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The Female Thing: Dirt, Sex, Envy, Vulnerability

3.53 of 5 stars 3.53  ·  rating details  ·  415 ratings  ·  62 reviews
In the female psyche nowadays, “contradictions speckle the landscape, like ingrown hairs after a bad bikini wax.” So writes Laura Kipnis, author of the widely acclaimed polemic Against Love. With “the gleeful viperish wit of Dorothy Parker” (Slate), Kipnis now offers a fresh and provocative assessment of the female condition in the post-post-feminist world of the twenty-fi ...more
Hardcover, 192 pages
Published October 17th 2006 by Pantheon (first published October 1st 2006)
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As I read my way through the first chapter, I felt like I was reading a Cosmo or Glamour for feminists, a little trashy and a lot of fluff, but just enough to have some bite. Several times I almost put it down, but I'm glad I kept reading due to taking some perverse pleasure in it.

To some extent, it's a frustrating read. It is just as dichotomous and contradictory as the subject Kipnis seeks to explain. Her sweeping statements about how great women have it "post-feminism" are irksome (Though she
Jul 29, 2008 Wealhtheow rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommended to Wealhtheow by: dillon
Shelves: sociology
Kipnis examines women and modern American society's relationships with dirt, sex, envy and vulnerability. It's a huge subject, and she does not do it justice. Kipnis focuses all too often on pithy cheap-shots and sarcastic responses to other feminist thinkers. I liked some of her analysis, but she overstated her case and made terrible comparisons (women shouldn't worry so much about rape because "violent things happen to men too: they're maimed or die in pointless wars, for instance." What? The ...more
Kipnis covers 4 basic factors relating to feminism: envy, sex, dirt, and vulnerability. She discusses how there is a "new femininity"--namely, women are voluntarily participating in "hook-up" culture, willingly submitting themselves as sex objects and rejecting ideas of the "old femininity", namely when women would be taken out to dinner and courted in an old-fashioned way. Basically, women are at odds between being assertive, independent, sexual beings yet the irony is that many of these women ...more
So I pulled this rather randomly and haphazardly off the library bookshelf, based on a random and haphazard online review from a cartoonist I sometimes admire. While I appreciate Kipnis's layman's speak, I am having trouble seeing her as the representative for All Western Womankind. I can't help but wonder: how influenced by Sex and the City is the "normal" modern woman? Because that's how this reads--if Carrie Bradshaw wrote a textbook on the female psyche, this would be it.
Kipnis is the wry, well-informed, playfully ranting feminist friend that we should all be so lucky to have. Simultaneous paying respect to the multi-faceted, many-phased ‘women’s movement,’ while still being able to approach it objectively, Kipnis is able to suggest that “feminism came up against an unanticipated opponent: the inner woman,” without self-righteous finger-pointing or woman-aggrandizing propaganda (she’s actually remarkably empathetic with feminist backlash against undeserving male ...more
"... when it come to the female situation, contradictions speckle the landscape, like ingrown hairs after a bad bikini wax." So writes Kipnis in the preface of the book, which is about the contradictions of being a modern woman. This is the third book that I read by her, and I picked it up mainly because she is so incredibly witty, insightful, and hilarious. Her Against Love: A Polemic is the best book that I've read on the subject of marriage. I don't know what kind of feminist Kipnis is (I've ...more
Well researched, wonderfully poetic, and at times (the essays on Sex and Dirt) quite fierce and funny all at the same time. Even if you don't agree with everything Laura Kipnis has to say in this short, but gripping tome, I think it's an interesting social commentary that everyone in our post modern world should read. We've definitely made progress, but there's still a lot more progress that needs to be made, and maybe a good place to start is looking within ourselves.

I am intrigued to hear her
Generally speaking, I thought this was a better book than Against Love, which I found quite mediocre and unmemorable. There were some contradictions and things I disagreed with (well, a lot I disagreed with), but it was more of an *interesting* book. Another short diatribe related to sexuality and gender, this one covers four themes: Envy, Sex, Dirt, Vulnerability. Envy was the blandest chapter, followed by Sex, which is mostly about female orgasm. I found myself disagreeing with a lot, but it w ...more
Apr 24, 2013 Kate added it
Shelves: signed-by-author
Well researched, wonderfully poetic, and at times (the essays on Sex and Dirt) quite fierce and funny all at the same time. Even if you don't agree with everything Laura Kipnis has to say in this short, but gripping tome, I think it's an interesting social commentary that everyone in our post modern world should read. We've definitely made progress, but there's still a lot more progress that needs to be made, and maybe a good place to start is looking within ourselves.

