imangined as a toddler let loose in a candy store, so overwhelmed by the range of options that it has an ungrateful tantrum and is sick on the floor. (p. 48)

The cruellest lie they were told as girls was ‚it’s what’s on the inside that counts‘. (p. 50)

It’s only later that I will learn that between a quarter and a half of young people hospitalised with eating disorders are gay or genderqueer. (p. 54)

When you grow up to find yourself trapped in a body that seems to invite violence, a body that seems to be all you’re good for, a body that is suddenly and forever the most important thing about you, there is a grim logic to the attempt to cut your way out of it. (p. 56)

In her ‚Letters to L‘, M. Sandovsky writes that ‚The problem for women is not just uncovering what is political in the personal and personal in the political. It is finding a way to live inside of a contradiction.‘ (p. 57)

You reach a point where you have to decide what you will sacrifice to survive. (p. 57)


It is men’s dashed dreams that seem to matter most. And it is men’s resentful rage that makes their frustration fearful. (p. 63)

The greatest obstacle to women’s progress is not men’s hat, but their fear. (p. 65)

It should not, therefore, be as difficult as it is to explain to the average human male that while you, individual man, going about your daily business, […] may not hate and hurt women, men as a group – men as a structure – certainly do. (p. 68)

Women, it seems, are allowed to talk only about their gender. Men are allowed to talk about absolutely anything except their gender. (p. 74)

The first big secret is this: most men have never really been powerful. (p. 75)

The second big secret about the Golden Age of Masculinity, of course, is that it never really existed. (p. 75f)

Rates of suicide among fifteen-to-twenty-four-year-olds in the USA have tripled over the past thirty years. (p. 80)

‚It Gets Better‘ is neoliberal mythmaking writ large […]. (p. 82)

Crisis talk, however, is no long-term solution to inequality, and crisis talk is all the Obama generation has had to cling to for five years and more. (p. 83)

Social change happens when the old stories we tell ourselves to survive are no longer sufficient, and we create new ones. (p. 86)

In 2010, the world’s most powerful activist, Julian Assange, was arrested on rape charges he refused even to answer, and marginalised men-children across the world held his face on posters, telling the carrion-feeding cameras come to feast on the still twitching carcass of the renascent left that state surveillance was immoral, that whistle-blowers should be protected – and that women lie. (p. 87)

In fact, what is being ruined by women’s refusal to remain mute is the illusion of sexual equality. (p. 94)

Social heterosexuality has been allowed to remain a process of mutual dehumanisation. (p. 97)

[W]e have created a society in which it is structurally difficult and existentially stressful for any male person not to behave like a complete and utter arsehole. (p. 100)


In societies ravaged by the financial incompetence of rich men, it is the sexual incontinence of young women that is deemed the real danger to our children’s future. (p. 108)

More and more these days, sex looks like work. (p. 109)

She tells us that the threat of pregnancy is only terrifying because of the ongoing assault on our reproductive choices. (p. 112)

You are a body first, and your body is not yours alone: whether or not you are attracted to men, men and boys will believe they have a claim on your body, and the state gets to decide what you’re allowed to do with it afterwards. (p. 114)

At no point, however, has anyone implied that men who want to be sexually dominated by women also want to be dominated by them socially and economically. (p. 115)

For women, though, the mainstreaming of kink – and particularly of sadomasochism – is supposed to prove that we’re not as into all this liberation schtick as we might think. (p. 115)

What is more significant is that submission – alongside, from time to time, sex work – is the only kind of female sexual ‚unorthodoxy‘ that is currently deemed worthy of discussion, and it’s an unorthodoxy trussed up tight in the bondage tape of patriarchal expectations. (p. 117)

Fantasies about pretty young white women being controlled, hurt and dominated by men have always been the part of kink that nobody ever really had a problem with. (p. 117)

The great genious of commercial sexuality has been to give the impression that this society is one of unprecedented erotic freedom while maintaining the impression that sex is almost always something violent and disgusting that men do to women. (p. 125)

Teaching men self-disgust is crucial to maintaining the architecture of modern misogyny. If sex weren’t dirty and degrading, there would be less reason to loathe women for letting you do it to them, no matter how much you want to. (p. 126)

The impression given by most industrially produced porn and its imitators, the one thing that most current mainstream pornography shares with the sexual script of advertising and the mantra of women’s magazines, is the insistence that sex, like every other alienated labour, is serious business. (p. 128)

When a lof of feminists say they hate pornography and prostitution, what they mean is that they hate the transactional nature of sex, the patriarchal equation whereby every party remains convinced they’re the one getting screwed: he pays her and she services him. (p. 131)

[The single mother] is unworthy of sympathy, much less assistance. (p. 135)

The rule of law cannot be relied upon when it routinely fails victims of abuse. (p. 148)


The fact that so many women were spending so much time talking to one another online without oversight or policing was part of what led to the feminist revivial of the mid-2000s. (p. 157)

