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Bitch Doctrine by Laurie Penny

Written by , Posted in Reviews

3 Stars

Best for: I don’t know. Maybe new feminists looking for some decent writing?

In a nutshell: Journalist Laurie Penny collects some of her greatest hits into one essay collection.

Line that sticks with me: “It’s easy to criticize call-out culture, especially if the people calling you out are mean and less than merciful. It’s far harder to look into your own heart and ask if you can and should do better.”

Why I chose it: I don’t know. I probably shouldn’t have, as there are so many other writers out there taking on these topics.

Review: Only after I brought the book home did I realize that one of the blurbs was from Caitlin Moran. That should have been enough to make me second-guess my choice, as I think Ms. Moran views the middle-class white woman experience as some sort of universal stand-in that represents all that feminism should address. I also should have second guessed this purchase when I remembered that Ms. Penny wrote “I’m With the Banned,” a (I believe) well-meaning attempt to profile the rise of the new white supremacists in our culture, especially in light of the New York Times piece that recently painted Nazis in a sympathetic light.

With all of that as preamble, I do think that many of the essays in this collection are insightful. I believe all are pulled from previous writing, but only one was familiar to me. It’s a good one called “On Nerd Entitlement” and is a response to an article from a white tech guy who denies that he has benefited from male privilege. She handles the issue with sensitivity and acknowledgment that privilege doesn’t prevent you from experiencing pain.

I don’t generally find myself disagreeing with any of her analysis, and I appreciate the subject areas that she chooses to cover from her perspective – love, culture, gender, agency, backlash, violence, and the future. I could see many of the essays generating good conversation among women, and possible being something to share with men in your life who maybe get it but don’t fully get it.

One thing I noticed was that many essays ended awkwardly. The last paragraph or two often includes a sentence that suggests a connection or argument that wasn’t made in the essay, or a bat turn of phrase that reads a bit like how I wrap up my own writing when I don’t have the time to put in. Which is odd for a fully edited and printed book.

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