I am intrigued to hear her
Dorothyanne Brown
Such clear vision! Laura Kipnis manages to look, open-eyed, at all the things women do to each other, as well as those things we allow to happen to us, in defining ourselves as a gender. Yet, this isn't a heavy read - it's fun and full of humour, both gentle and sharp. Kipnis is a well-known writer on so-called women's issues, and here she lays it on the line, asking why we take on the responsibility for housekeeping, why we wallow in envy and vulnerability instead of being strong, why we allow ...more
Kipnis is the sort of woman I'd enjoy watching dissect a crowd of intellectuals, then sitting back and discussing it with her. Her mind, and tongue are razor sharp and she has that mystical ability to see what's plain behind the show and pomp of a lot of modern thought. No small feat.

Against Love, her poorly named polemic against relationships, or more specifically against marriage--though titled so--was a rip roaring ride of research, biting wit, cleverness and general disregard for the common
Oct 24, 2007 Kimberly rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: those interested in post post-feminism or those who have absolutely no idea what that means
I appreciate how this books discusses a variety of ideas central to feminist theory without disintegrating into an lengthy philosophic tome. For a serious student of philosophy, the casual references to Shulamith Firestone and Judith Butler may appear superficial. But I think this is an excellent book to buy a friend who has nascent ideas about her own feminism, but just hasn't articulated them yet.

"[T]he drawback to femininity, as currently construed, is that it can never be successfully attai
Niya B
Kipnis' essays are a brancingly insightful, well researched collection into four key components that define the modern day female experience. Her willingness to examine the fundamental concepts of feminism from a more queer friendly, interdisciplinary perspective, and to add context with regard to other dominant lines of thinking result in clearly presented arguments that will give some, if not all, readers cause to rethink the dominant stance on class, race and fear that continue to define the ...more
In The Female Thing, author Laura Kipnis, a professor of media studies at Northwestern University researches what she calls the “female thing.” To her she considers that the female psyche although much of the book focuses on the vagina through research and discussion on orgasm, rape, and sexual equality for women in pleasure, cleanliness, and confidence. I didn’t find any of her research or theses new but simply reminders that women still do not get the attention we need and desire in the bedroo ...more
Aug 11, 2008 Sarah rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommended to Sarah by: Andrew gave it to me
This book was frustrating because I could not for the life of me tell when Kipnis was being sarcastic, funny, serious, or just what her position was on anything. In a way, that made it interesting, because it forced me to think about my own opinions. But mostly it just made me want to throw the book at the next biological determinist I see. And I agree with the reviewers who said it reads like Cosmo - which, in my opinion, only undermines any point she might be trying to make.
Brian Palmer
A slender volume, this reads like it were the transcription of a set of four talks, after each people are expected to go to a coffee house and discuss it. It certainly didn't surprise me that the author is a professor (of film studies). For the most part, she makes her points briefly and then moves on; this is not a book that focuses on just one point and pushes it home. Like a good conversation, she'll bring it back to a point to reinforce a theme later on.

There were things in here that I had
Lynn Weber
I had to grit my teeth to get through this one. I know Kipnis is a somewhat well-known feminist academic, so I wanted to get familiar with her work, but oy. I would have gotten through it more quickly if I hadn't been compelled to stop and make sarcastic comments in the margins every third paragraph.
Not my usual I stumbled on this via Goodreads and thought why not. I have read Naomi Wolf and some controversial (but often funny) Camille Paglia as well. Strident feminists like Andrea Dworkin just scare the hell out of me. I had no idea about Kipnis' background before reading this; I actually thought this was her first book. Oops!

In terms of readability it's easy; short and broken down into 4 chapters. In "Dirt," she examined why women seem more deeply affected, almost manic about dirt than me
Not a bad read. Easy as pie and more of a pop-academic sort of book (if that makes sense to you all). I appreciate some of the statistics and information brought along for the ride but when that sort of thing gets brought into a book and the citations aren't clearly defined it always makes me nervous.

