Review Blog

Oct 30 2017

Bitch doctrine: Essays for dissenting adults by Laurie Penny

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Bloomsbury, 2017. ISBN 9781408881613
(Age: 16 - Adult) Recommended. Themes: Feminism. Sexism. Identity. Gender issues. There are a couple of references to 'bitch' among the quotes that introduce each section of this book, one from Bette Davis - "When a man gives his opinion, he's a man, When a woman gives her opinion, she's a bitch" and one from Madonna - "Sometimes you have to be a bitch to get things done". Author Laurie Penny is being a bitch in this sense, she is putting her opinion out there, she is telling it how it is, and she is demanding change.
Bitch doctrine begins with a diary of reflections on the rise of Donald Trump on a wave of racism and violent popularism, and declares that "toxic masculinity is killing the world." She goes on to attack the patriarchal and sexist basis of Western society. Women are still chasing the illusion of 'work-life balance' whilst finding they are actually responsible for both work and home life. Penny actually promotes singledom as the best option for young women - marriage is not the happy ever after, why not take time to explore interests, career, life? She writes that women need to get on with saving the world and "we can't do it one man at a time".
Penny's essays target Barbie doll and James Bond films, and also the Western fascination with the concept of the oppressed burqa-clad Muslim woman. The oppression of women is a global phenonema, "mysogeny knows no colour or creed", and the anger and violence directed by western society towards the veiled woman is another hypocrisy. To read more on this last topic, Amal Awad's Beyond veiled cliches is an enlightenment.
But for me, the most poignant are the chapters on gender. Here, Penny changes from strident feminist flag-bearer to revealing her own personal teenage experience trying to understand where she fitted in the male/female divide. This section of the book provides an opportunity for empathy and understanding of the personal turmoil of young people who struggle to find where they belong in a world that insists on the identifying labels of male or female. This is particularly relevant in the current context of Australia's vote on recognition of gay marriage.
Penny's voice is loud and provocative, tough, forthright and also often humorous. She is launching a bitch doctrine. It's worth reading.
Helen Eddy

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