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The Female Thing: Dirt, Sex, Envy, Vulnerability Hardcover – October 17, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Three years after her controversial proadultery polemic, Against Love, Kipnis, a professor of media studies at Northwestern University, offers a wide-ranging and equally unorthodox investigation of "the female condition." She examines why women want both power and push-up bras, have fewer orgasms than men, why spouses have a harder time staying connected to each other after the wife quits work to stay home with the kids and why feminists keep focusing on rape, even though rates of female rapes are down while the rape of imprisoned men has escalated. Underlying the failure of feminism to achieve full equality for women, Kipnis says, is women's own ambivalence: they want feminism as well as femininity. Some of Kipnis's avenues of inquiry are well trod—Katha Pollitt, for example, has deconstructed the "opt-out revolution," whose foot soldiers are Ivy League–credentialed moms who trade high-powered careers for full-time motherhood, and Naomi Wolf long ago tackled the cosmetics industry. Countless critics have wondered why feminism was so easily co-opted by a market economy in which everyone works longer hours than they used to. Though not totally fresh, this fluid, sassy volume is guaranteed to electrify media and cocktail party circuits. (Oct. 17)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

At its core, the female psyche vis-a-vis its male counterpart fixates on four things: dirt, sex, envy, and vulnerability. No matter what else goes on in the time-honored battle of the sexes, the essential conflict can eventually find its way back to one of these areas. Distilling such gender issues into a tight discourse on the paradoxical stalemate of tradition versus progress in male-female relations, Kipnis offers a measured declamation on where the women's movement is headed--and where it has veered off course. Equal pay, equal pleasure, equal cleanliness, equal confidence: where gender parity is concerned, incongruities arise "like ingrown hairs after a bad bikini wax," claims Kipnis. Ambivalence abounds while activism idles, and who's to blame? Droll one minute, deadly serious the next, Kipnis is just as apt to point a well-manicured finger at women for social inertia as she is at men. Incisive, engrossing, controversial, and circumspect, Kipnis offers a trenchant examination of the political and personal state of contemporary feminism. Carol Haggas
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; First Edition edition (October 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375424172
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375424175
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #820,028 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Laura Kipnis is a cultural critic and essayist whose work focuses on sexual politics, emotion, acting out, bad behavior, and various other crevices of the American psyche. Her latest book is MEN: Notes from an Ongoing Investigation; her previous books, which include How To Become a Scandal and Against Love, have been translated into fifteen languages. Her essays and reviews have appeared in Slate, Harpers, The Nation, Bookforum, Playboy, and The New York Times. (She is also a former video artist whose work has been shown and broadcast around the world.) Kipnis is the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, a Rockefeller fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts grants, and Yaddo fellowships. She's also a professor in the Radio-TV-Film department at Northwestern, where she teaches film making. She lives in Chicago and New York.

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 51 people found the following review helpful By R S Cobblestone VINE VOICE on October 22, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Well, that "Female Thing." Does it lead to backlash or ambivalence? Feminism or femininity? What is the "inner woman"?

In this book, The Female Thing, Kipnis explores what it is like to be a women (in western culture, and particularly in the US) in today's society. Have "we've come a long way, baby?" Or, as Linda Hirshman claims in Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World, are women continuing to miss the boat?

Kipnis more or less issues a report card here: where are women now in regards to social status and equality? My interpretation of her analysis is that the report card would be a "C-".

She looks at 4 primary issues that she calls Envy, Sex, Dirt, and Vulnerability.

Envy: "If you're a modern female, unfortunately something's always broken" (p. 9). Women are obsessed, for complex reasons, about their "imperfections." [Note: read I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron for an example of this.] Kipnis summarizes this concept in her phrase "...voluntary servitude to self-improvement" (p. 10). There is a huge focus on looks instead of health, by the way. This commands women's attention to the detriment of other issues in their lives.

Sex: Suffice it to say that women are told they don't need it, or they deserve more, or there are tricks of the trade that are either hidden from them or that fool them, or something! To borrow a title from Star Trek IV, sex for many women is "The Undiscovered Country."

Dirt: Your various "apertures" make you vulnerable to nasty things in life. Women in many societies take the major role in managing dirt (internal and external). "Needless to say, being in charge of all the dirt has not made women particularly jovial" (p. 91).
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Tojagi on May 10, 2009
Format: Paperback
I was relatively new to `gender wars' literature when I read this book. I really didn't know which side of the wars to put it on. I saw it as a journey into the female psyche, and a wonderful explanation for the spectrum of attitudes and behaviors women have had in our culture since the women's movement began. I can only speak from a man's perspective. But the many paradoxes of woman, the modern woman, are wonderfully revealed here and there with just one or two sentences. The author states that women are "left straddling two rather incompatible positions. Feminism and femininity are in a big catfight, nowhere more than within each individual female psyche."

She speaks of a "desperate quality to female femininity these days" with diets, makeovers and baby-doll drag and that it might have something to do with the failure of the institution of marriage, as social glue. She writes that while men fetishize women through pornography to the tune of nine billion dollars a year, women will spend $1.2 billion on romance novels. The endless hours of Soap Operas women watch suddenly made sense to me.

One of the biggest mysteries of feminism for me has been eco-feminism. It never made any sense to me at all. I was so happy the author finds it just as inexplicable. She also speaks about how women's cleaning fetish compared to men has something to do with their body image.

It appears this book hasn't gotten as much attention as other books for or against feminism. If that's true, I believe it is because more popular books deal with feminism politically. This book delves into the true source of all the craziness and conflict concerning gender and gender roles over the past three or four decades; specifically, it delves into the female psyche.

I reserve five stars for just the best of the best. But this is a wonderful book. Just what I was looking for.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful By J. Grattan VINE VOICE on November 22, 2006
Format: Hardcover
THE FEMALE THING is an irreverent look at the conflicted and contradictory female "thing" - that is, the female psyche. Achieving equality with and independence from the male of the species has been the goal for feminists for the last forty years, and while somewhat achieved, there is a sense of dissatisfaction, of things missing.

At least for heterosexual women, men do have something that women want - the possibilities of love, etc. Apparently those needs have driven a tremendous consumption of advice and self-enhancing products and procedures, even among the most ardent feminists. Self-acceptance seems to be in short supply.

Attaining financial independence by entering the workforce also has its problems: the loss of time and being subject to the rules of workplace regimes. Now in the name of empowerment, some younger women are opting for child-rearing - eschewing careers. The drive for equality and independence is indeed taking strange directions.

Women are also conflicted over the nature of sex. According to the author the location of orgasmatic centers and the assignment of technical responsibility for achieving such is engendering debate among frustrated women. And then there's dirt. Women have been in charge of dirt ever since the rise of domesticity and men are generally oblivious. But the female anatomy itself has, through the centuries, been considered "dirty" by some elements creating no small amount of consternation even today.

The author also considers the hysteria that can surround even the potential for rape, while acknowledging female vulnerabilities. She strongly questions a couple of well known feminists who have either forgotten their complicity in unwelcome advances or fabricated the same.
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