10 Quotes from Laurie Penny’s “Unspeakable Things” That You Need to Read

When people ask me for feminist book recommendations, I always direct them to Laurie Penny’s Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution. It isn’t an easy book to read – it requires breaks to process and digest new concepts. When I first read it, I found myself highlighting numerous passages that resonated with me or that sparked reflection. Almost two years later, I still find myself nodding in agreement and saying, “I never thought of that but I totally agree!” Laurie Penny has a unique way of mixing politics, personal stories, humour and new ideas while putting feminism at the forefront. Tara Wanda Merrigan (Bustle) and Liz Hoggard (The Guardian) also agree!


Here are my ten favourite quotes from Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution that I believe everyone should read. 


1. The sort of feminism that sells is the sort of feminism that can appeal to almost everybody while challenging nobody, feminism that soothes, that speaks for and to the middle class, aspirational feminism that speaks of shoes and shopping and sugar-free snacks and does not talk about poor women, queer women, ugly women, transsexual women, sex workers, single parents, or anybody else who fails to fit the mould.


2. Of all the female sins, hunger is the least forgivable; hunger for anything, for food, sex, power, education, even love. If we have desires, we are expected to conceal them, to control them, to keep ourselves in check. We are supposed to be objects of desire, not desiring beings.


laurie penny unspeakable things quotes feminism


3. It’s interesting that ‘ugly’ is still the insult most commonly thrown at women to dismiss their power, to get them to shut up. Female politicians are called ugly and unfuckable by men who can’t quite bring themselves to say directly that they don’t deserve their power, that their primary purpose as women should be to please and arouse the opposite sex.


4. Feminism has never just been about liberating women from men, but about freeing every human being from the straitjacket of gender oppression.


5. It stuns me that female desire is still taboo. The notion that women and girls might want sex for its own sake, rather than suffer it in exchange for money or status or security, is still an idea that is resisted by society at large.


laurie penny unspeakable things feminism


6. Real sexual empowerment is not just about the fun stuff. It’s not just about dildos and lacy thongs and pole-dancing classes. It’s about abortion rights. It’s about contraception. It’s about ending rape culture. It’s about creating a world where pleasure and self-expression does not have to be offset with fear of violence and unwanted pregnancy.


7. If you’re a woman and somebody calls you ‘attention seeking’, that’s a sure way to tell you’ve made an impact.


8. Sexuality online is real sexuality, and it’s about far, far more than porn. It’s the children who meet each other on self-harm forums whispering their most painful everyday secrets until the night when one of them posts in crisis and the others call from across the world in voices so familiar they forget they’ve never heard each other speak before. It’s OKCupid and Fetlife. It’s the camgirls and the cryptic personals and the amateur pornographers. It’s passive-aggressive status updates, untagging and de-friending and broken-hearted blogging. It’s the second-dates who tease each other with hyperlinks and the couples who send each other cat-gifs at work. It’s every neck-down naked picture I’ve ever sent to a boy I wanted to screw.


9. Loneliness is a fearful thing. But a life lived grasping for another person to make you whole is just as fearful.


10. We have to resist the schooled inner voice telling us to be good girls, tough boys, perfect women, strong men. If we are to realise a greater collective humanity, we must learn to see one another as human beings first.


I told you it was powerful stuff! Let me know which quote you liked the most and don’t hesitate to comment with another book recommendation. I always love to know what you’re reading :) 

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  1. February 25, 2017 / 11:46 AM

    Sounds like a fantastic, if crunchy kind of read. I’ll have to hunt up a copy sometime.

    • rebecca
      February 26, 2017 / 12:52 PM

      It was really great – just make sure to take some breaks cuz it can be kinda heavy

    • rebecca
      February 22, 2017 / 8:11 PM

      I know! I hope #5 becomes irrelevant soon! One day, we can hope!!!

    • rebecca
      February 21, 2017 / 2:01 PM

      Ooooh ya number 9 is really good! Powerful in such few words

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