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The Female Thing: Dirt, Sex, Envy, Vulnerability
By Laura Kipnis
Pantheon
HC, 192 pg. US$23.95
ISBN: 0-3754-2417-2

The evolution of the feminist

By Bernard Chapin
web posted December 18, 2006

The Female ThingPerhaps the best way to educate an audience about a particular subject is to outline the uniqueness of its properties, which is most easily done by juxtaposing its essence alongside what it is not. Professor of Media Studies [1] at Northwestern, Laura Kipnis, in her new book, The Female Thing: Dirt, Sex, Envy, Vulnerability, uses this strategy to illuminate intrinsic female qualities via the four emblematic areas listed in the title. While it may sound rather popish, her brisk essays succeed in their goal. The author has produced a competent, intelligent, and valuable narrative.  

It may surprise conservatives that a book written by a leftist-feminist could possibly appeal to them, [2] and undoubtedly some will disagree with this reviewer's assessment. It contains a great deal of profanity, and individuals who cannot tolerate the counter-cultural view of sexuality will feel rather uncomfortable at times (as evidenced by the title of her 2003 offering, Against Love: A Polemic). Kipnis also remains a believer in the existence of an apocryphal patriarchy, and has built the book's intellectual infrastructure upon the texts of radical luminaries like Betty Friedan, Simone de Beauvoir, Susan Brownmiller, Eve Ensler, Shulamith Firestone, Germaine Greer, and Catharine MacKinnon. Yet, despite such elements, the book still has merit.

The Female Thing's central theme is that it is their own "inner woman," as opposed to men or a global conspiracy, acts as the biggest barrier to women realizing the progressive utopia they deserve—a utopia for which, the author concedes, many women are not even interested. Females have certain refractory predispositions and fascinations which cannot be propagandized away. This is revealed in the female longing for men, the way in which feminine personality types persist despite their sometimes being cloaked in feminist garb, and the world's assigning to women a higher worth based on their bodies. By identifying Woman as a free-thinking agent, Kipnis infuses the opposite sex with responsibility, and this immediately places her on a plane far above her peers. Hopefully, more non-equity feminists will agree that, socially and psychologically, our "respective anatomies produce different situations." [3] That's not to imply that she is a biological determinist, however. What she does state is that, "what kind of anatomy you've been assigned invariably structures the female experience here on earth." These views are a major advancement for feminism as they eschew the lie that only social construction makes us who we are.  

The book's greatest strength are the arguments produced by the author's iconoclastic and insightful mind. Many novel ideas are on display. She clarified that women's empowerment came with a cost because much was lost in the process. Furthermore, has not femininity been on its own, from its earliest beginnings, an incredibly effective strategy for the acquisition of resources? From there, we turn to a major dilemma for the modern woman: one can't really be feminine and a feminist at the same time for they are mutually exclusive conditions. The former denies weakness and frailty while the latter promotes it. We find that the root of women's ever-increasing resentment of men—a resentment which is largely not reciprocated—is their own disavowal and self-deception. Their over expectations can be attributed more to a lack of personal fulfillment than to the inadequacies of men.

Somewhat comedic is the extensive influence that Sigmund Freud has upon this work. He is frequently cited, but rarely critiqued. In fact, Kipnis seems rather taken with the positions of the late Viennese Doctor regardless of his being despised by feminists. His most vilified theory, penis envy, is even referenced, and the effect is devastating:

Funnily enough, it's not actually psychiatrists who peddle this idea anymore; it's women themselves, since isn't the notion that "something's missing" the dynamic driving the entirety of women's culture?

That the icons of feminism appear as sources does not prevent Kipnis from deconstructing them. Kipnis is not only skeptical about the recently deceased Andrea Dworkin's past allegations of sexual assault, she is even suspicious about her ubiquitous obsessions with intercourse and rape. She wonders, "…can there be this much aversion without some sort of desire? The opposite of desire isn't aversion, it's indifference." She also takes issue with that quote attributed to Gloria Steinem about a woman requiring a man in the same way a fish requires a bicycle, saying, "…it turns out that fish are devoted cyclists."

While The Female Thing may not be a precise fit for conservatives, it undeniably marks an advancement in our relations with feminists. Its pages are steeped in argumentation and debate as opposed to calls for castration and lesbianism. Laura Kipnis is her own woman and not a slave to dogma which is all we can ask for. When leftist-feminists desire truth over propaganda they become allies or worthy opponents instead of buffoons walking around blaming "the other" for their own poor decision making. If her peers follow her example, political correctness will join the gargoyle that sired it, Marxism, upon the list of intellectual viruses which only history will remember.  ESR

Footnotes:

[1] This is the description on the book's back cover. Online she is described as a Professor of Radio/Television/Film. Link: http://www.communication.northwestern.edu/rtf/faculty/Laura_Kipnis/

[2] Indeed, Kipnis expressed surprise when I emailed her to let her know how much I enjoyed the book.

[3] Quotation from an email exchange Ms. Kipnis had with the author on 12/3/06.

Bernard Chapin is a writer and psychologist living in Chicago and the author of Escape from Gangsta Island. He is currently at work on a book concerning women. He can be contacted at veritaseducation@gmail.com.

Buy The Female Thing: Dirt, Sex, Envy, Vulnerability at Amazon.com for only $16.29 (32% off)

 

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