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Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  2,264 Ratings  ·  274 Reviews
Shortlisted for the Green Carnation Prize 2014

Smart, clear-eyed, and irreverent, Unspeakable Things is a fresh look at gender and power in the twenty-first century, which asks difficult questions about dissent and desire, money and masculinity, sexual violence, menial work, mental health, queer politics, and the Internet.

Celebrated journalist and activist Laurie Penny draw
Paperback, 267 pages
Published September 16th 2014 by Bloomsbury USA (first published January 3rd 2014)
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Ben Babcock
As with The Speed of Dark , this was a birthday gift for my friend Rebecca. I like my original review, so here’s just a few new thoughts from this second reading.

Second review: Finished on February 6, 2018

This time around, I read Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution with a slightly more critical eye. I was trying to imagine how Rebecca might see it, curious about the things that will jump out at her. I underlined and annotated and asked questions, part of our ongoing conversations about
Nov 14, 2014 rated it it was ok
Two and a half stars.

Laurie Penny is a powerful writer. Her writing is strong, clear, and opinionated and reads with a propelling force. I think she's a great young feminist and progressive voice. I also think this book is a very worthwhile read. But I'm giving it less than three stars because of Penny's weakness (not just in this book, but in many of her columns) for hyperbole. It's a flaw in her writing that comes as much from her strength as a writer, if that makes sense, from her strong sen
Aug 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is such a fantastic fucking book.

Laurie Penny writes about feminism is such a vibrant and powerful way. She's a manifesto writer. I found myself wanting to talk about the ideas she raises with everyone around me. I emailed passages to my friends... okay, I emailed a *number* of passages to my friends.

There's something about Penny's youth--she's 28--that makes this book feel so alive and of the moment. Her chapter on the Internet's continued issues with women comes from the place of someon
Dec 10, 2014 rated it did not like it
“You can’t win. If you choose to devote less of your time to grooming as a political statement, you’re a ‘hairy bra-burning feminist’ and nobody has any obligation to listen to anything you have to say, but if you embrace conventional beauty standards, or appear to enjoy them for their own sake, you are presumed to be a shallow and manipulative slut.” OK... (1) How about you stop using grooming habits as a means of making a political statement and just do whatever the hell you like? Making your ...more
Aug 01, 2014 added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: young feminists
I think I just have to cop to the fact I'm straight-up too old for this book.

Penny's problem isn't that she's wrong, exactly, when she talks about things like rape culture and the commodification of female social connections for the profit of Silicon Valley VCs. It's just that she neither adds much new insight nor gives any particular clarity to this grab-bag of 21st Century Feminism 101. Not to mention that, for all she insists very deeply she's not speaking for "all feminists"--defined specifi
Jo (An Unexpected Bookish Geek)
This book is exactly what I needed. This book was just "made" for me, in so many different ways. Laurie Penny doesn't speak in riddles and bullshit in this book, she doesn't put a cherry on top either. She tells it exactly how it is, and speaks freely and confidently about these "Unspeakable things" that society today, all shrink away from openly discussing.

Laurie Penny is angry. She's angry about so many things, but all boiling down to women and the way they are treated in society, the everyda
Disclaimer: ARC read via Netgalley.

Laurie Penny’s Unspeakable Things is, in short, a rant. It is a feminist. It is entertaining. It still is, however, a rant.

In her introduction Penny refers to her book as a polemic. In some ways, it is a call to arms. In others, it is a cry for awareness.

In many ways, it is a challenge. To society. To women. To men. To government. To other feminists.

It is difficult not to like Penny’s writing. For instance in discussing how people respond negatively to wome
Yomna hosny
Aug 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book changed my perspective on a lot of things. trigger warning: Massive Identity Crisis!
Oct 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
vague notes: would definitely definitely give this to my cousin who is getting into feminism - it's unflinching and brave and a ruthless introductory text. as for me, this was good and was a way to get back to the basics of feminism through a very contemporary text. however, the introduction stresses the importance of intersectionality but the text itself is a bit of let down in that regard from time to time (especially re: racism). it's not that penny's insensitive to these issues, but I'd r
Tommy Collison
Jul 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
If you're looking for a well-articulated, nuanced, and fearlessly compelling look at feminist activism, look no further.

