Unspeakable Things

The tagline of Laurie Penny’s Unspeakable Things is “Sex, lies, and revolution,” and in some ways we talked about all of those things at the first meeting of our Feminist Book Club.

This isn’t a review of the book so much as what some of us took away from it and where it led us in discussion during our meeting.

Unspeakable Things is very much a discussion book. You want your best friend to be reading it at the same as you so that you can discuss all of the aha! moments along the way. Penny provides few answers (and acknowledges this is not the point of her book) and has a way of relating to the reader, complicating and exploring numerous issues, and framing much of what she’s written within her own personal experience.

A good deal of the book will leave most readers, we think, with a feeling of understanding that their lives are controlled in many ways by societal expectations; that they’re not alone in that. It makes one realize that as much as you seek empowerment, in many ways, it’s extremely difficult to achieve.

We all acknowledged that some of the experiences Penny writes about or at least from where she writes them seem to be framed in a certain economic privilege that no one at our meeting had/has, along with her geographic location versus ours here in Canada.

Unspeakable Things led us to discuss what choice is, how we make choices, and from where those choices come. We talked about our choices sometimes just being about what we enjoy or don’t enjoy, rather than always being a political statement.

There was a great deal of discussion about things that came out of Chapter Three Anticlimax and how women’s pleasure is viewed by society at large at still often tied to men’s egos and their own pleasure. There was also a lengthy discussion about how much seems – at least to us – to have changed in 20 years with respect to where we’re at about talking about sex with our friends and generally.

And one of the last things we discussed was the difference between taking up space and holding space for someone. Women are often counselled to take up more space – in the boardroom, in conversation, etc. Shed some of those expectations about being polite and demure and whatever else and take up space; make your presence known. At the same time, it’s necessary for us to hold space for people. Acknowledge that they need to do things that make them happy and leave them feeling fulfilled and hold space in your heart and in your life to help them when necessary or just to catch up and share with them when you’re both able.

In all, whilst we acknowledged a few challenges with Penny’s Unspeakable Things, which were mostly around where she was coming from versus where we were coming from, we all agreed that it was a very worthwhile read.

And I leave you with this regarding ‘taking up space’….

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