If you’re a woman and somebody calls you ‚attention seeking‘, that’s a sure way to tell you’ve made an impact. (p. 162)

In this age of images, the right to request no photos is a sign of truly intimidating social status, of money, power or both, and women, especially young women, almost never have that right. (p. 163)

The message is remarkably similar, in fact, to the lectures one imagines young girls receiving before contraception, legal abortion and the relative relaxation of religious propriety: your sins will never be forgiven. One slip is enough to disgrace you for life. (p. 164)

Although the technology is new, the language of shame and sin around women’s use of the Internet is very, very old. (p. 164)

Patriarchal surveillance was a daily feature of the lives of women and girls for centuries before the computer in every workplace and the camera in every pocket made it that much easier. (p. 165)

It takes to another level the traditional pose of paranoia and anal self-retention that has for centuries been called ‚femininity‘. (p. 167)

At the same time as girls everywhere are warned to stay offline if we want to preserve a paleo-Victorian nation of our ‚reputation‘, we are told that sex and violence on the Internet isn’t ‚real‘. (p. 168)

Germaine Greer once wrote that women had no idea how much men hated them. Well, now we do. (p. 178)

The power to watch men back is something the web affords women, but men haven’t quite realised it yet. (p. 179)

In 2011 I wrote that a woman’s opinion was the mini-skirt of the Internet; if she has one and dares to flaunt it in public, she is deemed to deserve any abuse that comes her way – she was asking for it. (p. 181)

Everywhere, people in positions of privilege warp and misuse the idea of ‚free speech‘ to shut down and silence everyone else’s rith to speak freely. (p. 183)

Kate Losse was one of Facebook’s earliest employees […]. ‚One thing I noticed is how driven by women’s images and social media labour Facebook and other social technologies are.‘ (p. 189)

A long history of learned defensiveness leads nerds to come together to protect any member of their group, whatever they’ve done. (p. 193)

Part of the problem is the suspicion that girls just aren’t as clever as boys. (p. 194)

We’re not less smart, we’re just different smart. Smart at things that don’t involve being listened to or making an impact on the world. You know, different smart. It’s a eugenics of gender that would be seen for the throat-cloasingly vile propaganda it is were the tests being done on people of different races, ethnicities or sexual preferences. (p. 195f.)

You can hack anything, after all, and that includes sexism. (p. 198)

The Internet is a real place. It’s where we live and work and fight and fuck and make friends. (p. 199)


The colonisation of love by capitalist patriarchy is a deeply painful thing. (p. 203)

It is love as ritual and as product […]. (p. 205)

LoveTM is the other side of the pornographic narrative; the other side of SexTM. (p. 205)

In many social situations, it is now more acceptable to say you don’t believe in God than it is to say you don’t believe in love. (p. 206)

Religion, like opium, was a refuge from the anxieties of the age, replacing personal, individual dispair with a whole new set of problems. (p. 207)

We talk a lot about women as sex objects, but the reduction of women to love objects does just as much damage; (p. 214)

Sometimes you have to decide between doing what you love and being lovable, and the decision is always painful. (p. 216)

Men write women, and they rewrite us, for revenge. (p. 219)

It’s definitely easier to be a girl than it is to do the work of being a grown woman, especially when you know that grown women are far more fearful to the men whose approval seems so vital to your happyness. (p. 220)

[…] and if love workers ever questioned their conditions, their love would automatically be less worthwile, less genuine […] (p. 225)

It is important, however, to recognise that a lot of the work that women do remains unpaid or underpaid because we think of it as ‚love‘, as a moral expression of feeling rather than a practical task of immense and tangible value. (p. 225)

For men, love is supposed to be the reward you get in return for work; for women, love is work in itself. (p. 226)

You tell your potential boyfriend the same lies you tell your potential boss: I’m easy-going, flexible, low-stress and cheerful, just like you want me to be. (p. 227)

The purpose of dating, as far as the market is concerned, is to produce households. (p. 228)

In real life, there is a superabundance of romance, friendship, partnership, sex and adventure to be had, and the truly terrible thing about shop-bought love in pretty packages is that it makes it seem that human feeling is a scarce resource. (p. 234)

Women and girls in particular must summon the courage to devote the best efforts of our lives to something other than LoveTM. The idea that we have no control over who we love and what we do about it is one of the most disempowering things girls are ever told. (p. 238)


The raw humanity of others is the unspeakable truth every mechanism of modern sexism is designed to disguise. (p. 242)

To cope with the intimate terrorism of neoliberal patriarchy we’ve got to work on giving fewer fucks. We’ve got to work on having no shame because we need no shame, because none of us do, unless we have hurt another person. (p. 243)

We’ve got to stop letting stale old men define our dreams. (p. 243)

We must refuse to judge others by any standard other than that of kindness and decency. (p. 243)

Feminism and radical politics are about demanding more than a choice between one type of servitude and another. (p. 244)

We have the technology to speak back to power not just in one voice, but in many. (p. 245)





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