Far and away one of the best activism books I've read this year, and convincing in its intimacy and rigour. This is a book that will galvanize you, that will move you, and that, ultimately, will change you.
Jun 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: feminism
Laurie Penny is angry. Oh my goodness, is she angry. She's mainly angry at the way women are treated. How their behaviour is policed, and how they suffer violence and prejudice. How their desire to live out their lives as they want, and not how society expects, is thwarted at every turn and how even the Internet, which promised such freedom, can now be a place of hostility and fear for them. But that's not all. She's also angry at modern neoliberal capitalism, the way it robs people of their asp ...more
Jul 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars

Arc provided by Bloomsbury USA through Netgalley

TW's: Mentions of Rape and Cutting

Ironically enough, despite the fact of considering myself a fervent feminist, this is the first actual book I've read on the subject . Growing up in our society it is difficult not to be aware of all the obstacles and sexism that women are subjected to. So, it's not as if most of what is discussed here, is something earth shattering.

What is different for me _at least _ is seeing some of those things wri
Dec 31, 2016 rated it it was ok
Important and provocative, but also rambling and repetitive. A missed opportunity.

This book contains some important insights and powerful personal anecdotes about equality, sexual politics, misogyny and freedom. Laurie highlights numerous important issues, however every great insight gets repeated and expanded and so, rather annoyingly, this book is also frustrating, rambling and incoherent.

I have seen "Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution” described as a manifesto. A manifesto is a p
Apr 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Fucking awesome book. That is all.
Paula Dennan
Jul 30, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution is a thought-provoking an informative look at gender and the current social issues derived from gender.

Laurie Penny is not afraid to ask difficult questions; in fact she thinks the difficult questions are often the most important questions. Penny argues that rigid gender constructs are harmful to everyone and things need to change. She also makes the case for why mainstream feminism needs to be intersectional.

This is not a how-to manual for negotiat
Oct 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: feminism
A few weeks ago I found I was tangled up in a conversation with a friend about a young woman’s virulent rejection of the label ‘feminist’, even though in the conversation we were discussing the F-word had not been explicitly used before the moment of its rejection, and I was struck by the apparent irony of a couple of middle aged men lamenting the decline of a label many of our peers (and we) had carried/still carry proudly (despite the, at times huge, wobbles along the way). This lamentation is ...more
Allie Oosta
Apr 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A lot of the topics didn't feel revolutionary compared to other feminist literature, though I'm okay with that. What did feel new was the idea of the "lost boys"--all the young men who feel disjointed and dislodged and unsupported and forgotten and the impact that's having on our society. Absolute must-read.
Ann Marie
Apr 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
I finally finished this book today. It took me a few weeks, not because it's not good, but because its topic (anti-capitalist feminism) is heavy. I loved most of the book (Penny's thoughts on toxic masculinity, ethical non-monogamy, and queerness were all amazing), although I definitely would've liked it to include more discussion on WOC & other POC (it was sorely lacking this). Even with that said, this should be on every feminist's bookshelf, if only to begin great & important discussi ...more
Feb 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
I found ‘Unspeakable Things’ thought-provoking in ways that I did not expect. It is a forceful and lucid polemic about the structural sexism of neoliberal capitalism. Laurie Penny talks about a number of her own experiences, which are powerful and at times uncomfortable to read (notably on the subject of anorexia). Her main topics are how the patriarchy negatively impacts on teenage girls, men, sex, the internet, and love. Of these, I found the standouts to be the chapter on men and that on cybe ...more
Jul 07, 2015 rated it it was ok
Book is really ideal towards people who have already subscribed and are ingrained in the feminism mentality. There's a lot of "we need to riot" (like, dont bother going through the proper means and channels) to make things better.