Apart from all of that, it takes and interesting perspective on women and the psychological turmoil we go through on the day to day, having to deal with the historical stigmas as well as the recent
Jun 16, 2009 trina rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: yo momma (and mine)
the book is broken into four chapters (the titular "dirt, sex, envy, and vulnerability"), but naturally they intersect, and it is where these categories meet that kipnis really impresses. she doesn't shy away from the perverse, sticky, dark corners of the (female) psyche, or from indicating women('s minds) as culprits equal with men and the media, equally responsible for the current female condition. while many people find her analyses contentious and incendiary, and though i tend to agree with ...more
Nov 08, 2007 Laurie rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: women's studies majors, feminists, women
This book does a great job of pointing out certain truths on women and society. While it doesn't give answers, it ends by saying that this is the starting point. The author, Laura Kipnis, focuses on four topics in the book. In "Dirt," she talks about why women have an innate propensity to clean more than men. Is it because society has always catered cleaning products toward women using advertising to say "This is how you become a better woman - by cleaning!"? Could it also be that a very part of ...more
Someone gave me this book years ago as a way to explain their version of feminism. It's outdated and binary in its view of women. Witten as if all women are one mainstream heterosexual/white girly-girl type. No substance.

I read this short book of 4 essays, each ~ 9000 words, several months ago and really liked it.

Now, after aerating & rereading, I think it's even better.

Jun 7, 2014.
Feb 8, 2014.
Nov 01, 2015 Whoof added it
Interesting but hetero-normative, the chapter on Dirt was the most novel
In do not agree with every thing she says in this book, however the 4 chapiters are intelligent and the reading was easy and facinating. One of the best books I read this year, I wouldn`t know if Kipnis is anti-feminist or radical-feminist, as one reviewer mentioned, but I think she aproaches the female phsyque with very reasonable statements (I felt guilty, though). When I listened to my mom yesterday, having a discussion with a friend about whose house was cleaner, I found out Kipnis was very ...more
a) The printing of the book I have has a significantly less saucy cover.

b) This is a great book. I appreciate very much Kipnis' willingness to sit down and play around with the contradictions and the weird perspectives that come up when there's so much pounding on patriarchy. Made for a good quick read.

c) Extremely brutal chapter on Vulnerability at the end but brings up a lot of stuff on topics like sexual assault that are worth mentioning.
Kipnis is smart and interesting to read, and like her other work this one is accessible and sometimes polemical. She is often concerned with social boundaries and ambivalences -- here she interrogates issues of (mostly heterosexual) female sexuality that are both sacred cows and obsessions in our culture (i.e. dirt, sex, envy, vulnerability). Always interesting places to explore, even if I don't always agree with her conclusions.
AndrewTobias Nelson
Well... depressing. Full of reasons to be angry about having two 'x' chromosomes today. I mean, seriously. "Dirt, Sex, Envy, Vulnerability" are the chapters and they're all about how these things get in our way, there's no celebration of playing in the dirt, enjoying sex, healthy competition, or the beauty of vulnerability. How often women complain and why. At least that's how it felt after I finished and put it down.
A good polemic about the current state of feminism/culture/women's identities. She has some good concepts and ideas, and its presented in an intentionally "women's magazine" voice. That doesn't necessarily add a whole lot of punch to the arguments, but it does make the book a fast read.

My only problem is that some of her research, especially in the section on vulnerability, is a little outdated or misinterpreted.
Kipnis exhibits great wit and clarity in exposing the myths along the gender divide, daring to do what few feminist scholar would dare: she calls out women for continually pointing fingers at men as the source of all the problems and lays the responsibility for change squarely on the shoulders of the only people who are capable of creating it.
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Laura Kipnis is the author of Against Love: A Polemic; How to Become A Scandal; The Female Thing; Bound and Gagged; and the upcoming Men: Notes from an Ongoing Observation (out in November). Her books have been translated into fifteen languages. She's written essays and criticism for Slate, Harper’s, Playboy, New York Times Magazine, New York Times Book Review, and Bookforum. A former filmmaker, s ...more
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“As if all that weren't enough, factor in the whole tedious millenial saga of female virtue, modesty, shame, repression, male short, a cruel combo of anatomical inheritance and sexual inhibition for the gal set; a nature-culture one-two punch, right to the female pleasure principle.” 1 likes
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