I personally didnt find any compelling examples or facts in this book that would influence anyone with a strong "opinion" of women's rights to change their current viewpoint. Nor did I find any meaningful, feminist philosophy discussions in this book. Or interesting an
Jul 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: feminism, reference
Out of all the books on feminism I've read so far this is definitely the best. Penny addresses every aspect of feminism and how it can help everybody, not just women, but men, children and society as a whole. And she does so with a candidness and bluntness that shows she does not shy away from the difficult subjects but embraces them as an excellent starting point. Each chapter addresses a different point or arguement that has been used to argue against feminism, which Penny takes apart bit by b ...more
Jan 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Laurie Penny made me laugh, she made me cry (she made me cry a LOT), she made me whoop and she gave me that warm, smiling feeling where you suddenly feel intensely understood on a level unreached by any stranger. She finds words and connections, reasons and explanations for all those feelings and thoughts that I've always tried to puzzle together in just that way. She writes the song of my soul that my mouth is just a little too quiet, a little too timid to sing.
Jul 27, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: job, non-fiction
Yesterday's feminism in new clothes. Overrated and boring, but apparently very generational. Not sure whether this rather private version of "feminism" will have an effect as intense and profound as the famous first generation women had, who started to fight for our rights first of all. The subject matter is still pertinent, though.
Becci Fobbe
Dec 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
eye-opening read that more than just captures what being a young woman or man in todays world is really about
Katrina Sark
Aug 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
1 – Fucked-Up Girls

p.44 – Worrying about not having enough is still coded masculine, although poverty is still, overwhelmingly, a feminine experience. Men want objects; women are object. Men’s first desire is to have enough things and do enough things; women simply want to be enough. Men want; women are wanted. And for women, to be undesirable is still a real existential threat. Women who are not stereotypically attractive, young and able-bodied often speak of feeling ‘invisible’ – as if they do
I expect to learn things by reading a non-fiction book, but Penny doesn't offer as much insights as I wished for. This book's feminism presents women almost exclusively as victims whereas I'd wish for a feminism that also focuses on women's achievements as a motivation for the future. But the opposite is to be found here: a woman will be oppressed at work, in private and in the public perception, and if she's not suffering, it's only because she's collaborating with the neoliberal patriarchy and ...more
Sep 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
25 September This is one angry book. The author feels all women have been misled, to some degree, by the 'softly, softly' media friendly feminist movement, when radical change is required.

Best quote so far: "There was an understanding that gender liberation, like wealth, would somehow 'trickle down'. The flaw in this plan, of course, was that it was arrant bollocks" - Laurie Penny, Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution.

Laura Penny doesn't have much time for what she sees as celebrity fe
Ry Herman
Sep 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
A book that has a lot of important things to say, and says them in clear language laced with entirely appropriate anger. It sometimes has a tendency to go off on tangents that muddle the overall point being made, which means it occasionally isn't as strong as her shorter, more journalistic pieces. But in general, this is a good book by a profoundly thoughtful writer and activist.
Feb 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars
May 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
For anyone interested in reading Laurie Penny's Unspeakable Things, I recommend first reading her essay On the Milo Bus with the Lost Boys of Americas New Right (you can find the essay at I recommend reading this essay firstly, because it is brilliantly insightful and I sent the essay to everyone I know as soon as I read it, and secondly, because the essay perfectly represent's Penny's style and perspective.

I absolutely devoured this book; I found myself reading it almost compulsive
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Laurie Penny is a journalist, an author, a feminist and a net denizen. She is Contributing Editor at New Statesman magazine, and writes and speaks on social justice, pop culture, gender issues and digital politics for The Guardian, The Independent, Vice, Salon, The Nation, The New Inquiry and many more. She is the author of Cybersexism, Penny Red and Meat Market: Female Flesh Under Capitalism, as ...more
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“Public ‘career feminists’ have been more concerned with getting more women into ‘boardrooms’, when the problem is that there are altogether too many boardrooms, and none of them are on fire.” 39 likes
“I'm not here to tell you how to be a feminist, or whether you should be one at all.
I call myself a feminist fo fuck with people, and because it's a great way
to weed out the creeps in bars, but feminism isn't an identity.
Feminism is a process. Call yourself what you like.
The important thing is what you fight for. Begin it now.”
More quotes…